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Old 04-09-2006, 15:42   #1
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Ethanol Gasoline Causing Problems??

This article is from today's Wall Street Journal:

Thoughts anyone?

Some Boat Owners
With Gunky Motors
Sing Ethanol Blues
Mariners Complain of Stalls,
Costly Repair Problems;
Mr. Koch Cuts His Losses

By ROBERT TOMSHO
September 2, 2006; Page A1


EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. -- Proponents of ethanol see it as a fuel additive that can relieve the nation's energy woes. Pleasure boaters like Walter Kaprielian say they need it like a hole in the hull.
Mr. Kaprielian's 1969 boat was made in Miami by Bertram Yacht, whose sturdy older vessels have a devoted following. But the 20-footer, a beamy craft with a small cabin, has had all sorts of things go wrong with it since marinas here began selling nothing but ethanol-blended gasoline two years ago.
The boat has spent the summer sitting in a repair yard while its owner thinks about expensive fixes such as a new $25,000 motor. "I get depressed just looking at it," says the 72-year-old, who sometimes seeks solace online, where a lot of boat owners are singing the ethanol blues. Boaters blame the blend for unpredictable stall-outs and a ruinous goo that brings some motors to a grinding halt.
"Take heed, folks, this stuff is nasty in outboards," one Virginia angler warned recently in a bass-fishing forum. On a site for Bertram owners, a New Yorker lamented leaving an article about ethanol problems out where his wife found it. Now "she wants to sell the boat," he wrote.
This past spring, Eric Koch, of Old Saybrook, Conn., did seek a buyer for the 34-foot boat he had spent nearly $40,000 to buy and restore. After ethanol problems set in, the kitchen designer ended up letting it go for $9,000. "It was time to cut some losses," he says.
Mechanics and manufacturers say that while a 10% ethanol blend causes few problems in a car's closed fuel system, it can be a big problem in boats, whose gas tanks are ventilated. Ethanol absorbs water from the air, which can cause a motor to lose power or stall. A solvent, ethanol also picks up contaminants from storage containers. And when mixed with non-ethanol gasoline already in a tank, the blend can form a gelatinous glob that clogs fuel filters.
After Houston-area marinas switched to the ethanol blend this year, local restaurateur Rob Cromie moved his 31-footer to distant Port Aransas, Texas, where ethanol-free gasoline is still sold. "I'd rather drive for four hours than drive for 45 minutes and risk having my motor blow," he says.
While some vehicles are designed to run on fuel containing 85% ethanol, it is available at only about 800 of the nation's 169,000 service stations. The blended gasoline currently in wide use typically contains 10% ethanol. Such low-level blends now account for about 40% of all gasoline produced in this country, up from 33% in 2005, according to the American Petroleum Institute.
The spread of ethanol, often made from corn, has been spurred by state and federal government moves to promote alternative fuels. Ethanol helps gasoline burn more cleanly, boosting oil-industry efforts to meet air-pollution mandates. Refiners once favored adding methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, to gasoline to promote cleaner air. But last year, Congress refused to grant them immunity from lawsuits over water pollution linked to MTBE, which many states have banned.
A boat motor valve fouled by ethanol. Charlie Drevna, executive vice president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, says that using ethanol is now the only viable way for refiners to meet federal laws requiring them to sell cleaner-burning gasoline in areas with heavy air pollution. Refiners would like to offer boaters a different product, he added, "but legally we can't."
Complaints "are coming from all over the country," says Martin Peters, a spokesman for boat maker Yamaha Marine Group, in Kennesaw, Ga. Sales of a Yamaha fuel filter designed to head off ethanol problems have more than tripled this year, over the same period in 2005.
Ethanol's most excruciating headaches are reserved for the owners of vintage boats, made by Bertram and a few other manufacturers, that came with fiberglass fuel tanks, once a high-end feature thought to last a lifetime. Most boats now are manufactured with gas tanks made of aluminum, steel or polyethylene. The latest fiberglass tanks are made of ethanol-resistant materials.
The 10% ethanol blend can leach the resin right out of fiberglass tanks manufactured before 1985 or so -- as many as 15,000 of which are still said to be in use on boats. The resulting chemical brew can coat a motor's innards with a crippling black gunk that hardens after a motor cools.
"Basically, you get a fuel tank that is solid and hard, and it turns to jelly," says boat mechanic Frank Damm, of Montauk, N.Y., who has removed several.
Prices for new tanks start at around $2,000, but many mechanics won't even guess at installation costs until they gauge how hard it will be to remove the old tank. That often means sawing a big hole in a boat's deck.
