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Ethanol in Motorcycles

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Ethanol Use in Motorcycles

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AMA Concerned About Proposed Increased Ethanol Levels in Gasoline

July 4, 2007 - The American Motorcyclist Association has expressed concern about unanticipated consequences of proposals that might allow gas stations to increase the level of ethanol in the fuel they sell.

Currently, pump gasoline in the United States can contain up to 10 percent ethanol, which is used to increase octane, reduce carbon monoxide emissions and provide an alternative to petroleum-based fuels.

But now, the state of Minnesota is seeking permission from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow the sale of fuel that includes 20 percent ethanol. And that has led to concerns about the effects on motorcycle engines, which manufacturers say are only certified to run on fuels containing the current 10 percent blend.

The difference could be significant, since burning ethanol creates more heat than conventional gasoline, which has the potential to damage air-cooled motorcycle engines.  In addition, fuel systems on bikes may be susceptible to corrosive effects of higher concentrations of ethanol in gas. And while ethanol helps reduce carbon monoxide levels in engine exhaust, it can also increase the levels of oxides of nitrogen, one of the components of smog.

"The AMA supports the use of cleaner-burning fuels, but we are concerned about premature engine damage or failure while a bike is being ridden on a highway if the allowable level of ethanol is raised to 20 percent," said Imre Szauter, AMA legislative affairs specialist.

"We are also concerned about any degradation in performance, fuel economy and rideability that may result from the long-term use of blended fuels with greater than 10 percent ethanol."

The proposal currently under consideration comes from Minnesota, but the AMA notes that an EPA waiver would open the door to the sale of 20 percent ethanol blends across the country, without any evaluation of the long-term consequences.  With the limited number of choices at gas stations, that could force out existing blends and leave some riders without a suitable fuel choice for their vehicles.

"Until studies show that a 20 percent ethanol blend won't damage motorcycle or ATV engines, and won't make motorcycles emit more nitrogen oxides than are allowed by the EPA, the AMA can't support the Minnesota proposal," Szauter said.

The AMA is a member of AllSAFE, the Alliance for a Safe Alternative Fuels Environment, a group formed to ensure that new bio-based fuels such as ethanol are promoted in a thoughtful manner.  AllSAFE is made up of associations that represent consumer and commercial users of ethanol blends, manufacturers of boats, vehicles, engines and equipment, and retailers who sell gasoline and ethanol-fuel blends.

For more information on ethanol-fuel blends, go to www.allsafe-fuel.org.  AllSafe has also funded the development of a study regarding the use of ethanol in blends of over 10%. 

The report, which studied the potential impacts of mid-level ethanol blends (fuels with over 10% ethanol) on engines, vehicles, boats and equipment, identified significant technical concerns that could lead to unintended risks to consumers and their products. 

Abruptly changing the US “general purpose” motor gasoline pool could lead to “adverse, large-scale impacts if higher than E10 is required as motor gasoline for the existing fleet of on-road and off-road equipment,” the report concluded.

“The technical challenges and data gaps strongly indicate the need for significant additional study,” says the report’s author, Dr. Ron Sahu.  “Mid-level ethanol blends can cause increases in combustion heat release and the potential corrosion and degradation of products and their fuel and emission control systems that are not specifically designed for these higher levels of ethanol.”

Dr. Sahu’s report comes at a time when several federal and state legislative measures are being considered to increase the allowed concentration of ethanol in gasoline above the current 10% limit or cap.  “AllSAFE is working to improve our understanding of the unknown impacts of ethanol fuels on consumers, manufacturers, gasoline retailers, and the environment before we undertake any legislative action that could harm consumers or the environment,” said AllSAFE spokesman Bill  Guerry with the law firm of Kelley Drye Collier Shannon.

“We support ethanol and other renewable fuel options and want to ensure their long-term success is not marred by unintended effects on existing products, which could lead to consumer rejection of ethanol and other valuable renewable fuels.”

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