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Wheels: E10 petrol to be UK standard but won’t work in 1million older cars

THE Department for Transport is pushing ahead on a consultation that would see E10 petrol — which contains 10 per cent bio-ethanol — the standard grade of unleaded petrol at forecourts across the UK, despite the fact that a million older cars can’t run on the fuel.

Previous statements from the DfT indicated it would introduce E10 petrol alongside ‘normal’ E5 unleaded, which contains five per cent bioethanol, and is the current standard; but the new consultation indicates the government’s plan is to make E10 the default, with E5 petrol only offered as 98-octane superunleaded.

When burned, E10 petrol produces 2 per cent less carbon dioxide compared to E5 petrol, and the DfT estimates making E10 the standard fuel would achieve an effect on total emissions equivalent to removing 350,000 cars from the road.

When the initial consultation into E10 was broached, the government’s own documentation conceded that ‘there are around one million petrol cars registered in the UK today for which the manufacturer has not approved the vehicle for use with E10’. Today’s announcement brought with it a prediction that by 2021, 98 per cent of cars on the road will be compatible with E10 petrol, however.

Which cars can’t run on E10 petrol?

Cars produced since 2011 must be able to run on E10, but older vehicles could be damaged by the fuel, as the higher bioethanol content can dislodge deposits in older engines and fuel systems, causing blockages. Previous research by the RAC Foundation indicated 28,000 Volkswagen Golfs, 18,162 Mazda MX-5s and almost 16,000 Nissan Micras in the UK are unable to run on E10 petrol, for example.

E10 can also cause some seals, gaskets, metals and plastics to corrode in unsuitable vehicles. The 2 per cent reduction in carbon emissions that a switch to E10 petrol would bring also needs to be taken into consideration alongside fuel consumption because E10 is thought to decrease fuel economy anywhere from 1.5 to 3 per cent.

Despite these issues, transport secretary Grant Shapps trumpeted the consultation into making E10 the default grade of unleaded, saying: “Before electric cars become the norm, we want to take advantage of reduced CO2 emissions today. This small switch to petrol containing bioethanol at 10 per cent will help drivers across country reduce the environmental impact of every journey. Overall this could equate to about 350,000 cars being taken off our roads entirely.”

Grant Pearson, the commercial director of Ensus, one of the largest production plants for bioethanol in Europe, was also quoted in the DfT’s consultation launch. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mr Pearson was pleased to hear of the plans, saying: ‘We welcome today’s announcement as the availability of E10 will instantly make petrol a lot cleaner. It is vitally important to protecting and potentially growing jobs in this industry, including many in the supply chain, and will bring tangible benefits to UK farmers and environmentally-conscious motorists.’

Ensus’s own website says that the UK and Europe typically have a surplus of feed wheat, from which bioethanol can be produced, with the UK exporting between two and three million tonnes each year.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, previously said: ‘As and when E10 appears on the forecourts, drivers need to know whether their cars can use it without being damaged.’ He added that ‘even in a couple of years there will still be hundreds of thousands of cars on our roads that are incompatible with the new fuel’.

You can offer your feedback on the government’s E10 proposal here.

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