IMBC 2011: Ethanol is here to stay

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Gasoline mixed with 10 percent ethanol is here. Gasoline mixed with 15 percent ethanol is coming soon. Gasoline mixed with even more ethanol is almost certainly in the future, so the marine industry might as well adapt to it.

That was the consensus of a panel on ethanol and biofuel Thursday afternoon at the International Marina & Boatyard Conference in Fort Lauderdale. "The marine industry needs to adapt to these renewable fuels," said Jerry Nessenson, president of ValvTect Petroleum Products, which makes gasoline additives.

On Jan. 21 the Environmental Protection Agency expanded its ethanol rule, allowing the use of 15 percent ethanol mixes in cars, SUVs and light trucks. The new rule excludes motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles and non-road engines, including boat engines, which now use E10, but Nessenson says E10 will become increasingly difficult to find because the marine market consumes less than 1 percent of the nation's fuel.

He said a combination of additives, proper fuel system maintenance, preventive service and consumer education can ease the way to marine use of higher ethanol blends. "Ethanol is here to stay," he said.

The Ethanol Security Act of 2007, which is intended to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil, mandates a gradual changeover to renewable fuels through 2022, which will require the use of increasingly higher mixes of ethanol in gasoline, Nessenson said.

"Refiners need to go from 10 percent to 15 percent ethanol," and will have to go to even higher mixes in the future, he said.

"They're going to keep adding ethanol," said moderator and independent consultant Tom Delotto. "That's just part of the future."

Frank Kelley, a fuels and lubricants specialist at Mercury Marine, said E15 actually inhibits phase separation, produces less vapor pressure than lower ethanol blends and only slightly affects fuel compatibility with components such as hoses. He said the main problem with E15 is that it tends to run leaner in the open-loop fuel systems used in most marine engines and produce higher exhaust temperatures that could damage the engine, although that hasn't been established yet.

The conference continues today at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center.

— Jim Flannery

This article was corrected to reflect Tom Delotto's current position.

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