The possibility of catastrophic failure is real. "Ethanol damage is permanent and irreversible," says Kiser. "It is not like running bad octane. Say you are a big landscaper and you send your crew out to fuel all of the equipment. If they get the wrong fuel, they can destroy every piece of equipment you own." This is probably not covered by warranty, since most equipment is only warranted to run on E10.
In addition, water and alcohol don't mix. "If you are in a water environment or you are in a humid environment, alcohol absorbs water and then the fuel separates," notes Kiser. "You have certainly changed the ability of the fuel to mix. If you have a two-cycle [engine] and you are trying to mix oil and gas, the alcohol can more strongly inhibit the mix, so you have a hard time keeping the mix stable and in place."
Price drives availability
The retailers will ultimately decide what fuel will be available in your region.
"Retailers prefer uniform systems and do not want to have separate, expensive facilities to ensure the relatively low E10 fuel availability," says Major. "Lower content ethanol blends will remain more expensive than E15 and consumers are likely to buy E15 even if E10 is available. Consumers must be aware that they risk severe engine damage to many small engine products and should demand E10 and E0 availability."
Changing the fuel available could have a major impact on consumers. "As with any renewable fuel, there are many concerns and potential benefits," says Major. "Kohler Engines would prefer that the EPA cease or postpone E15 implementation until the technical, policy and cost attributes are better understood."
Fuel selection needs to be straightforward, and the partial waiver for E15 creates confusion. "Briggs & Stratton, along with our industry association, had been encouraging EPA to conduct more comprehensive scientific testing before considering whether to issue the waiver," says Timm. "We were disappointed that a partial waiver for 2001 and newer vehicles was issued due to the confusion it will ultimately cause in the market and the potential for consumers to damage their product.
"Briggs & Stratton supports efforts toward energy independence and the use of biofuels," she continues. "However, our products were not designed to run on any fuel containing ethanol over 10%. We are strongly encouraging the EPA to educate consumers on the adverse impacts E15 will have on small engines and to put measures in place for consumers to prevent mis-fueling."