Ben Visser is an aviation fuels and lubricants expert who spent 33 years with Shell Oil.
In a recent post I discussed the problems with ethanol and water in a plane’s fuel system. I received a large number of replies and most were very positive. However, I did get a number of negative notes. For example, one reader wrote: “Ben Visser, go argue with your wife to get your stupid little victory! I’ve been using ethanol mogas for over 20 years without a drop of water showing up…You’d make a great corrupt politician.”
Two problems here: First is that this guy is definitely not married, because if he were he would know that you never win an argument with your wife. You only think you are ahead sometimes, but you never truly win. The other problem is poor logic. When looking at a problem, some people just go out and try it to see if it works in one application and then claim it will work in all applications. They should also look at the science behind the problem.
When ethanol first came on the scene, we started to test it in the lab. The fuels with ethanol cleaned out our fuel systems and caused a number of leaks. Most people think that when a fuel line is made of neoprene or Buna-N rubber that the name completely defines what that rubber is. What they do not know is that there are a number of different compounds of each of these products. When we ran hardness and swell tests on a number of different compounds of the more common rubber types, we found that ethanol affected them differently. For example, we found that some neoprene rubber hoses worked well with ethanol-containing fuels, but others would harden or swell a great deal. This means if a person drove a car or flew a plane with ethanol-containing fuel and did not have any problems, it only means that the rubber components in that particular vehicle were OK. It does not in any way, shape, or form prove that ethanol will work on all rubber fuel components. Likewise, there are a lot of different aluminum alloys — many that work with ethanol, but there are some ethanol will corrode.
Peterson Aviation and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), who would benefit economically if ethanol mogas could safely be used in aircraft, have done their homework and have looked at the large amount of data available and have concluded that ethanol, when used in aircraft, represents a very real danger.
What amazes me is that people will read this and then hear of a report from an ethanol salesman that claims that ethanol fuel can be used in any spark ignition engine and believe it. Or they will drive their car or even build a kit plane and fly it on ethanol-containing fuel and then tell everyone that that proves that ethanol is safe for every airplane ever built.
If these people really wanted to help aviation, they would accept the fact that ethanol and aviation do not mix. They could then start working to get Congress and the EPA to pass a regulation that requires that all oil companies offer at least one grade, premium, that is ethanol free. This would make it safe for aviation, old cars, boats, chainsaws, etc., to operate safely. They can then safely go crazy with the other grades.
Now I know that makes a lot of sense, but I am sure that there will be a few people who will be offended because their neighbor’s cousin’s boss’ brother-in-law heard a guy in a bar claim that ethanol is just alcohol and he has been drinking it all his life, so it must be safe. And this proves conclusively, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that that Visser fellow is full of you know what. Well, according to my wife, they may be right, so I will close now and go see if the fish are biting.
You can contact Ben Visser at Visser@GeneralAviationNews.com.