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Dealing With Ethanol Blends

Use Only The Right Fuel Treatment
By Sandy Lindsey
Star Brite

With all the concerns related to ethanol-blended fuels (E10) today, it's easy to become confused over how to deal with it. One of the most common bits of advice is to use a fuel treatment, but which one? Some folks believe that E10 can be used with no ill effects while others think it is the end of boating as we know it. The truth is somewhere in between.

Pouring_Star_Tron_vertical.jpgPhoto Credit - STAR TRON -- is one of the recommended treatments for dealing with ethanol-blended fuel. Sandy Lindsey of Star Brite addresses this concern for many boaters in her article about why only some fuel treatments are successful.

The main problem of E10 comes from the fact that ethanol and gasoline do not form a chemical bond. This means the mixture begins to degrade in as little as four weeks as the light ends of the fuel begin to evaporate, leaving behind gums and other solids that clog injectors and carburetors, causing once well-behaved engines suddenly to be difficult to start or to run rough.

And, Another Problem

This is also why ethanol is typically added to the gasoline only when the tanker is preparing to deliver the fuel to the gas station of fuel dock. Ethanol produces less energy than gasoline, which means engines running on this fuel can no longer deliver the same power or cruising range as when they were powered by 100 percent gas.

Pouring_Star_Tron_horizontal.jpgPhoto Credit -

Another problem is caused by ethanol's ability to attract and bond to moisture. As it draws moisture into the vented fuel tank of your boat, the water and ethanol form a tight chemical bond. If more than .5 percent water (by volume) enters the tank, the ethanol water mixture falls out of suspension with the gasoline, settling to the bottom of the tank as a distinct layer.

The result is gasoline with a reduced octane level. Worse, when the engine draws in the water/ethanol mixture, it will stall, hopefully before the water damages the fuel pump.

Knowing What To Use

However, even if the only fuel you can get is E10, it is no reason to give up the boat for a set of golf clubs. Many thousands of boaters across the United States have been dealing with E10 for three-plus years. The trick is knowing what to use to make up for the problems caused by adding alcohol to our gas. The first thing to look for in a treatment is its ingredients.

Many additives actually contain alcohol or a form of alcohol. Ethanol is alcohol, and adding any more alcohol will only make it worse. Review the MSDS and, if in doubt as to what an ingredient is or what it does, Google it for more info.

After you discard the additives that contain alcohol, look for one that will stabilize fuel chemistry in order to help prevent the formation of performance-robbing gums and other solids. The next thing to look for is a treatment that will deal with the moisture attracted by ethanol. This is a tricky thing to do, since many treatments claim to "remove water" or make it burn; if you remember your high school chemistry class, you already know that neither is possible.

Be Wary Of The Claims

Some treatments will have video that claims to prove they can remove water. If you see one in which they add gasoline, water and then their treatment, pay attention to the fluid level. It will remain the same even after they shake the beaker and show that the water is gone. It's still there, but is now emulsified in the fuel.

Two things are bad about this. First, many emulsifiers use alcohol to entrain or entrap the water. We already know you don't want to add more alcohol to E10.

The second problem comes from the fact that emulsified fuel leads to significant carbon deposits and rough-running engines. The FAA and Department of Defense both forbid the use of emulsifiers in aviation fuel for the simple reason that gravity is very unforgiving to aircraft after their engines stall.

While gravity is less of a concern to a boater, it still remains a bad idea to use an emulsifying fuel treatment in your boat's fuel. Emulsifiers can also “thicken” fuel, taking on a cloudy appearance; in order to comply with engine manufacturer warranty requirements, fuel must be “clear and bright.” The fuel must literally be clear enough to read a card placed behind the fuel; if it is not, it could void a warranty.

The Only Way

The only way to remove water from fuel is to somehow vaporize it during the combustion phase. Because water molecules tend to group together to firm large clumps, it's best to use a treatment that will break apart these clumps in order to disperse the water throughout the fuel in order to reduce the size of the water molecule clumps and make it easier to vaporize the small particles.

Look for a treatment that will remove gums or varnish or carbon in order to keep the fuel delivery system functioning at its best. It should also enhance the fuel's combustibility in order to help prevent future deposits from forming. This enhanced combustibility will also help restore some of the power lost to ethanol, and that means the engine will start more easily an run better, too.

Another test to be wary of is the "clean-burning" treatment. Alcohol burns with an invisible flame. Treatments that use a petrochemical base will give off a mildly smoky flame. If it burns that cleanly, take a closer look at the MSDS to see if any of the ingredients end in "-ohol."

Finding a treatment that will do all the above is a tall order, but they do exist. Using one will allow you to get back to enjoying your time on the water.

For more information, call (800) 327-8583 or visit

NOTE: At present, E15 is not “mandated” for use, nor is it readily available. Even where it can be found, it cannot be used in anything other than cars and trucks 2001 or newer. It CANNOT be used in boats or motorcycles or PWC or lawnmowers or cars older than 2001. The fact that the gas station would have to purchase and install a dedicated tank and fuel pump make it more unlikely it will see widespread use anytime soon. Additionally, most engines manufactured within the past 20 years or so are designed to run on a maximum of 10 percent alcohol. Fuels containing more than 10 percent alcohol could cause engine damage or void warranties.

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