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E is for Additives

fuelIt has been almost twenty years since the European Union introduced the world to E numbers. Initially seen as a somewhat crude attempt to control the use of artificial additives in food, the automatic reaction from the public was to label anything with an E number as being bad. This despite the fact that many well-known and healthy foodstuffs (for example Vitamin C – E300), are essential requirements in a well-balanced diet.

Today in the motoring and motor sports world we have our own E numbers: E10, E20, E100 and of course, E85 where the number following the ‘E’ stands for the percentage of ethanol (normally bio-ethanol) contained in a gasoline blend. And in many ways the confusion surrounding them is much the same. To start off with, E85 is now referred to as Ed85. There is no change in composition, it is just that the authorities would prefer to emphasize that the fuel is not intended to be for human consumption, the ‘d’ standing for ‘denaturised.’ Fortunately gasoline conforming to the appropriate ‘local’ standards, as is stated in the various fuel regulations, is generally considered a ‘denaturant’ in its own right and so an 85 percent blend of ethanol in gasoline, with or without the denaturant, amounts to much the same thing.

Now I don’t know what your gasoline is like or whether it conforms to ‘local’ standards or not, but I would imagine even the thought of sitting in your favourite chair with your favourite cigar and a glass of RON102 doesn’t truly appeal. But believe it or not, if your gasoline doesn’t conform to these ‘local’ EU standards, then under these same standards you are ‘heavily recommended’ (read ‘legally obliged’) to add either methyltertiobutylether (MTBE) and/or ethyltertiobutylether (ETBE) and/or isobutanol/tertiary-butyl alcohol (TBA) to satisfy this element of the rules. These compounds are normally considered to be oxygenates in any other context to do with fuels, but any or all of them can be used either singly or together to create your blend, but apparently not isobutanol on its own. Isobutanol on its own, with a much higher boiling point than ethanol and of limited solubility in water, can be quite easily separated out and so it is ‘advised’ to use this in combination with one or more of the others.

In the United States where MTBE has been phased out (because of groundwater contamination concerns) these denaturant regulations refer mainly to straight refinery products: LSR gasoline – a low octane poor quality product distilled directly from the crude, Raffinate – the waste liquid from a refining process or ‘natural gasoline’- generally referred to as a refinery ‘blend stock’ product. However, whichever way you look at it, and no matter which side of the ‘pond’ you sit, the authorities seem to have beaten us to it and the only way we can have that celebratory drink is by standing at the bar and paying our liquor tax in the normal way.

Ethanol for your car or ethanol for your jar – the two in many ways are so very similar and yet so very different in many other ways. But I still prefer mine out of a glass.

Written by John Coxon.