A leading boater’s advocacy group has suggested an alternative renewable fuel additive, butanol, in response to problems associated with the use of ethanol as an additive in gasoline for marine engines.
Ethanol is commonly found as a 10 percent additive to gasoline; the blend known as E10 at the gas pump. It has been problematic in marine engines due to its corrosive action on engine components and propensity to attract moisture, which can cause phase separation of the fuel.
The Boat Owners Association of the United States is suggesting butanol as a possible alternative. Butanol does not have the same effect on marine engines as ethanol, and it can be mixed in ahead of time and shipped through existing pipelines. It has a higher energy value (110,000 Btu per gallon versus ethanol’s 84,000 Btu), and is safer because its flammability is similar to diesel fuel.
While higher ethanol content has been approved by the EPA for 2001 and newer cars and light trucks, Department of Energy tests showed that 15 percent ethanol blends do not work in marine engines.
Butanol, like ethanol is an alcohol, typically made from corn and beet byproducts.
According to BoatUS Seaworthy Magazine Editor and Damage Avoidance Expert Bob Adriance, “Back in the 1980s … the cost to produce butanol was much higher than ethanol. Congress also gave ethanol a head start 30 years ago with a subsidy to produce it from corn.”
That subsidy is now expired and new technology has altered the comparative costs two fuel additives. Butanol is ultimately far less expensive to produce in terms of the amount of energy delivered per gallon.
“While butanol may solve a number of renewable energy challenges, there remains the issue of economic and political momentum in the market,” said Adriance.