Ethanol Use in Motorcycles
AMA Concerned About Proposed Increased Ethanol Levels
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
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
“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
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