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U.K. government keeps classic cars in mind as it considers introducing E10 fuel

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As the U.K. government decides how to roll out E10 ethanol-blended fuel in the country, it also appears willing to protect the interests of the owners of the hundreds of thousands of classic cars still on the road by setting aside a certain amount of less-expensive fuel containing lower amounts of ethanol – for a few more years, at least.

While the government permitted the sale of E10 back in 2013, gas stations across the country have only sold E5 since then, thanks in part to low blending requirements under the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (4.75 percent by volume) and the country’s heavy reliance on diesel- and particularly biodiesel-powered vehicles. However, in April the government increased the blending requirement to 7.25 percent – prompted, reportedly, by overproduction of ethanol across Europe – and began to consider introducing E10 as a means of meeting those new blending requirements.

The majority of the U.K.’s gasoline-powered vehicles are newer and thus already compatible with E10, according to U.K. Department for Transport materials. However, about 1.8 million vehicles – not including motorcycles – are incompatible with E10 due to their age and, according to the DfT, “there is a small risk that E5 fuel could disappear if fuel suppliers chose to introduce E10…, forcing owners of incompatible vehicles to pay more for super grade fuel, convert their engines, or risk damage to their vehicle. Government intervention is necessary due to an issue of equity; if E5 was not available at the fuel pumps, people with E10 incompatible cars will be disproportionately impacted.”

The U.K. did have legislation mandating a supply of E5, but that requirement expired in December 2016.

In response, the DfT has proposed classifying inexpensive E5 as a “protection grade” of fuel at least through 2020 with smaller filling stations exempt from the requirement to sell E5. After 2020, the DfT would reassess the need for the protection grade and decide whether and how long to extend such status.

Fuel suppliers, according to the DfT, have already claimed that E5 will remain widely available through 2020 even without “protection grade” status. However, the DfT initiated a consultation last week to determine exactly what impact granting protection grade status to E5 – or failing to grant that status – would have on owners of E10-incompatible vehicles.

According to DfT figures, nearly 600,000 of the 1.8 million E10-incompatible cars date to the 1970s or earlier. By 2020, the total number of E10-incompatible cars will total less than 1 million; by 2025, the total will shrink to 234,000; and by 2030, the number will dwindle to 107,000.

The DfT then estimated the total cost of converting E10-incompatible vehicles into E10-compatible vehicles – by replacing fuel filters, fuel hoses, fuel pumps, carburetors/fuel injectors, and even fuel tanks – at anywhere between £236 and £1,342 per vehicle. Combined with the number of vehicles the DfT expects to leave the road between now and 2020 sans protection grade status for E5, the department pegged the total cost of upgrading to E10 compatibility at £146 million.

U.S. fuel supply, for comparison, largely consists of E10, E15, and E85, with small amounts of E0 in circulation. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not differentiate how many gallons of E0, E10, E15, and E85 should be produced – only the total amount of ethanol and its sources – it anticipated that demand for E0 would only top out at 200 million gallons in 2017. In its proposed volume standards for 2019, the EPA makes no mention of E0.

Nothing similar to the U.K.’s protection grade status exists in the United States, though a pair of bills currently in Congress intend to “preserv(e) a small market for E0 gasoline.”

The DfT consultation will remain open until September 16. For more information, visit Gov.UK.