E10 – the new fuel: Q&A

The new petrol variety known as E10 containing 10% ethanol has been on sale at German petrol stations since 1 January 2011, although it's still not available everywhere yet. Some drivers have been confused by conflicting reports about E10 – but there's no reason to be alarmed! E10 hasn't made petrol more expensive, and it won't damage vehicles at all as long as drivers follow carmakers' advice. Some of the most frequently asked questions about E10 are answered below.

What exactly is E10?

E10 is an abbreviation. E stands for ethanol which has been blended with petrol. The number 10 indicates that the level of ethanol can be up to 10%. Since 1989, all petrol has been allowed to contain up to 5% ethanol without having to be labelled as such.

How is ethanol made?

Ethanol is produced by the alcoholic fermentation of sugar and starchy crops such as sugar cane, sugar beet, maize and grain. VERBIO makes bioethanol at its plants in Schwedt and Zörbig.

Why was E10 introduced?

By using E10, 10% of petrol is replaced by biofuel produced from domestic agricultural raw materials. E10 thus makes our energy supply more independent and helps protect the oil reserves. Ethanol fuel mixtures also reduce petrol's impact on the climate. Since bioethanol only releases the CO2 absorbed from the air during growth, VERBIO bioethanol releases 80% less CO2 than petrol. Bioethanol's far milder environmental impact is regulated by sustainability rules governing biofuels.

Isn't E10 just a drop in the ocean?

About 20 million tonnes of petrol is used in Germany every year. If everybody bought E10, up to 2 million tonnes of petrol could be saved annually – which would slash emissions of CO2 by between 2.3 and 3.6 million tonnes annually.

Is the introduction of E10 compulsory in the EU?

Yes. Under the Fuel Quality Directive, all EU Member States are obliged to introduce E10 in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions in road transport and meet the EU's climate goals.

Will 'normal' petrol (E5) still be available?

Yes. E10 has merely been introduced alongside the existing fuel types. In Germany, fuel suppliers are legally required to keep selling Super E5 indefinitely. To stop doing so, the law would have to be changed first – and there are no plans to do so according to the German Ministry of Environment. German law actually exceeds EU targets, for the sale of standard petrol is only mandatory in EU countries in 2013.

Are petrol stations required to sell E10?

No. Petrol stations aren't legally obliged to sell E10. Even so, E10 is available at most garages as otherwise it would be almost impossible for oil companies to meet the compulsory blending regulations. After all, by law biofuels must account for a certain share of the fuel sold by German oil companies. In fact, if the amount of biofuel sold by a company in Germany falls below 6.25% of its total fuel sales (in terms of calorific value), it will be liable to pay a fine. Petrol companies can meet this quota by selling pure biofuels (such as B10 biodiesel and E85 ethanol fuel blend) or by adding bioethanol to petrol or biodiesel to diesel.

What experience is there of using E10?

E10 has already been available for some time in other countries like the USA, Australia and New Zealand. Petrol containing 10% ethanol known as Super Fuel SP95-E10 has been sold in France since April 2009.

How do I recognize E10?

E10 is clearly labelled on petrol pumps by the name of the petrol type and the suffix E10, e.g. Super E10. The pumps also display the warnings "Contains up to 10% ethanol" and "Does your vehicle take E10? Consult the manufacturer. If in doubt, use, Super or Super Plus." Conventional petrol is simply marked with the name of the type (e.g. Super) as it always has been.

How can I found out whether my vehicle takes E10?

The safest way is to contact the manufacturer of your vehicle, your dealer or an authorized service centre. According to German motoring organization ADAC, 90% of cars in Germany take E10. To cater to the needs of the remaining 10%, Super E5 will continue to be sold at German petrol stations indefinitely. A list of E10-compatible vehicles has been posted at www.dat.de/e10, the website of Deutsche Automobil Treuhand GmbH.

What if I inadvertently fill up with E10 but my car is unsuitable?

Leave the car parked where it is and seek the manufacturer's advice without delay. Your petrol tank may need to be pumped dry since engines which aren't compatible with E10 may be damaged the first time you try to run them on it.

Does E10 affect fuel consumption?

Yes, slightly. The energy density of ethanol is slightly lower than that of conventional petrol. Therefore engines need more fuel if the level of alcohol in the fuel is higher. However, experts say that consumption is increased by no more than 1.9%.

What problems can E10 cause to vehicles?

According to German motoring organization ADAC, 90% of cars in Germany run smoothly on E10 while 10% do not. Bioethanol has slightly different chemical properties from petrol. As a result, E10 may lead to chemical reactions (e.g. corrosion) in the engine and fuel system. In some vehicles, aluminum components as well as plastic seals and pipes may not withstand E10. These problems mainly affect vehicles built before 2000 as well as vehicles fitted with first-generation direct injection systems. Most new vehicles take E10.

What do drivers need to bear in mind?

Before filling up with E10 for the first time, check whether your vehicle has been approved for use with E10. If not, keep using conventional petrol with no more than 5% bioethanol by volume, as even fueling with E10 just once may be enough to damage the engine.

Where is information on E10 compatibility available?

Vehicle manufacturers will tell you which of their models run on E10. A list of E10-compatible vehicles is posted at www.dat.de/e10 (the website of Deutsche Automobil Treuhand GmbH). The list also includes manufacturers' helpdesk phone numbers, where more details about using E10 can be obtained.

Can E5 and E10 be mixed?

Yes, mixing E5 and E10 won't cause any problems for vehicles which run on E10.

In terms of emissions, is E10 more harmful to humans and the environment than E5?

No. The emissions when running a car on E10 are no more dangerous than when driving it on E5 conventional fuel. This has been confirmed by an analysis of emissions of E5 and E10 by scientists at Vienna University of Applied Sciences. Even when using E10, the exhaust gases are properly treated by the catalytic converter and comply with EU environmental health and safety limits.

Wouldn't it make more sense to reduce CO2 emissions by making cars more fuel-efficient instead of by relying on bioethanol?

More efficient cars are no substitute for bioethanol. Even more economical cars still use fuel. And future reductions in fuel consumption performance won't change the CO2 emissions of the petrol-driven vehicles already in the world. Accordingly, the CO2 savings possible with bioethanol cannot be achieved by reduced consumption alone.

However, not using bioethanol would mean that by 2020, at least 26 million tonnes of avoidable CO2 would continue to be emitted. By contrast, reduced consumption would only cut CO2 emissions by about 16 million tonnes. More efficient cars and bioethanol mustn't be regarded as mutually exclusive – instead they should complement each other.