Ethanol in fuel has been proved to be destructive to marine engines, Gunn says. “Most outboards made since 2000 can handle E10, or 10 percent ethanol, but not E15. And there are difficult challenges even with E10.”
The flame temperature is actually a little cooler in ethanol than in gasoline, and ethanol will cool the incoming charge of air more than gasoline; however, lean fuel-air mixtures burn much hotter than rich ones, and running an engine designed for gasoline on ethanol mixtures causes the engine to run very lean, and thus, hotter. This is because ethanol requires less air to burn than gasoline, so increasing the ethanol content in fuel will cause the engine to run still leaner and hotter. Gunn is referring in part to the lower energy in E10 and the added heat generated in the engines, which can cause excessive wear and even failure. And then there’s the problem of phase separation. Ethanol is hydroscopic — it literally pulls moisture out of the air. If enough water is added to the fuel, water and ethanol will separate from the fuel and then settle to the bottom of the tank in an unburnable layer.
Water also doesn’t vaporize like gasoline, and liquids don’t compress like vapors. If your engine pulls enough of that unburnable liquid into the combustion chamber while it’s running, it can damage the piston rings on the compression stroke, or even break a rod or bend a crankshaft. Catastrophic failure like that can cost thousands of dollars to repair, usually requiring a new engine block or outboard power head.
The separation issue can also be a problem when your boat is not in service. The problems with ethanol in fuel are common through all applications, but the effects are magnified for boaters because they don’t use their boats on a daily basis, the way automobiles and trucks are generally used. The longer the fuel sits in the tank, the greater the opportunity for water to accumulate, and separation can occur as described above. Gasoline with ethanol is more corrosive than gasoline alone, but should the water/ethanol separate in the tank, corrosion goes way up. Even if you can get the separated water and alcohol out, what’s left of the gasoline is degraded too.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association represents marine boat, engine and accessory manufacturers nationwide, and worked to get the EPA to hold the line on ethanol levels in fuel, but when that failed, they began work on education and labeling programs to warn fuel customers against using E15 in marine engines. Currently, warnings at point of purchase are nearly unnoticeable, leaving the marine consumer in the dark.
Lucas Oil sides with the NMMA, but they’ve also been working on their new marine fuel treatment designed specifically for marine engines to address boaters’ concerns about fuel, especially gasoline containing ethanol. If it’s used habitually, it can even help protect an engine accidentally fueled with E15.
There’s an emulsifier in Lucas marine fuel treatment, and it’s molecular construction has a hydrophilic end and a hydrophobic end. One end bonds with water and one bonds with oil, combining the properties in one molecule. Then, gas, alcohol and water condensed is dispersed throughout the fuel in the tank, discouraging phase separation so the mixture can pass through the fuel system in harmless amounts and combust.
But combating the fickle instabilities of ethanol fuel is only one reason to use marine fuel treatment. Lucas boasts that its fuel treatment can enhance engine performance too. First, it contains lubricants for the upper cylinder that can keep rings moving freely. The lubricants are also effective in keeping fuel injectors and carburetors clean and lubricated for a longer life. Fuel detergents in the fuel treatment help remove soot and carbon deposits on valves, and they keep the fuel system clear of varnish deposits. It is solvent-free too, ensuring that fuel and oil mixtures in two-stroke engines work as expected.
While the fuel treatment does all that, it enhances combustibility of the fuel and reduces the need for higher-octane fuels. A marine engine whose “appetite” for higher-octane fuel has grown because of carbon deposits can go back to using the octane-rated fuel the OEM recommends. At a savings of up to 50 cents a gallon, the treatment can pay for itself in that manner alone.
Fuel treatments and lubricants can appear to be a slick business — there is no way for consumers to verify claims except to use the product, and even then, the best indicator is “nothing goes wrong.” But Lucas Oil has been in the fuel and lubricant business for 30 years, and in addition to employing skilled chemists, Lucas uses the extreme world of racing to verify its products’ efficacy.
“Racing accelerates wear curves on metals and puts equipment to incredible stresses, never actually experienced in most consumer applications,” says Tom Bogner, Lucas Oil’s director of motorsports. “We’ve seen firsthand the difference in engine wear both with and without our products. In the stresses of racing, it’s common for engines to fail, and we see year in and year out our racers getting better performance and longer running life from their racing equipment.”
Lucas Oil’s experience in racing has been a winner for boaters.