The first problems encountered with transitioning to E10 is the loosening of sludge from the fuel tanks. Ethanol is a very effective solvent and it will attack varnish, gum, and resins: the sludge that can build up in fuel tanks. Once cleaned off the fuel tank walls this build up leads to poor performance and frequently clogged fuel filters and injectors.
Understanding Phase Separation
Ethanol has a great affinity for water, and will attract moisture from the atmosphere through the vented lines of a marine fuel tank. The water molecules form an electro-chemical bond with the ethanol that is stronger than the fuel’s original bond with the ethanol. Water is heavier then gas so the water/ethanol molecule is dragged to the bottom of the tank and separates from the more buoyant fuel molecules. This is referred to as phase separation and occurs when the water content in the fuel reaches roughly .05%. Ethanol provides a significant boost to the octane rating of the fuel, so when phase separation occurs you end up with a corrosive water/ethanol layer on the bottom of the tank, under what is now substandard fuel.
Preventing Water-Related Engine Damage
In a boat that is being used regularly, Star Tron® prevents most phase separation that occurs from daily condensation. By neutralizing the electrical charges between water molecules in a process called de-ionization, Star Tron® prevents the water molecules from forming huge clusters, large enough to form drops, and settle, taking the ethanol with it. The octane rating and the combustion characteristics of the gas are protected, and the suspended water molecules are harmlessly burned along with the fuel. In order to understand this process, start by understanding that water does not exist in nature as its textbook single molecule, (H2O). Water consists of hundreds of water molecules bound together in huge “macro-clusters” which are much larger than a fuel molecule. Star Tron®’s enzymes break the electric bonding that holds these macro-clusters together, reducing the molecular size of the water cluster sufficiently to where microscopic amounts are suspended harmlessly in the gas.
Adding More Alcohol Isn’t The Solution
Alcohol has been used by boating consumers for years to “dry” out gas, but that was when gas was all gas. E10 already has a huge amount of alcohol in it, and adding more can cause operational problems and increase the water problem. Adding additional alcohol can also violate the EPA regulations on limits of oxygenates (alcohol) allowed in the fuel, as well as the ASTM fuel specifications. The EPA sets those limits to prevent damage to the engine. Today, all engine manufacturers have certified their new engines on a maximum of 10% ethanol. Any additive taking the fuel over 10% alcohol may void your warranty.
Why You Want to Avoid Emulsifiers
Before using a fuel additive, review the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) provided by the manufacturer to determine if they contain any alcohols or other harmful waterbonding components. Adding more alcohol to E10 fuel is not the solution and in fact can compound the problems as emulsifiers have a long history of causing engine damage. These additives have the ability to absorb their own volume in water, thus allowing more macro water clusters to bond with the fuel. These "new" additives have been demonstrated via a neat sideshow trick in which water is added to gas in a test tube. The two fluids separate, and by adding the emulsifier and violently shaking the test tube, the water appears to vanish. In reality the water still exists. What emulsified water can do to an engine can be far worse than the original problem. Water, when sucked into an engine in volume, will shut it down. It must be cleaned, and the oil changed, but little else happens. Emulsified water/ethanol causes a more serious problem because instead of shutting down, the mixture can be partially combusted, but not effectively, which can damage the engine. Therefore, a mixture of water and ethanol is worse than just water. When emulsified water runs through an engine over a period of time, it causes excessive abrasion and wear, corrosion, and the emulsifier alone causes excessive carbon deposits, which cause wear on rings, pistons, and valves.
Water In The Engine Causes Many Problems
Emulsified water in the fuel can have several negative effects. Water displaces gasoline, which lubricates the fuel pump. Water pits and corrodes the plated metal surfaces causing premature wear on the fuel pump. Water reacts with various components in the fuel and forms acids, which corrode the fuel injector tips as well. Water/gas emulsions were tested by the SAE with ethanol, and they eat the plating off the pump’s internal moving surfaces. (SAE 2005-01-2196, Rovai, Tanaka, Sinatora)
Bonding Water To Gas Causes More Problems Than It Solves
This is just the effect the wetted fuel has. The real harm comes during combustion. The earliest reference to experiments with gasoline and water emulsifications (water chemically bonded to an oil is called an emulsification) we know of is 1913. Every few years since then, somebody thinks they have invented the solution to eliminate water from fuel by adding an emulsifying chemical to gasoline. General Motors conducted a lot of research back in the 1970s, and more attempts were conducted for a few years after that. Each time, the deleterious effects of water/gas emulsions outweighesd any benefits.
Thickened Fuel Can Void Warranties And Damage Engines
Water emulsions immediately increase the fuel’s viscosity. Even “micro-emulsions”, that look to be clear and stable as opposed to the milky look we generally associate with oil/water emulsions still thickens the fuel. Thickened fuel can destroy a fuel pump and fuel injector. The ASTM specifications for fuel viscosity are very tight, and thickening the fuel with water can take the fuel outside its specifications, which will void your warranty. How thick is thick? You can’t tell in the field by looking, unless the emulsification has turned to gel, which it can do if overdosed. A boater can not be expected to dose with an emulsifier, for a water level he can’t assess, and be certain his fuel is still in spec.
Emulsifiers Cause Excess Carbon Buildup
Because the emulsified water lowers the flame temperature in the combustion chamber the combustion efficiency is greatly reduced and the unburned hydrocarbons soar. This forms carbon deposits in the engine, especially on the piston crowns and on the spark plugs. Further, in the General Motors tests, (SAE 760547, Water-Gasoline Fuels, Their Effect on Spark Ignition Engines Emissions and Performance, Peters and Stebar) the deposit buildup was so rapid that the engine had to be disassembled for cleaning approximately every 20 hours. Additionally, they found shiny black deposits linked to the emulsifier. They noted the spark plugs were coated black and appeared wet. Drivability plummeted as well, and fuel economy suffers in a direct ratio to how much water is in the fuel. All effects were increased as the water level increases. GM abandoned their efforts with water in gasoline, as have many others over the years. They also noted in the GM study they never even bothered to investigate the lubricity issues or long-term engine durability, because the performance characteristics were so bad.