Ethanol angst began to settle over eastern Long Island, a center of affluent boaters, in 2004. That's when New York banned MTBE and ethanol arrived to replace it.
The ensuing motor breakdowns were particularly perplexing to owners of older Bertrams. A proud lot, they consider their thick-hulled boats to be all but indestructible, and some disparage more modern craft as "bubble boats" and "Clorox bottles."
"The people who own these boats are fanatics, and the rest of the world just doesn't get it," declares Randall Rosenthal, a 58-year-old sculptor from Springs, N.Y.
But last summer, one of the motors on his 1970 Bertram suddenly turned balky and, when he opened it up, the insides looked as if they had been painted with tar.
Mr. Rosenthal siphoned the 65 gallons of ethanol blend left in his tanks into old antifreeze jugs and paint buckets, which he stored in his backyard while looking for a legal disposal site. This summer, he has been using his kayak more than the Bertram, which has a "for sale" sign in the window.
Mr. Kaprielian, his friend a few miles away, can't imagine parting with his Bertram, which he named Bluebeard Too. A lifelong angler who pads around his house with fishing pliers strapped to his belt, the retired ad man used to take it on solo fishing trips of up to 30 miles offshore.
The Bluebeard Too, owned by Walter Kaprielian. But that was before a series of offshore power losses that sometimes turned two-hour return trips into six-hour ordeals. Mr. Kaprielian couldn't figure out the problem until one day at the dock last fall, when he turned on his motor and heard what sounded like a clothes drier full of hammers. His mechanics blamed ethanol, and he has been wrestling with what to do ever since.
Marina owners on eastern Long Island say they sell ethanol-blended gasoline because it is all they can get. Jeff Briggs, owner of East Hampton Marina, where Mr. Kaprielian docks his boat and buys his fuel, says he wishes he could buy ethanol-free gasoline to use in his own boat.
Some friends have switched to motors that burn diesel, which is still ethanol-free, but Mr. Kaprielian can't bring himself to spend the $25,000 or more that's likely to cost. Meanwhile, no one will give him a solid estimate on replacing his gas tank, and Mr. Kaprielian doesn't relish the prospect of surgery on his deck, anyway.
"It's a little bit like cutting up your child," he says.
Some of his local Bertram brethren talk about stuffing their tanks with rubber bladders or spraying their insides with various protective coatings. Others debate the practicality of hauling ethanol-free aviation fuel in from the nearest airports.
Then there's Fred Phinney, an ex-publisher from nearby Southold, N.Y. After shelling out nearly $3,000 for motor repairs, he recently disconnected his fiberglass tanks and hooked his fuel lines up to a cheap pair of portable plastic models.
They are now strapped to the top of his meticulously scrubbed deck. Unfortunately, it's white and the new ethanol-proof tanks are fire-engine red.
"That's kind of degrading to me as a Bertram owner," says Mr. Phinney, who plans to hide the telltale replacements with a pair of newly made white canvas covers.
Write to Robert Tomsho at rob.tomsho@wsj.com
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Old 04-09-2006, 16:11   #2
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Hmmmmm, not sure this is the fault of Ethanol as such, but more an error in the user not being told of what happens when using Ethanol. It's not the ethanol that is causing the problems, it is the contaminents leaching into the Ethanol that is causing the problem. So the only real way of combating the problem is to replace or reline the fuel tank. I don't see this as a major issue when compared to replacing the engine. I think the major concern is either lack of education from suppliers of fule to the customer, or failure of the customer to take heed of any advice that may have been given.
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Old 04-09-2006, 16:35   #3
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I'm leary of the $25k engine replacement claim but so much newspaper is theater. But then again it is a boat and people will charge what someone is willing to pay.
From experience, gasoline with even small amounts of ethanol can cause problems with vintage fuel systems. Years ago my MG would stall any time I used ethanol fuel. I finally tracked it down to the fuel pump, a bellows type, that would stick together if any alcohol was in the fuel. Also fuel lines were short lived with ethanol. I ate up a lot of rubber before I realized what the problem was.
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Old 04-09-2006, 16:53   #4
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Ethanol also attracts water. This means that if you have a large fuel tank... and use little fuel or for the dink on weekends, you will find a lot of water at the bottom of the tank where the fuel pick up is (of course). This mean that you are pulling in a watery mix.. which is not prone combust. I took out more than a cup of water froma 6 gallon tank, and there was water in the fuel line and carb.

