They sprouted like weeds — marine fuel treatments claiming to stabilize ethanol-laced gasoline and to forestall ghastly complications such as phase separation.
Yet, how can you be confident that these work as intended or that they won’t damage an engine? This is an issue that the National Marine Manufacturers Association is attempting to resolve within its Oil Certification Committee, made up of marine engine manufacturers, additive companies and petroleum refiners.
In the initial meeting, known as the Fuel Additive Summit, discussions centered on test parameters that might result in an NMMA certification program for gasoline treatments, similar to the TC-W and FC-W programs for two- and four-stroke marine oils, respectively. However, at least one fuel additive company is questioning the need for marine certification.
There are more than 35 marine fuel additives that claim to address ethanol issues, says Steve Friedrich, assistant department manager for Yamalube, the oil, lube and additive arm of Yamaha Motor Corp., which offers two marine fuel treatments. Friedrich is also chairman of the OCC, and his company supports certification.
“Yamaha understands all of them, and about two-thirds are problematic,” Friedrich says. He refers to internal engine rust caused by some additives that encapsulate water in an ill-advised attempt to mask phase separation.
Phase separation occurs when ethanol combines with water in the gas, forming a soupy goop that sinks to the bottom of the tank. No fuel additive can effectively reverse phase separation, Friedrich says.
However, some fuel additives can temporarily emulsify water with chemicals such as glycol or alcohol, but these also change the chemical nature of the fuel, and that can cause pre-detonation as well as internal corrosion, Friedrich claims.
Another proponent of certification is Jerry Nessenson, president of ValvTect, which offers its own ethanol treatment as well as other additives and special gasoline blends sold at marina fuel docks. ValvTect also makes private-label formulas for some marine engine companies.
“The subject of ethanol has come up so fast that boaters have not thought much about whether an additive is safe or not,” Nessenson says. “Boaters need to be cautious about what they pour in their gas tanks.”
Nessenson suggests that the OCC adopt the same standards developed by the American Society of Materials and Testing for fuel additives in the automotive industry. “Any additive manufacturer should be able to verify its claims via industry standard testing,” he maintains. “It is disturbing that some companies have challenged this need.”
One reason to challenge might be cost. Estimates for testing range upward to $250,000, with no guarantee of passing.
“This will absolutely push prices (for fuel additives) up,” says Greg Dornau, vice president for Star brite, which markets Star Tron, a multifunction fuel additive that also addresses ethanol issues. It is the best-selling fuel additive in the marine market, Dornau claims.
“We welcome the discussion (of certification) but question the motive behind this program,” he says. Dornau believes that companies with lagging sales are the ones behind the certification push.
He points to an existing specification set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for gasoline additives, section 211(f)(1) of the Clean Air Act. “This is used to regulate the multibillion-dollar auto industry, and Star Tron meets this standard,” says Dornau. “If a company meets this specification, I’m not sure why any further certification is necessary. We believe we should let the free market prevail."
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