DOE to study ethanol impacts on small engines 

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, June 26, 2015

The Department of Energy today announced it is launching a project to examine the impact of biofuels on small engines that power chain saws, lawn mowers, motorcycles, snowmobiles and boats.

DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office said it wants to study the potential for those engines to run on blends of ethanol greater than 10 percent. Currently, small-engine vehicles are not allowed to fill up with gasoline containing more than 10 percent ethanol largely because of corrosion concerns.

BETO said it would also study how to achieve greater overall expansion of biofuel use by small-engine equipment and vehicles.

The office today released a request for information from stakeholders in a bid to learn about the key barriers to greater uptake of ethanol and other biofuels by small engines.

“We’ve issued this RFI to get a better sense for what the challenges are and what DOE’s role might be in enabling greater use of biofuels,” said Reuben Sarkar, DOE deputy assistant secretary for transportation in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, “including increasing the efficiency and the resiliency and lowering the pollution of these engines, and allowing them to make the use of biofuels that are available in the market.”

Sarkar announced the program this morning at DOE’s Bioenergy 2015 conference in Washington, D.C.

Trade groups representing owners of small-engine vehicles have previously objected to greater amounts of ethanol being allowed in the market, warning that owners could accidentally “misfuel” with a blend of ethanol that’s too high for the engine to handle.

Last week, the National Marine Manufacturers Association endorsed biobutanol as its renewable fuel of choice. Biobutanol is an alternative to ethanol that can be used in higher volumes in marine engines without worries about corrosion.

Sarkar said DOE saw “great potential” in more fully exploring the impacts of biofuels on small spark-ignition, internal combustion engines.

“In the United States alone, we use about half a billion small engines in utility and recreational vehicles that consume petroleum products on a regular basis,” Sarkar said. “Most of these have subpar efficiencies on fuel consumption, and they generate high levels of carbon emissions and many other types of pollutants.”