This is a continuing problem. This weekend the Honda (1 yr old) would not even start. I need to get new fuel and purge the system I suppose.

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Old 04-09-2006, 17:31   #5
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This article makes me nervous, since I know there is a new "low-sulphur" diesel fuel starting to come out as well. Luckily, the entire country runs on diesel (trucks, construction equip, some electric power plants, etc...), so they probably won't botch that up as badly.



Jef,

Are you able to shut your 6 gal tank off completely from the atmosphere while not using it? I have done this all year with my tank and haven't had the dreaded ethanol problems... yet.

I have had a hiccup or two, but no stoppage events.

I am sure to close off my tank every time I pull up the outboard, which is every time I leave the tender. Just a thought.
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Old 04-09-2006, 17:40   #6
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I researched this issue about a year ago for my faher-in-law. He read an article in a fishing and hunting magazine that said that the use of the blended fuels in marine motors would lead to the motors having to be replaced if they were manufactured before a certain date (1990 I think) as well as increased polution and anglers being banned from certain fishing grounds that they now enjoy. (There were a couple of other points, as well, but I can't recall them.)

I read the article and the interesting thing was that there wasn't a single souce quoted or referenced for every negative point that was made, so I went looking for information. I cheked both US and CDN (mostly government) and went deep enough to look at some of the research papers that were there. What I found was that ethanol will attract water in a tank that nis not tightly sealed or air-tight. That creates a problem when the water content hits around 2 or 3%. At that point the ethanol separates from the gasoline and goes to the bottom of the tank, causing engine roughness. I do not recall the water separating from the mix though, but it makes sense that it would be with the ethanol at the bottom of the tank. If this separation occurs the entire tank of gas has to be replace.

The second issue was that the ethanol would clean up any gunk that had accumulated in the tank and that would result in clogged fuel filters. In all testing I read, when the fuel filter was changed as soon as the engine started to run roughly, the problem was solved. Once the fuel tank was cleared of the gunk, then the fuel filters stopped getting clogged. In other words, it was a temporary condition that resulted in a cleaner tank.

The reference sites also said that all marine engine manufacturers had done testing on their engines and that they would work fine with eethanol blends. I seem to recall that both new models and older ones were tested.

The pollution thing looked to be a non-issue as well since all reports stated that the the ethanol blends burned cleaner.

The sights did state the problem with the fiberglass tanks. My understanding is that the ethanol eats through the tanks and causing leaking. I did not read anything about gunk building up in the motor and then solidifying when the engine cooled. I've no doubt it could happen, I just did not see that specific problem in the stuff that I read.

Although alot of the research into ethanol blends has been done for automobiles, there seems to be only a comparitively small amount done for marine applications. Pretty much the only thing we can do as consumers in a marine envirnment is read up on the issue, educate ourselves and adjust.

Lori, Rick and Shadow
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Old 04-09-2006, 17:47   #7
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I think the $25000 engine replacement part is not entirely and accurate statement to be made. Typical media hyping up a story. The issue isn't that the ethanol has caused a $25000 engine replacemnet, the real issue is it would cost him 25K to upgrade to a Diesel installation from a petrol one. And that is quite a feasable price. However, the problem can be solved for much less if the boat remains petrol/ethanol and certain aspects are addressed, such as tank and any rubbers that are in contact with the new fuel. The other issue with water is also a little unfair to the argument. Yes Ethanol does attract water, BUT, it is a case of water can also be held in bulk tanks with both Diesel and petrols. It is not always JUST becuase it is Ethanol. Plus becuase it is a 10% mix only, Ethanol mixed in Petrol will absorb little water. Having a cup of water in a tank of fuel would most likely have come from other means.
Here is a very simple way of keeping water out of fuel. Go to a plant store and by "crystal rain". It is a crystal that absorbs water, about 10x it's volume in water and turns into a gel like substance. Place it into a fine gauze material, preferablly SST gauze as it won't rust then. Another is a nylon or plastic material that is fuel or most importantly, Ethanol safe. Ensure the Gauze mesh size is small enough not5 to allow any crystal through it. Tie some SST trace to it so as it can be retrieved and drop it to the bottom of the fuel tank. Theses Crystals will not absorb fuel at all. But they do absorb water as soon as they come in contact with it. Remove every now and then and either replace or allow to dry in the sun and drop back in again.
This works really well.
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Old 05-09-2006, 07:46   #8
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Great workaround, Wheels. I had never heard of those crystals you mention.

