EU’s Struggle for E10

For European ethanol producers, E15 is still a distant dream. In the EU, the struggle is to get from E5 to E10. The legislation to offer E10 has been in place since 2009 but its use, even five years after the legislation came into force, is minimal.
By Robert Vierhout | March 08, 2014
For European ethanol producers, E15 is still a distant dream. In the EU, the struggle is to get from E5 to E10. The legislation to offer E10 has been in place since 2009 but its use, even five years after the legislation came into force, is minimal.

We all know how much the American industry is struggling to get E15 onto the market. The powerful opposition of fossil fuel, automobile and food industries is effectively blocking the rollout, scaremongering car owners that E15 is bad for their engines. Even though E15 is probably the most tested fuel in the U.S., this idea that E15 could harm has an effect. Only a shred of doubt seems to be enough to make consumers concerned and sceptical.

For European ethanol producers, E15 is still a distant dream. For us, the struggle is to get from E5 to E10. The legislation to offer E10 has been in place since 2009 but its use, even five years after the legislation came into force, is still very disappointing.

There are only three countries in Europe where one can buy E10: France, Germany and Finland. Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Lithuania, Bulgaria and the U.K. are considering E10 in the future, but the “accidents” that occurred when E10 was introduced in Germany are not yet forgotten and explain the slow pace of implementation elsewhere.

The argument revolving around potential engine damage from E10 was used by the German car and oil industries. It resonates with the average motorist who gets scared that one day his car will stop if he fills up with E10. Not surprisingly, E10 sales had a poor start in Germany when the fuel was introduced in early 2011. But remarkably, its share is continuously increasing and now stands at around 17 percent of gasoline sales—not entirely bad for a fuel that was held with such suspicion. E10 is not only cheaper, but it performs well too. Since its introduction, not a single car failure has been reported. So much for the scaremongering.

In France, the E10 share is now close to 30 percent of gasoline sales. And, as in Germany, the growth is on the back of shrinking gasoline consumption. France is topping Germany because the E10 introduction was handled better by the government and car/fuel stakeholders.

In the U.K., the government postponed the introduction of E10, referring to the problems in Germany (what problems?) and saying indirect land use change policy should be resolved first at the EU level.
Now a new witch hunt has started. A U.K. car magazine measured fuel consumption and emissions from cars running on E10. Tests on four cars found that compared to 100 percent fossil gasoline, the average fuel consumption was 7.7 percent higher higher with E10, and as a consequence, increased tailpipe emissions. This contrasts markedly with Finnish research from 2011 that found little difference between E5 and E10 consumption. Some basic errors must have been committed during the U.K. tests; fuel consumption cannot rise that much when using E10 as suggested by this research. The higher tailpipe emissions are understandable, but do not reflect the true lifecycle emissions of the two fuels. Only if the emissions of biofuels are measured on a well-to-wheel basis can we have accurate data on the greenhouse gas emissions of biofuels compared to fossil fuels. 

The writers of the U.K. magazine article gave the final blow to E10 by using the old argument: "The new E10 fuel will cost U.K. motorists more." But the article didn't indicate in any way how much that additional cost would be. The messages they gave were clear: “More fuel consumption, more emissions and more expensive. Let's forget about E10.”

Why did the writers not bother looking at other EU countries that have introduced E10? If they had done so, they would see that E10 is cheaper, there are no car damages reported and a Finnish study concluded E10 fuel consumption is just 1.5 percent higher compared to E5. Also, several very technical studies demonstrate ethanol’s higher octane delivers benefits to engine performance, improves the combustion process and increases fuel efficiency.

The negative E10 story, however, fits well with the many other supposed negative impacts of biofuels that appear in the media, of which most, if not all, have been proven to be false. Just like the myths that biofuels cause food price inflation, massive land use effects and land grabbing—the U.K. E10-study is bogus, too.

Author: Robert Vierhout
Secretary-general, ePURE
Vierhout@epure.org