In the coming year, a new higher ethanol fuel, called Ethanol 15 (E15), will likely appear in gas stations across the country. Although mandated by law, when used in turf and grounds equipment, E15 can cause engine failure and damage product—bringing your product lifecycle to an abrupt halt.

What you need to know about higher ethanol fuel and your equipment fleet

Turf and field managers must operate and maintain a host of outdoor power and small engine equipment, from mowers and blowers to utility vehicles, generators and trimmers. Along with safety and reliability, managers want equipment to enjoy a long product lifecycle.  Through regular maintenance, one expects that equipment lasts long enough to more than payback on the original investment.

However, in the coming year, a new higher ethanol fuel, called Ethanol 15 (E15), will likely appear in gas stations across the country. Although mandated by law, when used in turf and grounds equipment, E15 can cause engine failure and damage product—bringing your product lifecycle to an abrupt halt.

Why higher ethanol fuel?

Energy independence and domestic security gave rise to fuels legislation. Signed into law in 2007, Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program regulations were developed in collaboration with refiners, renewable fuel producers, and many other stakeholders. Created under the Energy Policy Act (EPAct), EPA was tasked with reaching the RFS requirement of 7.5 billion gallons of renewable-fuel to be blended into gasoline by 2012 and growing to 15 billion gallons of ethanol. As a result, ethanol use has been mandated by law. 

The challenge has been that the underlying assumptions used to develop the RFS were not met. 

For example, many believed that an E85 auto fleet and E85 infrastructure would expand and gasoline use would continue to climb and that E85 would absorb the mandated ethanol. Yet, E85 demand and availability remains low.

Further assumptions that have fallen short are:

·         Flex fuel vehicles that use E85 have not expanded rapidly enough

·         E85 use is not expanding

·         Gasoline consumption peaked in 2007 and continues to fall, and

·         Advanced and cellulosic fuels (non corn ethanol) are not available.

So why are you hearing that there will be 15% ethanol on the market although we know that it can damage outdoor power equipment used by your grounds crews?

The back and forth on Ethanol 15

In 2009, Growth Energy, an ethanol industry trade group, petitioned the EPA to raise the limit on ethanol in gasoline from 10 to 15%. Since gas consumption was falling and E85 was not taking hold, they wanted to increase the allowable level of ethanol to create more demand in the marketplace and to meet ever increasing ethanol mandates.

Understanding the corrosive effects of higher levels of ethanol, several engine product and auto manufacturers, including the outdoor power equipment, motorcycle and boating industry, urged EPA to be deliberative in its review process, and assure, with thorough and adequate testing, that E15 would not harm existing products or pose safety risks. 

As expected, Department of Energy testing of mid-level ethanol blends on outdoor power equipment and marine engines demonstrated performance irregularities, heat increases, and engine failure on tested product.

Unfortunately, the EPA moved forward to grant a partial waiver, the first-ever decision to bifurcate the gasoline marketplace. EPA initially wanted to issue a partial waiver approving the sale of gasoline containing 15% ethanol (E15) for 2007 model year and newer passenger cars and light trucks. This waiver was then amended to approve E15 for 2001 model year and newer passenger cars and light trucks. (*Automobile manufacturers refute this claim.)

Although E15 is specifically not approved for any non-road use, the outdoor power equipment industry recognized the danger of a partial waiver. 

By approving E15 use in a subset of engines on the road, there is a high risk that consumers and businesses will unknowingly or mistakenly put E15 in products for which it has not been approved. 

And, the totality of EPA’s education effort on E15 is a “3-by-3-inch” attention label at the gas pump. This will be wholly inadequate to keep not only turf managers, but their crews, from mis-fueling.

Remember the old saying: “What goes in the car, goes in the gerry can, and then goes in the mower?” Well, with E15, that doesn’t apply any longer to mowers or to any small engine equipment for that matter.

As a result, on December 20, 2010, a newly formed Engine Products Group comprising the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (Alliance), The Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, Inc. (AIAM), the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) filed a petition challenging the EPA’s decision to grant a partial waiver approving the sale of gasoline containing E15 for 2007 model year and newer passenger cars and light trucks.

In 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a rehearing on a suit brought forth by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) and OPEI stating that  neither group could prove they had been “harmed” by EPA’s decision to allow E15 fuel and therefore, didn’t have ‘standing.’

This ruling alarmed the outdoor power equipment industry since the judges wanted to see personal or economic injury before they could take action, despite the fact that the EPA itself has admitted there will be mis-fueling and engine and product failures with E15, and a variety of interests (lawn and garden, auto, power sports, motorcycle and marine equipment) have come out against the use of E15. 

Insisting on the right to protect consumers before they get hurt economically or personally, The Engine Products Group filed a petition on March 25, 2013, asking the US Supreme Court to review the DC Circuit Court of Appeals’ August 2012 decision that none of the trade associations or parties had standing in the case. The group is challenging the EPA decision to grant partial waivers approving the sale of gasoline containing E15 for 2001 model year and newer passenger cars and light trucks. The Court of Appeals dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction in August 2012.