It's the gunked up valve in the photo that had me a little worried, as well as the plans for our country to roll out new low-sulphur diesel. All new engines run on it, and you cannot put the old diesel into the new engines. The new fuel is supposedly backwards-compatible, but I can't be sure until we see what happens as people start using it.
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Old 05-09-2006, 09:34   #9
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Crystal Rain ....

A more common 'availability' of water absorbant material is 'absorbant diapers / nappies' that contain such absorbants as HydroxyMethylCellulose and other high tech Cellulosic 'absorbants'. If the tank has an access port, wad up the diaper/nappie into a 'TEA BAG' and let it submerge into the fuel for a few hours .... most all the water (free water and emulsified water) will absorb into the diaper/nappie. I use these same cellulosic compounds in real life (blended into filter media) in hi-tech water removal from various organic solvents and fuels.

On my diesel tanks, I apply a dessicant (silica gel) on the vent lines to prevent water vapor from 'equilbrating' through the vent into the fuel. I use a 'pot' with screens to prevent the silica gel from coming out of the pot which is mounted in-line with the vent line. I use 'dyed' silica gel that changes color from blue to pink when fully wetted with water vapor .... to regenerate I just put into the kitchen oven for about 6 hours at 300 deg. F to regenerate. You can buy silica gel in 'craft / hobby' stores .... especially the ones who specialize in 'flower drying'.


I used to run alcohol fueled race cars. Alchohol is a great fuel .... but after every long race, I'd have to totally tear down the engine and clean out all the deposits (gums, carbon, etc.) from essentially all the spaces that the combustion gases came in contact with - those deposits were horrendous. Alcohols fuels for 'normal usages' are a bad joke for boats and cars .... way overpriced, too little caloric value in comparison to gasoline, .... but it does burn a hell of a lot hotter than gasoline (because it carries its own O2). In racing, Id have to essentiallly double the size of carburator jets (using a hell of a lot more alcohol fuel than gasoline) to get the performance I wanted. Alcohol fuels (any %) - no thanks.
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Old 05-09-2006, 10:18   #10
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I don't know how reliable this is.... but... an outboard dealer on the East end of LI has been seeing horrendous problems since ethanol. He said Honda indicated that all new outboard installs must include a fuel water separator now. They decided to have the ethanol from some local gas stations tested and they found up to 30% ethanol and not the 10% advertised.

My own nightmare started when I used a tank of gas which sat for the winter. When I brought tank and motor to the repair shop because starting was almost impossible. The mechanic removed almost a cup of water from that tank... But this was NOT the old fuel, but fuel purchased two weeks prior in Newport which has "produced" all that water. The hose needed to be purged and of course the carb. After that with the engine started and ran fine for a few days and then started acting up and after the recent down pour the engien simply will not start. This AFTER I installed a new fuel water separater inline and all new hoses. At this pont I haven't a clue why this motor is not starting and it's quite new! I may use a new tank of fuel, purge the carb, a new hose and see if it fires... if not I toss it through the corporate headquarters at Honda Marine.

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Old 05-09-2006, 13:49   #11
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The "crystals" are indeed the same stuff in the nappies. I suppose it may have become more refined over the years, but basicaly the same. I meet the guy that helped start all this stuff off. At the time he owened a network of flour mills throught out the country. (he has now retired a very rich man). They wanted to find a way of dealing with some of the byproducts of milling that was basicaly waste. This celulose was one of them. The "team" he had came up witht eh idea of the nappies among others and it went from there. He never thought about fuel/water seperation and was stunned to meet me selling this product. So we had a great old natter. I even fitted a GPS plotter to his boat. This was some 15yrs ago or maybe more. So you could imagine the plotter was astronomical in price and did very little compared to todays standards.

Sean, the low sulphur diesel has been in NZ for a year now. Although in varying degrees of how much sulpher is being removed. This is how it boils down so far.
Firstly, the LSD (oops) was introduced into NZ as a high quality crude that naturaly had low sulpher content. Then about a yr later it went into further processign and we start using a lower content. But this is where the issues started. To chemicaly remove sulphur, many of the aromatics are also removed. These "solvents" are what kept the Orings and seals soft. As soon as the Aromatics disapeared, many fuel pumps started leaking. They had to be modified with new Orings and seals to solve the problem. Supposedly this problem was only going to affect a coupple of types of engine makes. But I know of several engines outside of those listed, have leakages. And now I have just noticed the fuel pump on my Perkins leaking, so I need to check that. Oh yipee, another boat job to do.
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