Ethanol blend a problem for lawn mowers, etc.

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

The push to increase the amount of energy that comes from corn poses a threat to a lot of equipment that is common around the home, such as lawn mowers, chain saws, trimmers, snowblowers, boats and generators.

Two years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that it is safe to use fuels blended with up to 15 percent ethanol in vehicles, up from the current 10 percent. The boost follows a 2007 mandate from Congress that the country ramp up production of biofuels.

But manufacturers of lawn equipment typically won’t warranty their products for what is called E15 fuel and say it can damage the small engines used in lawn equipment.

“It’s a huge problem,” said Kris Kiser, president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.

So far, it’s not much of a threat in Ohio because E15 fuel is not widely available at gas stations.

Mark Borer, president of the Ohio Ethanol Producers Association, figures that will change next year as more gas stations get the infrastructure needed to start selling E15.

“It’s really going to be demand-driven,” he said. Consumers will want fuel powered with E15 because it will be cheaper, he said.

The problem, though, is they might also figure that because E15 is available at the gas pump, it will work in their lawn equipment, Kiser said.

“It’s automatically assumed that what’s in a gasoline pump is safe,” he said.

Gasoline blended with E15 burns hotter and faster than other gasoline blends, Kiser said. It can damage plastic components, valves and gas caps, and it can cause fuel leaks.

Also, if consumers don’t use their equipment often, the ethanol in the gas tank can draw in water from humidity over time and that, too, can damage the engine, he said. The same also can apply to storing fuel in containers for long periods.

Kiser worries that a landscaper, for example, could damage trimmers and mowers by unknowingly putting E15 into them.

Local shops that sell and service lawn equipment agree that higher blends of ethanol can cause problems and have the potential to frustrate customers who don’t understand why equipment has failed.

“It can cause a lot of ill will and problems,” said Greg Bohls, general manager of Buckeye Power Sales in Blacklick. “The big issue is that it’s broken, and they don’t know why it’s broken.”

He said he is not aware of a single manufacturer that approves of the use of E15.

Jason Castle, owner of Outdoor Masters, said he sees equipment with damaged fuel lines and carburetors that get gummed up.

“The stuff can’t handle that,” he said.

The situation raises the need for a public-education campaign before the higher blend of ethanol starts to become common in Ohio gasoline pumps, AAA Ohio spokesman Bill Purpura said.

“It’s going to be a bigger and bigger issue,” he said. “It’s just so new, we haven’t heard much about it.”

AAA is not opposed to the higher-ethanol blends, but consumers need more understanding about them, he said.

Borer, president of the ethanol group, said gas pumps will be clearly marked so consumers will know exactly how much ethanol will be in the gasoline they are buying to avoid any potential issues with lawn equipment.

Some gas stations will be equipped with pumps that allow consumers to choose how much ethanol they want in the fuel, he said.

Opponents are trying to scare people to keep them from using higher levels of ethanol, Borer said.

“The potential risks that are out there are grossly overstated,” he said.


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