Letter to the Editor: Ask for ethanol-free gasoline

Aug 7, 2020

To the editor: 

It’s that time again. A couple of days of heavy rain have spurred your lawn to rapid growth; the mower needs to be dragged out of the garage. You tug on the starter cord once, twice, three times, then…nothing. A little triage tells you that the carburetor is clogged with gunk, the telltale build-up of residue from burning gasoline that contains ethanol. During a chat with your neighbor across the street, you learn that he had to forego a fishing expedition with his grandson because he couldn’t get the outboard motor started on his Boston Whaler because — you guessed it — the carburetor was gummed up.

Ethanol — a fuel derived mainly from corn — has been added to gasoline in the U.S. since the early 2000s. Some of the reasons for this practice make sense, such as increasing the country’s energy independence and reducing the use of fossil fuels, but there are also “cons” to devoting about 40% of the corn grown in the U.S. to ethanol production 1. While modern auto engines have been designed to burn so-called E10 gasoline (contains 10% ethanol), small engines for outdoor power equipment and outboard motors don’t like it one bit. Ethanol absorbs water from the air, so in our humid coastal environment, carburetors are easily clogged. It’s also more corrosive and burns hotter, causing engine parts to fail.

But there’s a solution. In snow country ethanol-free gasoline is widely available at the pump for snowmobiles. Massachusetts allows gas stations and marine fuel docks to sell ethanol-free gasoline for use in small gasoline motors and outboard engines. Marine fuel providers can simply replace the gasoline in their tank with the ethanol-free version. Land-based gas station  would need to dedicate a tank and a filling pump to this fuel, which may incur some expense.

But neither will happen if you don’t ask for it. If enough of us do, we might be able to spend more time catching fish and rototilling vegetable beds and less time replacing carburetors.

Marion’s Energy Management Committee

1. Mumm, R.H. et al. (2014) doi: 10.1186/1754-6834-7-61.