Ethanol in fuel hinders NC firefighter, Kentucky pilot cancels Las Vegas flight

The GAfuels Blog is written by two private pilots concerned about the future availability of fuels for piston-engine aircraft: Dean Billing, Sisters, Ore., an expert on autogas and ethanol, and Kent Misegades, Cary, N.C., an aerospace engineer, aviation sales rep for U-Fuel, and president of EAA1114.

As the number of signatures on our petition to the EPA urging a ban on the blending of ethanol in 91+ octane gasoline surged past 6,500 this week, we noted one recent comment on the Pure-Gas.org listing of sources for E0, this one from a North Carolina firefighter: Recently our fire department was responding to a brush fire where the fire was about to get into a barn. Our brush truck has a gasoline powered engine (which is almost new) in which we had a difficult time cranking to extinguish the fire. Upon our investigation after the fire we found the cause of the failure of the pump operating was due to ethanol gas.

The repair agency advised that we should not use ethanol gas on small engines due to this problem and that we should not store ethanol gas for more than two weeks. Unfortunately we must store some gas for emergencies on fire apparatus for calls. Sometimes it can be stored for quite some time before we use it. How are fire departments supposed to operate equipment properly and store gas for emergencies with this causing engine problems? Hope you don’t need to depend on this to save your life — the engine may not start?– Tony Collins, Advance, N.C. (Feb. 9, 2011)

Dan Yeast, a pilot from Frankfort, Ky., who flies a Rotax-powered Zenith 701, sent us the following message about his recent experience in searching for the right fuel for his airplane: I was planning to fly my Zenith 701 from Frankfort, Ky., to Las Vegas, Nevada this May. My aircraft is powered by a Rotax 912S which requires a minimum 91 octane unleaded fuel to operate properly. Minimal amounts of 100LL may be used, however, if used more than 10% of the time it can create problems within the engine and gearbox. While planning the trip using AirNav to locate mogas available at airports along the route, it became readily apparent that it would be impossible to locate it. What few airports that have it only have 87 octane and in the southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada) I was unable to identify any airports with mogas. Therefore, I abandoned this trip. I do have 93 octane ethanol-free mogas that I store at my home, but I have to buy it retail in Tennessee and transport it back. The majority of my flying buddies own Rotax-powered LSA planes and really rely upon high octane unleaded fuel for their engines. Boaters that have older power systems in their craft are also reliant upon ethanol free fuel supplies. One of my search tactics to find unleaded ethanol free fuel for my aircraft is to look for popular boating areas with marinas.

Click here for more information on the petition or to see more comments

Comments

  1. Kent Misegades says

    Dennis and Chris, thanks for your interest and comments. Here are a few of my own:

    1. All we’re asking for is the choice to not buy an ethanol blend. Leave it out of Premium, put it in the other grades. That would solve everyone’s problems and it’s easy. Clearly, the ethanol lobby fears this, an admission that consumers in general don’t want ethanol?

    2. You can not expect consumers to scrap trillions in investments in cars, airplanes, garden equipment, power tools, emergency power generators, priceless and historic classic cars/bikes/planes/boats/etc. simply because they were not designed for ethanol. The government assumed we’d do this and buy E85 cars – that did not happen, and given E85 car fuel economy and lack of E85 sellers, it is not going to happen.

    3. It is futile to modify existing engines to operate on E10. The EPA just approved E15 and wants to ramp this up to E85, the ultimate goal of the EISA 2007 RFS ethanol mandates.

    4. What is so bad about giving consumers a choice NOT to buy something. What we have now is tantamount to the despised, and unconstitutional mandated health insurance as part of Obama-Care, and look at consumers’ rejection of that!

    The ethanol policy in the U.S. is a train wreck in progress that has now contributed to skyrocketing world food prices, unrest and hundreds of deaths in the Middle East. When will this madness end?

  2. Chris Martin says

    Dennis,

    I agree with your comment that the industry should adapt to be able to use ethanol fuel in new equipment but the issue at hand is different:

    1.- As you mentioned, older machines are not designed to use it so those “Complainers”, which include myself, can’t get fuel for their smaller aircraft or boats that require ethanol free fuel. So, is it your suggestion that we all throw away our expensive aircraft and just go and buy a new one. I can tell you are not an aircraft owner. What a lot of us are trying to achieve, and not very successfully so far, is that a source of ethanol free gasoline remains available so that we don’t kill ourselves operating our aircraft or storing fuel at home. For now, my Rotax powered experimental aircraft is sitting at home because were I live I can’t get ethanol free fuel.

    2.- Ethanol rich fuel works dandy in cars because they are used daily and fuel will not have an opportunity to absorb moisture or suffer from phase separation. If you read the article you saw the suggestion to store the fuel in the tank for only two weeks. That is nearly impossible to do in an aircraft, boat or small engine used for recreation. Have you ever tried to dispose of gasoline? The issue with ethanol is not just that the rubbers in the system need to be resistant to ethanol, that is easy to fix, but that the fuel will change its properties over time as it absorbs moisture and this could lead to other problems. That is a big no-no in aviation.

  3. Dennis Reiley says

    Aircraft engines and older small utility engines were not designed for ethanol. Any engine must be fueled with the fuel it was designed for. You don’t put diesel into an unmodified turboprop engine, you don’t put JP-8 into a piper cub. I put E-10 into my car, lawn mower, rototiller, chain saw, etc. I have zero starting problems with them even after storage for the simple reason they were designed for that fuel and the fuel in my northern climate comes with fuel stabilizers.

    Any engine and its fuel system must be designed for the fuel intended for use.

    All these complaints that you can’t use E-10 in aircraft is true, you can’t because they weren’t designed for them. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t design new aircraft to use E-10, nor does it mean that when replacing engines and fuel system components you shouldn’t use ones designed to be compatible with E-10. That’s called planning for the future. When you build a new house it is rare to find someone designing them for only wood heat, or coal heat.You design them for the most economical and available fuel.

    The aircraft industry seems determined to live in the past as far as fuel is concerned. Because of the number of older aircraft it will be necessary to supply them with high octane, zero ethanol fuels; but it will be done at higher cost. Low cost fuel is the 87 to 91 octane with ethanol – MoGas. New aircraft should be designed to use those fuels and present aircraft should be updated to that standard as maintenance and repairs allow.

    I don’t know why those leading the present aircraft industry are so short-sighted and determined to slit their own throats.

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