This appeal to the Supreme Court reflects the seriousness of this issue for the outdoor power equipment and small engine industry. We feel strongly that this challenge to the E-15 partial waiver needs to be considered on its merits, and not held back on a procedural issue. 

In the meantime, other movements are underway to halt E15 sales. 

·         AAA’s (Triple A) has called for the sale and use of E15 to be suspended until additional gas pump labeling and consumer education efforts are implemented to mitigate problems for motorists and their vehicles.

·         Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced H.R. 875, which would require the EPA to stop the use of gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol until its harmful effects are investigated further.  

·         The Coordinating Research Council released a January 2013 report outlining fuel test results that show E15 fuel can damage fuel system components.

·         OPEI has formed an industry task group to study the best and most effective ways to communicate the challenges and risks associated with using E15 to the public.

What you should do right now

Turf managers should visit for more information and make sure employees are clear on the dangers of fueling up outdoor power equipment with anything greater than 10% ethanol fuel.

Specifically, turf managers should:

Read and follow the owner’s manual. The owner’s manual will clearly explain what fuels can be used to ensure a properly functioning product.

Not put any fuel containing more than10 percent (E10) in small engine products, unless otherwise stated.

Check the gas pump to be sure that it is dispensing E10. Some gas pumps at local gas stations may offer both E10 and E15, or have blender pumps that dispense mid-level ethanol fuels for “flex-fuel” automobiles. Higher ethanol fuel may be less expensive than regular E10 fuel, but putting E15 into an E10 approved product could cause product failure and void its warranty. 

Not assume that the fuel they put in their vehicle can also be dispensed in their gasoline can. Be sure that the gas can is filled only with E10 fuel.


Kris Kiser is president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, an international trade association representing 90 small engine, utility vehicle and outdoor power equipment manufacturers and suppliers of consumer and commercial outdoor power equipment.

Ethanol 101: Tips for good engine health

More than 90% of the fuel pumped in the US is now an ethanol blend, so there’s a good chance that your outdoor power equipment might be suffering from the negative effects of ethanol-blended gas. Fuel with more than 10% ethanol, such as E15 is dangerous and in fact, illegal to use in small gasoline engines.

OPE users must equip themselves with a better understanding of how ethanol impacts the engine in order to take steps toward prevention. And then, owners need to understand the best products on the market to help them maintain good engine, and equipment, health. 

Ethanol-blended fuel begins degrading 30 days after its pumped. This means, if fuel sits in a portable gas can for a few months, or even an entire season, the gas should be replaced with fresh fuel. If not, equipment owners can face real challenges, especially inside the engine, where the real issues unfold:

·         Ethanol-based fuels attract moisture, which eventually separates from the fuel

·         A layer of ethanol-enriched water forms at the bottom of the tank, which is highly corrosive for engine parts

·         Gum and varnish forms as the fuel breaks down, resulting in stuck intake valves, clogged fuel lines and carburetor jets

The engine can experience issues such as poor starting, rough running, rust and corrosion, and in many cases, failure. And for equipment owners, repairs can be costly, especially since many warranties do not cover damage from fuel that isn’t considered fresh.     

Outdoor power equipment dealers are certainly on the frontlines in understanding the engine damage caused by ethanol-blended fuel. Over the past 3 years, we have heard our own Briggs & Stratton dealers speak more and more about the negative effects of ethanol-blended gasoline. In fact, according to an independent power equipment dealer survey, 93% of dealers said ethanol was a primary cause of engine problems in 2012. 

If using fresh fuel is the first step to good engine health, the second is using a fuel stabilizer and treatment that combats the negative effects of ethanol. 

Fuel treatments and stabilizers are a cost-effective, successful means for extending the life of equipment, and the equipment’s engine. 

However, equipment owners need to be careful when choosing the right fuel treatment and stabilizer. It’s critical to look for products developed by companies that truly know engines, and that have the engineering expertise to understand how best to protect them. Additionally, owners should feel confident that the product they choose has been thoroughly tested, offers maximum protection, and stabilizes fuel for more than a year after opening. 

The best options include several ingredients, including triple antioxidant formulas that protect the entire fuel system. Additional ingredients to look for include:

·         Corrosion inhibitors that form a protective barrier on metal parts, to help prevent rust and corrosion

·         Metal de-activators, to stop aggressive chemical reactions caused by dissolved metal ions in the fuel

·         Detergent ingredients that help prevent gum and varnish build-up

·         Water inhibitors, to protect against the harmful effects of water in fuel due to ethanol

And for equipment owners who want complete confidence that ethanol will not cause damage to their engines, they can use 100% ethanol-free canned fuel, now available at many outdoor power equipment dealers and repair centers, as well as major home improvement retailers. 

Making proactive choices to protect your equipment from ethanol will protect the life of your equipment and save you time and money by eliminating the need for repair, returns and replacements-by Carissa Gingras, marketing director, consumer engine & service with Briggs & Stratton