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Is E10 fuel as Green as it is perceived?

Image via Pixabay User: geralt


Recent EU regulations conforming to the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive that the British Government are following could lead to a supposed ‘greener’ petrol being rolled out across the UK that is not ‘greener’ at all, according to some real-world tests undertaken by What Car? Magazine.

In fact, the magazine has revealed that the E10 fuel could actually increase harmful CO2 tailpipe emissions and cost UK drivers billions of pounds a year, adding that the move to introduce the fuel – allegedly some time this year – is actually “irresponsible.” This is after the first-ever real-world tests that What Car? undertook, following laboratory-only tests on E10.

The E10 fuel contains 10% bio-ethanol and the tests revealed that the fuel is less efficient than the current E5 blend of fuel that contains up to 5% when tested against a range of engines tested. This of course means more fuel is needed to actually run the vehicle, costing drivers more in fuel.

With this in mind, Editor-in-chief of What Car? Magazine, Chas Hallett, called for the Government make sure that more comprehensive, UK-focused tests are carried out to better understand the financial impact of the new petrol before it is unleashed on the British public.

“The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the detrimental effect of E10 on fuel economy is between three and four percent, but even our small sample of tests proves otherwise,” he said. “To lead consumers into E10 without fully communicating the significant impact on fuel economy, particularly for drivers least able to absorb the extra costs, is irresponsible.”

The tests that What Car? undertook involved testing E10 against E0 ‘pure’ petrol in order to achieve some idea of parity with the US Environment Protection Agency tests, and the cars that were used in the tests were a three-cylinder turbo in the shape of a Dacia Sandero, a naturally aspirated car (Hyundai i30), a hybrid (Toyota Prius+) and a four-cylinder turbo (Mini Paceman).

And the results, especially for the Dacia Sandero and the Hyundai i30 were less than impressive, with the i30 managing 9.8% less miles and the Sandero coming off worse with an 11.5% drop in economy. The CO2 tailpipe emissions also increased in every vehicle tested  - although it should be noted that the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership are confident that the carbon increases would be offset, if only partially, by “the renewable properties of bio-ethanol and the fact that the crops used to produce it absorb CO2 while growing.”

But overall, the results of the tests aren’t too good for a large majority of UK drivers with E10 fuel with its high ethanol content seemingly better for more powerful cars as opposed to the smaller cars that frequent the UK roads owned and leased by drivers on a tighter budget.

And the government have also seemingly forgotten – or shall we say ‘not realised’ – that not every car on the roads will even be able to use E10 fuel. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) says that 92% of UK cars are compatible, but that 8% that can’t are those people who own older cars (perhaps because they can’t afford a newer one) – and these total around 1.5 million petrol vehicles.

There is actually no timetable to bring E10 fuel to the UK forecourt, but the Petrol Retailers Association’s Philip Monger says that his members are cautious about the introduction; especially independent retailers who will have to upgrade pumps and tanks to accommodate it.

“I’d prefer to see it delayed,” said Philip, “and I can’t see E10 coming right now unless there’s a cost advantage to suppliers, and I’m not aware of one. Suppliers are currently meeting their RTFO obligations through sales of biodiesel so they have no immediate need of E10. The eventual introduction of E10 will again bring associated costs for retailers, who will want to see a justification in those costs in terms of environmental benefits.”

So do we need it at all? The UK Petrol Industry Association declined to respond to any questions that What Car? asked with reference to the test results, with both Sainsbury’s and Shell keeping their own counsel with regards to timing.

Tesco’s Jerry Burton, senior technical manager of fuels, was happy to comment though: “Ultimately E10 will be the standard regular unleaded petrol grade. The transition to this is to some extent dependent on the success of any public awareness campaign, and the targets set out in the RTFO.”

But that public-awareness programme doesn’t seem to be forthcoming, or even planned, if the Government have anything to do with it, because according to Baroness Kramer, any campaign will have to be funded by retailers.

“Any decision to supply E10 is a commercial one. However, Ministers have met with fuel suppliers to encourage them to delay E10 until the market is ready.”

But she also ruled out any Government tests into suitability though, seemingly leaving it to the US to sort that bit of the problem out, even though cars, roads and standards are different between the two countries. “The RTFO level of 4.75% does not necessitate the introduction of E10. Any change which might necessitate the introduction of E10 would be the subject of a public consultation and impact assessment.”

It seems that once again the good ‘ol consumer is at the bottom of the pile again!