The ethanol controversy (more here) is heating up again as the EPA announced a mandate last fall to increase the amount of ethanol in gasoline from 10% to 15% (more here). Despite the growing evidence that ethanol costs more, is not really environmentally friendly, drives up the price of food, and is actually ruining engines on vehicles (older than 2007). The ultimate slap in the face is that your tax dollars are being used to ruin your car (more here).
The recent revelation that ethanol ruins small engines (like lawn mowers and weed whackers) has created a niche market for “Boutique Fuel” – pure (no ethanol) gasoline for small engines. Of course, this comes at a pretty stiff premium (story here from Popular Mechanics).
Small-engine repairmen tell PM that ethanol mixed with gasoline is corroding and damaging chain saws, string trimmers and other outdoor equipment at an alarming clip. As a result, a new market is growing in U.S. hardware stores: Ethanol-free gas packaged in small cans that sell at a premium but promise to make your small engines last.
Repairman and small-business owner Rich Herder doesn’t mince words about the damage ethanol in gasoline is doing to the small engines in outdoor power equipment. “It’s the biggest disaster to hit gasoline in my lifetime,” Herder says. He owns McIntyre’s Locksmith & Lawnmower, a service business in Westfield, N.J. Founded in 1898 to refurbish saddles, the business today repairs more than 5000 machines a year—mostly pieces of outdoor power equipment, and many of them, according to Herder, damaged by the alcohol in today’s gasoline, known as E10 for the 10 percent of alcohol it contains.
Herder estimates that as much as 75 percent of that work is not due to normal wear and tear, but results from the use of ethanol, which can cause rust and carbon deposits inside the engine, dissolve plastic parts and more. And if repair shops like Herder’s are already busy, you have to wonder what will happen this summer when gas pumps begin dispensing E15 gasoline; the Environmental Protection Agency recently approved the fuel for cars built after the 2000 model year, but the fuel could hit small engines even harder than E10 does. But now, because of all that ethanol-based wear and tear, a nascent industry is starting up: Ethanol-free gas, distributed in cans for owners of small engines.
Deposits and corrosion aren’t the only reasons alcohol is hard on today’s small engines. The power plants are easily ruined by bad fuel because they lack the sophisticated computer-controlled ignition systems found in today’s cars and trucks. The alcohol can cause the fuel to ignite at the wrong time in the combustion sequence, ruining parts in the process. “The pistons are the first to go,” Herder says. “They look like they’ve been hit with a hammer.” Clearly the time for an alternative has come.
With congress in the pocket of agribusiness and the EPA mandating even more ethanol in fuel, the alternative is Boutique Fuels. Thank you government – BOHICA consumers!
The phenomenon of fuel-related problems has become so severe that the niche market for specialized fuel is growing fast. Tidily packaged little metal cans containing ethanol-free gasoline were just an oddity a few years ago; now they’re sold in hardware stores and by power equipment dealers, and people are taking specialized fuel seriously. There are at least three brands to choose from: MotoMix, from outdoor power equipment manufacturer Stihl USA, SEF from VP Racing Fuels and Truefuel from TruSouth. Of the three, only Stihl relies on an outside-contract chemical manufacturer to make its boutique fuel: Johann Haltermann, Ltd., a company that makes, among other things, precisely blended fuel for testing vehicles. Stihl was likely the first outdoor power equipment company to enter the boutique fuel market when, more than 20 years ago, it was so concerned about fuel quality in Germany that it introduced packaged fuel for its equipment sold in Europe.
The market for these fuels is still so new that there’s no generally recognized name for them. But regardless of whether you call this stuff—boutique fuel, packaged fuel or canned gas—it’s an end run around the gas pump. Sold as straight unleaded gasoline or blended with oil for high-rpm two-cycle engines in chain saws, blowers and string trimmers, it’s expensive stuff, costing anywhere from $5 to $8 per quart. Despite the high price, customers might be willing to pony up if it means seeing an engine or its components run for several trouble-free years rather than seeing the engine destroyed or damaged by ethanol—after all, avoiding just one ruined engine might be worth the cost.
Imagine that – pure gasoline at $20 – $32 a gallon. That works for me. I just love my government so much – BLECH!