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15 percent ethanol-based fuel could have ‘disastrous’ effects on boats, marina owner says

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15 percent ethanol-based fuel could have ‘disastrous’ effects on boats, marina owner says

SOUTH PORTLAND — Ten percent ethanol-based fuel has been harsh enough on some boats in Maine, but the 15 percent ethanol-based fuel approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in June could be “disastrous” to boat owners when it enters the market, a local marina owner said Thursday.

Other representatives of Maine marinas agreed.

Daniel Lilley, owner of Sunset Marina in South Portland, said he has seen numerous boats experience problems with 10 percent ethanol-based fuel, so he’s worried about what will happen when the 15 percent solvent is introduced. In some boats, ethanol-based fuel can cause thousands of dollars in damage to engines, carburetors, fuel tanks and other parts, the marina owner said.

“It’s a Catch-22. [Ethanol-based fuel] is more environmentally friendly but it creates the need for more repairs,” Lilley said. That, he noted, can then lead to increased emissions from repair trucks that need to be on the road more often.

The marina owner said “thousands of dollars are being spent” to address ethanol-based fuel-related problems with boats. The issues range from engine corrosion to complete engine failure, Lilley said, and they’re not just limited to boats.

“It includes anything with a smaller combustion engine,” the marina owner said.

Other marina workers echoed Lilley’s concerns, including Jim Petersen and Steve York of Port Harbor Marine, which has several locations in Maine.

“The problems are vast and widespread,” said York, a boat sales representative at Port Harbor’s Holden location.

Before oil companies were required by the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005 to mix ethanol with gasoline, York said his company had to clean and dismantle only six to 12 boat carburetors a year. But after President George W. Bush signed the bill into law, York said the number increased to 150 a year on average.

“It’s very frustrating,” he said.

York and Petersen said moisture absorption in the fuel tank is one of the main issues boats face when using ethanol-based fuel. This happens because hydrogen bonds cause ethanol to attract water from the air. And once enough moisture collects inside the tank, the two said the engine can shut down.

“When you start to have issues with the moisture, it can leave you stranded” in the middle of the ocean, said Petersen, director of service at Port Harbor’s South Portland location.

In order to educate boat owners about the dangers of using E15, the National Marine Manufacturers Association is distributing 100,000 E15 warning labels to its member boat manufacturers to place on their boats. The hope is that boat owners will take notice and avoid using the higher percentage ethanol-based fuel by mistake, according to a press release issued Tuesday.

“If it’s at the same pump as E10, people have the risk of putting E15 into their boats,” said Lauren Dunn, a spokeswoman for the marine group.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association opposes the introduction of E15 fuel into the marketplace, according to the press release, but Dunn said its main concern is to educate people about misfueling.

A representative from EPA was not immediately available for comment, but according to its website, retail gas stations will be required to have a warning label over any E15 pumps to inform people about what vehicles can and cannot accept the new fuel.