UK Launches E10 Consultation

Posted in: biofuels

The DfT has published it's consultation into E10 biofuel in the UK. What are the factors at play?

On the 20th of July, the UK Department for Transport published its latest consultation: into the introduction of E10 biofuel across the UK. E10, a petrol blend consisting of 10% ethanol, is legal for use in the UK, but is not widely available at filling stations, restricting its penetration into the market. Currently, petrol in the UK is E5 – a 5% ethanol blend – and available in two grades, a ‘regular’ grade and a higher-octane ’premium’ or ‘super’ grade. In the consultation, the DfT concludes that, in order for the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) to succeed in the future, E10 will need to become more widely available. However, there are multiple potential barriers to this.

Filling Stations

The first such barrier to E10’s availability is an issue of distribution: establishing E10’s presence in filling stations around the country. At filling stations, the fuel is stored in underground tanks, and so the stations are limited by the amount of storage space they have, and as such, stations would most likely have to replace one of their existing available fuels with E10. Most filling stations have two petrol tanks: one for each aforementioned grade. The government wishes for access to the cheaper, lower-octane grade of E5 petrol to remain universal, meaning smaller stations would need to replace the higher-grade petrol with an E10 version. However, sales of the higher-grade petrol are so low compared to the lower grade, that this is unlikely to result in a successful and widespread introduction of the new fuel. As such, part of the government consultation seeks to identify the most effective way to introduce E10 at the pump: whether it needs to be restricted to larger filling stations with enough infrastructure, or whether another option is available.

Vehicle Compatibility

E10 is not a suitable fuel for all vehicles: it has potential to cause damage to seals within the fuel system of older vehicles and cause a build-up of residue in fuel tanks. However, since 2000, almost all manufactured vehicles have been suitable for use with E10 without concern. The overwhelming majority – around 95% - of petrol vehicles in the UK fleet are now warrantied to use E10, however, the government remains concerned with the vehicles that are not warrantied, as they could potentially suffer if E10 replaces their fuel supply.

The government’s analysis, accompanying the consultation, highlights that the majority of these older, incompatible vehicles have owners with an income of less than £20,000 per year, which the DfT cites as reason to believe that poorer people will be disproportionately affected by introduction of E10.

This analysis, however, sits in stark contrast to another report published on the 17th of July by the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Bioethanol. This analysis into the age of vehicles in the UK and the impacts of E10 implementation – which included modelling conducted by NNFCC – found that pre-2000 vehicles are more likely to be registered in the UK’s more affluent local authorities than its poorer areas due to the relatively high number of non-essential classic and hobby cars. This may suggest an underlying trend masked by the DfT’s analysis, which considered only income of each vehicle’s registered driver, not the household income. The APPG analysis also finds that there is a greater number of vehicles in the UK that are optimised for E10 (and thus see a reduction in performance using E5), than vehicles incompatible with E10, meaning a greater portion of vehicles are impacted by not introducing E10, than by introducing it.

The consultation runs until September 2018, with the Call for Evidence open until 30th August. Members of the industry are invited to submit responses to the consultation (which can be found here). Meanwhile, we will eagerly await the outcome of the consultation.

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This article was written by Bob Horton, Research Analyst at NNFCC.

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