Stalling E15

Features - Maintenance

Maine’s proposed ban on ethanol-15 aligns with OPEI’s position on the biofuel: It’s an engine killer.

April 5, 2013
Kristen Hampshire

Ethanol-15 (E15) gasoline might have looked good on paper. At least, the idea of upping the proportion of ethanol in gasoline is appealing to corn growers who are getting more than double the price per bushel for their crops these days. But small engine mechanics, landscapers that depend on this equipment and any consumer that has fueled up a machine with this super “flex” fuel knows differently.

E15 is an engine killer.

And, it was prematurely introduced into the marketplace, according to Kris Kiser, president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) and former vice-president of government affairs for the American Forest and Paper Association. Now, E15 is appearing at gas pumps across the country – and consumers don’t realize that the gas eats out the engines of vehicles, toys (four-wheelers, etc.) and lawn equipment.

So Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake introduced two bills that are circulating through the legislature in Maine. One would form a coalition with other New England states to create an ethanol-free gasoline market. The other would cut the percentage of ethanol permitted in Maine’s gasoline from 10 percent to 5 percent.

Meanwhile, a bill seeking to repeal the E15 waiver and require additional testing of the fuel was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican. Lawn & Landscape spoke with Kiser, Rep. Timberlake and the president of the Maine Landscape and Nursery Association, Elizabeth Listowich, owner of Norpine Landscape.

Why ban E15 in Maine?

Timberlake: Ethanol gas has not decreased the carbon footprint in the country, or in the state of Maine. The theory was that technology would evolve, and they would become more efficient at producing ethanol, and the gas would not cost as much.

But ethanol gas is still costing more than a gallon of fossil fuel. And, we are seeing the cost of food increase because corn prices are up. So, farmers are getting driven out of business, and small engine people are (dealing with the repairs) because ethanol is damaging engines.

Kiser: Engine failure from E15 is no small matter. For one, the forest and paper industry are greatly impacted when the engines of their chainsaws, chippers and grinders fail. Boats, snowmobiles and utility vehicles have stranded their users when their engines quit. Expensive landscape, snow removal and other power equipment have been ruined.

Listowich: We have been doing lots of maintenance on small engines, and the (current) E10 level eats away at the hoses inside equipment. If we go to E15, that will make for more maintenance and more small equipment failure. At the end-user level, it will result in more work and more cost.

What are some misconceptions about ethanol fuel, and E15 in particular?

Kiser: Too many citizens do not understand that E15 is only approved for us in 2001 and newer automobiles or flex-fuel vehicles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This means any other product with an engine is incompatible with E15 by law.

Plus, the EPA has not put into place market safeguards. If a retailer wants to sell E15, he or she is not required to sell E10. So, if you are a small-town gas station owner and E15 is cheaper… .

Timberlake: I think in the state of Maine, and especially the rural areas, the majority of the population understands what ethanol gasoline is doing to the economy. But people who are living in the cities don’t understand the impact it is having on their everyday lives. It’s not just fuel.

What’s the future for E15?

Kiser wrote in an op-ed that appeared in Maine’s Bangor Daily News: “We agree consumers should always have a choice. Our country should move toward energy independence, and other fuel sources should be investigated. But to introduce a fuel that is potentially dangerous and harmful to so many engine products is reckless.”

Timberlake: I’m hoping that my legislation and my delegates, between our senators and congressmen and women, will take that message to Washington, and on the way they’ll go to Massachusetts and Connecticut and New York and get those states on board.

Listowich: It takes more time in the shop to put equipment up for winter – more work. And that will only increase with E15. I can only go by what my maintenance guys tell me, and they’re saying they don’t like it.