False economy: E10 fuel isn't cheaper or greener

A fuel derived from plants might appear to be a cheap and green alternative but exclusive Drive research proves this is not the case. A fuel-efficiency showdown between the three most-popular types of petrol on the market concludes the ethanol blend will cost you more in the long run and may not even help the environment. Ethanol-blend fuels are about three cents a litre cheaper than regular unleaded at the pump but Drive found bills are higher overall because it burns less efficiently.

The findings throw into question NSW Government claims that E10 provides cost savings for motorists. The NSW Government has mandated the sale of E10 in NSW, requiring petrol company sales to include at least 2 percent ethanol. The mandate in effect requires companies to ensure that 20 percent of the fuel they sell is E10, a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent petrol. At the time of the announcement last year, then premier Morris Iemma described the decision as a "win for the hip pocket when it comes to fuel costs for families". Our figures prove otherwise.

Drive put the three fuels to the test, driving three identical Toyota Camrys more than 2000 kilometres in a range of conditions to see which fuel drives your dollar further. The E10-fuelled Camry in the test cost $276.55 to run, while the regular unleaded version cost $271.56 and the premium unleaded fuel version, which cost, on average, 15 cents a litre more than E10, cost $285.54. The car running on premium unleaded consumed 9.06 litres/ 100km, compared with 9.41L/100km for the regular unleaded car and 9.81 litres for the E10 vehicle.

The test-drive route covered a range of conditions, from freeway driving to off-peak and peak-hour city driving. City driving exposed E10's efficiency shortcomings -- almost as expensive as using premium unleaded, despite the huge gap in pump prices. In the700 kilometres of city driving, our E10 Camry used almost 10 litres more fuel than our premium-fuel car. The comparative fuel bills for the three cars were: E10, $105; premium, $105.91; and regular unleaded, $100.33. Had we used thirstier six-cylinder cars or less-efficient used cars, the equation would probably have strengthened further in favour of unleaded and premium fuel.

During our test, unleaded petrol was priced at $1.30 a litre, which meant the three cents a litre less we paid for E10 amounted to a 2.3 percent discount. But our figures show that the car using E10 used 4.2 percent more fuel than the car using regular unleaded fuel. During city driving, the discount remained the same but we used 7.2percent more E10 than regular and 11.2percent more than premium unleaded. Since our test, the drop in petrol prices has made E10 more attractive, because a three cents- a-litre discount translates to a 3 percent discount if fuel is priced at $1. Our findings contrast starkly with the claims made by some petrol distributors.

United Petroleum general manager David Szymczak says overseas studies find the fuel consumption difference between E10 and unleaded can be as low as1 percent. United's E10 fuel has a higher octane rating (95RON ) than that of other distributors. "When you consider that you can get 3 percent to5 percent better economy just by having the right air [pressure] in your tyres, it's a very minor issue," Szymczaksays.

Caltex spokesman Frank Topham says the fuel-consumption differences vary widely from vehicle to vehicle. "It is such an individual thing with each vehicle," he says. "People should check it out for themselves and see if they find any appreciable difference." But the head of engine development for Porsche's Cayman sports car, Jurgen Kapfer, says there is no doubt E10 is less efficient. Kapfer should know. He's just been through the certification process for Euro V, the fuel standard about to be adopted in Europe. Unlike previous fuel standards, Euro V demands car companies use an E10 blend in their cars when they complete their fuel consumption test cycle.

Under the current standard, the published fuel-consumption figures are based on a test that replicates city and country driving using premium unleaded, or 95RON, fuel. That's why Porsche published two sets of fuel-consumption figures for the Cayman at the car's global launch in Spain recently. The first set was for the current standard, Euro IV, while the second set had fuel consumption for the Euro V standard. Using E10, the base model Cayman's fuel consumption increases about 3 percent, from 8.9L/100km to 9.2L/100km.

This is what Porsche's official press information says about the switch: "When homologating a car to EU5 [Euro V], the manufacturer must provide for a new fuel grade with a higher share of ethanol. "Displacing the same volume, such fuel has a lower calorific value than the fuel required for homologation to EU4. Hence, fuel consumption under the EU5 standard is slightly higher than with EU4 on the same carbon dioxide emissions." The translation, according to Kapfer, is that the two are line-ball on saving the planet. E10 emits less carbon dioxide but you use more of it, so the benefits are negligible.....

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Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. For a daily survey of Australian politics, see AUSTRALIAN POLITICS Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me (John Ray) here

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