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Consumer education remains key fuel-related issue

By Tim Hennagir

Industry insiders remain hopeful that the Consumer Protection and Fuel Transparency Act of 2018 will promote much needed public education on the proper use of E15.

To combat the U.S. Environmental Agency’s current E15 labeling, the bill directs the agency to involve consumers, through focus group testing, in creating labels and pump safeguards that effectively raise awareness of the prohibited uses of the fuel.

The goal is mitigating the risk of misfuelling at the pump for the nation’s boat owners, who collectively own more than 12 million recreational boats. 

The National Marine Manufacturers Association has applauded Reps. Austin Scott (R­-GA-­08) and Lois Frankel (D­-FL ­-21) for introducing the Consumer Protection and Fuel Transparency Act of 2018. 

Consumers, including the boating public, are only partially educated on how to manage ethanol-blended fuels and what they can truly expect from fuel additives, said Matt Banach, director of marketing at Gold Eagle Co. They also have unrealistic expectations of ethanol-free fuel in some cases.

The act requires the Environmental Protection Agency to expand consumer awareness on how to safely use fuel containing more than 10 percent ethanol. 

Since marine engines are prohibited from using fuel with more than 10 percent ethanol content, namely E15, improved labeling, fuel pump safeguards, and education outreach are key to protecting consumers. 

EPA insights at ABC

May’s American Boating Congress featured a special question-and-answer session with NMMA President Thom Dammrich and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who noted the need for consumer education and labeling surrounding E15. 

Congress and the Trump Administration are currently exploring ways to reform the Renewable Fuels Standard, the program that mandates ethanol within the nation’s fuel supply. 

Pruitt’s opening remarks were in response to a question asked by Dammrich regarding the RFS.

What’s being put forth in the Consumer Protection and Fuel Transparency Act is exactly the kind of education and labeling Pruitt acknowledged is important, Dammrich said, adding there’s increasing pressure from the Trump Administration to allow year-round sales of E15. 

He asked Pruitt to share his insights regarding discussions about E15 sales.

“It’s a legal question, not a policy question at this point,” Pruitt said. “We’ve been analyzing this for a few months, and discussions are ongoing.”

Pruitt did agree on the need for public awareness and education regarding the utilization of E15.

“I think all will agree that there are aspects of this discussion that don’t get a lot of attention,” Pruitt said. “We are trying to advance what the [RFS] statute says. There’s quite a few competing interests. I think there’s a path forward that makes sense for the ethanol industry and for others that care about the statute. There needs to be a greater commitment to labeling and proper utilization.”

The NMMA and its members are calling on President Trump and the EPA to implement additional policies that recognize the harmful effects of E15 and high-ethanol fuel blends. 

May’s American Boating Congress featured a special question-and-answer session with NMMA President Thom Dammrich and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who noted the need for consumer education and labeling surrounding E15.

Dammrich asked Pruitt about the possibly of going to a national octane standard to tackle some of the issues associated with the RFS.

“We made a determination April 1 that the Obama Administration’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards were not tracking correctly,” Pruitt said “We are in the process of adjusting that right now.”

According to Pruitt, one of the discussion points considers high octane as a way to meet some CAFE standards. 

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce’s Environment Subcommittee held an April hearing to discuss the concept of a new national octane standard for gasoline.

A new higher-octane standard has the potential to increase the amount of ethanol in gasoline. This is very concerning to marine manufacturers and the recreational boating community.

During the hearing, two members of Congress addressed the impact on boaters: Rep. Tim Walberg (MI) and Rep. Buddy Carter (GA).

Walberg mentioned that he is a boat owner and asked questions regarding the potential for boaters to misfuel with E15. 

Carter talked about the benefits of biobutanol and referenced studies carried out by NMMA. He also talked about the importance of helping to ensure boaters aren’t confused by misleading marketing tactics on E15.

“I think high octane represents an opportunity,” Pruitt said. “Europe deploys it rather effectively, and we need to look at it more here.”

Dammrich said when ethanol became a problem for the marine industry, NMMA invested a lot of time, effort and dollars into alternatives. 

“We did some extensive testing with biobutanol, which is a far, far superior alternative to ethanol. There is some consideration within [the EPA] to approve biobutanol for on-road use,” Dammrich said.

Pruitt said his agency was considering biobutanol only as a fuel additive. “That process began in March,” Pruitt said. “We are earnestly looking at that alternative now. The review and comment period has begun in earnest. At the end of that, we’ll then make a decision whether or not to proceed with that. It’s very encouraging.”

Additive manufacturers respond

Consumer education is the most important issue affecting the boating industry, said Matt Banach, director of marketing at Gold Eagle Co. 

E15 is not approved for use in the marine market, so it’s important for the industry to do its job educating consumers with factual information. 

Banach told Boating Industry that the Trump Administration’s fuel policy preference regarding year-round sales should not be a concern.

While ethanol-blended fuels have been around for a long time, there’s still quite a bit of bad information floating around the marketplace, Banach said.

“Consumers are also only partially educated on how to manage ethanol-blended fuels and what they can truly expect from fuel additives,” Banach added. “They also have unrealistic expectations of ethanol-free fuel in some cases.”

Boaters may believe that by running ethanol-free fuel they don’t need a fuel additive, which is not the case, Banach said.

“Your issues may be substantially less, but for the best performance no matter the fuel, a consumer can benefit from a marine-specific fuel additive,” he said.

Gold Eagle works closely with fuel manufactures to keep its formulations up to date, Banach explained. 

“We continually use internal and third-party testing for our formulations to make sure that they are setting the market standard as well as doing all they can to address the main issues in ethanol blended fuels,” he said.

There is a general belief that all water-related fuel issues are caused by ethanol, which is not 100 percent true, Banach added. 

“You still get water in ethanol-free fuel, but it will just settle to the bottom. It will not promote corrosion to the extent that ethanol and water will, but it is still a performance issue. That being said, when you’re dealing with E10, there will always be a chance of phase separation unless you manage your fuel properly.”

In the diesel market, Gold Eagle’s Sta­Bil product is designed to tackle such issues, Banach said.

“We also address water in the manner that all of the OEM manufacturers would like, which is demulsification as an important differentiator. It will also stabilize diesel fuel for a year, and help prevent microbial growth,” he added. 

According to Banach, the excitement around isobutanol has fallen off. He said isobutanol is far more similar to gasoline as far as energy content and doesn’t have the potential power losses encountered with ethanol. 

“The fuel additive market is fairly consistent,” he said. “There are more competitors every day and there is still a lack of education on how ethanol affects fuel as well as what fuel additives can and cannot do. There is quite a bit of misinformation.”

E15 remains a very hot topic, said Dave Grochocki, vice president of operations for ValvTect Petroleum Products.

 “Our biggest concern with ethanol is the long-term issues associated with wear on fuel system components,” he said. “I think that’s going to be the next wave of problems. You will have fuel systems breaking down that have run fine for years.”

The biggest issue with E15 is people filling up trailerable boats at service stations, Those type of boats are more susceptible to problems, Grochocki contends.

“Most of fuel that’s sold for boats is sold at gas stations, not at the marina,” he said. “People who trailer their boats typically use them for three days on a weekend, and then the boat can sit for six weeks.”

Ultra-low sulfur diesel is good for the environment, but it causes problems with lubricity and bacteria formation, Grochocki said.

Isobutanol testing has shown favorable results, but a supply problem exists, Grochocki said. “It’s not scaled up to meet national demand. From everything I’ve seen, it’s good, but it’s still not going to replace detergents and stabilizers.”   

 

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