Much is being made of a “new” formulation of petrol which, it is claimed, will help the UK’s efforts to reduce pollution, as part of the push to become carbon neutral by 2050. There is growing concern, however, that this formula comes with issues of its own. The fact that E10 is now the accepted industry standard, however, means that scientists and engineers are under pressure to “fix” these issues, and quickly. Fears that vehicle sales will be hit are accompanied by motoring bodies’ worries over what owners can do about harm caused by E10. There are also legal implications for drivers who don’t want to put it in their vehicles; even the rate at which electric vehicles (EVs) are adopted could be affected.
The formulation of E10 has been widely described as a breakthrough in gasoline (petrol) manufacture. All petrol contains ethanol, which is represented by E in the product’s name. Ethanol is an alcohol related substance which is part of of the crude oil extracted from the Earth to produce gasoline. Ethanol is seen as renewable product; therefore, the more ethanol present in petrol, the better for the environment. Until recently, only 5% of UK petrol consisted of ethanol; this formulation is known as E5. As of September 2021, that formulation has been E10; i.e. 10% of British petrol is now ethanol. This higher presence reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in exhaust gases.
This new petrol “recipe” has since been burned in the engines of vehicles most often designed and manufactured to burn the older E5 form; indeed, the garages that carry out annual check MOT examinations assume this as part of their fuel emissions tests. These very garages, and many of the motorists whose vehicles have failed their tests for emissions reasons, are the source of the first major concerns over the introduction of E10 petrol. Vehicles owners almost immediately reported worse performance from their engines; this included a range of factors from responsiveness to distance between refuelling. Garages, meanwhile, saw a lot more gasket damage.
Of course, there are financial implications for motorists. Less miles per gallon means more visits to the pumping station; and in 2022’s economic climate, this is hitting drivers harder than ever. Also, failing the check MOT process can also be costly. Whereas worn gaskets themselves eventually lead to essential repair work, today’s vehicles compound these problems. The MOT test in 2022 includes checks for the number of warning lights which come on when operating a vehicle; overworked engines produce a lot of these. The result is the same; a fail. While it is usually quick and simple to fix such faults, it does cost money, and the same problems are certain to recur until their cause is addressed.
Critics of the universal introduction of E10 into British pumps argue that all of these problems were predictable. This is because, they point out, putting twice as much ethanol into gasoline comes with consequences; the main one being, it adds moisture. This moisture escapes at every stage of the process of storage, transportation, transfer and eventual ignition of the petrol. The end result of this is rust. Storage tanks, pipes, connectors and any other metal object involved rusts quicker due to E10 than with E5; the damage to gaskets reported by MOT garages seeming to attest to this. Over time, then, suppliers will be burdened with increased repair and maintenance costs, which will inevitably be passed onto consumers.
Critics also point to the fact that the government introduced E10 without asking its citizens what they thought about it. Of course, millions of those citizens drive vehicles on a regular basis, and have often been described as the backbone of the British economy. This same section of society is now forced to use a product which damages their property (their vehicle/s), and therefore deteriorate in value quicker. For a significant proportion of the British public, their car is second only in value to their house; a major investment for which they get into debt that they have to pay off over many years.
Apart from these individual impacts, there is a road safety consideration. Any avoidable factor which makes vehicles unsafe should be seen as a bad thing; and if what drivers and MOT testers are saying is true, E10 does just that. The UK rightly prides itself on having some of the safest roads in the world, so critics hope that any potential emissions benefits do not come at the cost of other priorities.