E10 Fuel | What’s the big deal?

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Over the past month or so, you’ve probably heard news readers banging on about E10 fuel and how it’s going to affect car drivers across the country. But we don’t really care about car drivers, here. And nobody seems to be talking about how much it’ll affect motorcycles, if at all. So we’ve been down to the library, dug our old chemistry text books out, and spoken to some people in the know, to find out everything a motorcyclist needs to know about E10 fuel.

What is it?

For some years, standard ‘premium unleaded’ petrol was ‘E5’. E5 means the petrol has got an ethanol content of 5%. Ethanol being the pure form of a type of alcohol (the type that gets you pissed). E10 fuel, is petrol with 10% ethanol. It’s as simple as that.

Why the switch?

First of all, ethanol is made from crops, rather than distilled from crude oil. So by bolstering out the volume of petrol with ethanol (a renewable), you’re reducing the amount of oil (which is finite) you need to find, and pump out the ground.

That said, it is widely agreed that E10 fuel contains less of the energy that an engine needs than E5 or E0 (0% ethanol) fuel, so to achieve the same performance, you’ve got to use more fuel. The government have been quite clear that a lot of vehicles will use more E10 fuel, than they would E5, which does seem a little backwards. Until you consider how much extra money the government stand to make in fuel duty, thanks to people having to put extra fuel in their cars and bikes. Fuel duty revenue is currently about £28 billion a year, and it’s probably going to go up.

The idea though, and how we’ve been sold E10 fuel, is that it’ll cut UK CO2 emissions by 700,000 tonnes. Although that sounds like a lot, it’s actually a very small amount in the scheme of things. Normally when we talk about a nations CO2 emissions, we talk about megatonnes (1,000,000 tonnes), or hundreds of megatonnes, usually. But every little helps.

Will it destroy our bikes?

Probably not, if it’s a modern bike, with modern materials. The main issue with the added ethanol content though, is that ethanol is hygroscopic; that means it attracts and absorbs water. In fact, ethanol doesn’t even have to come into contact with physical water, it can draw in moisture from fresh air. Water inside a fuel system or an engine is obviously never a good thing. It can cause severe corrosion if left for a long time, it can damage injectors, jam carburettors up and fill fuel tanks with rust. But, in all fairness, E5 fuel could do that if left too long, too. It’s never been a good idea to leave fuel in a vented tank, or a fuel system for a prolonged period of time; and with the new E10 fuel, it’s an even worse idea.

Ethanol is also solvent, and quite an aggressive one. So with more of it in E10 fuel, you stand the chance of ‘melting’ robber hoses, o-rings and plastic pipes, if they’re not ethanol proof.

Is my bike E10-proof?

Like cars, if your bike was made in the last 20 years, the new E10 fuel will probably be fine. But it’s not a guarantee. If you want to find out, you can check on the government website, but it’s probably easier to check on the website of bike’s manufacturer. Most manufacturers have published a list of the bikes that are/aren’t compatible with E10 fuel on their website. Just type ‘Kawasaki E10 Fuel’ into Google (obviously type Honda E10 if you have a Honda, Yamaha E10 of you have a Yamaha etc.).

If you find your bike isn’t E10 proof, then unfortunately you’re probably going to have to fork out the extra cash for ‘Super Unleaded’. Super unleaded will remain at 5% ethanol, for now. And whilst that does sound like a bit of a ball-breaker, its probably better than melting all your fuel hoses.

Whether I’ve got E5 or E10 fuel in my bike though, I think I’ll continue to drain it out. Especially if it’s going to be stood for any length of time. If 10% ethanol is going to destroy my bike, I can’t see 5% ethanol being particularly good for it.


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