As of September 1, the standard grade of petrol in Great Britain is E10, denoting up to a 10 per cent content of bio ethanol. Prior to this, regular unleaded was E5 although E10 has been on sale for some time in the UK and more particularly in Europe. Superunleaded petrol (rated at 97+ octane) will remain E5, while the change won’t happen in Northern Ireland until early in 2022. Neither will diesel fuel be changing. All fuel stations will sell E10 bio ethanol fuel but what effect will it have on your car?
Almost all (95%) petrol-powered vehicles on the road today can use E10 petrol and all cars built since 2011 are compatible. But initial interest in the new fuel centred on claims from the AA that, due to the reduced efficiency of E10 petrol, drivers’ fuel costs will rise by about 1.6 per cent.
Ethanol (or ethyl alcohol) is basically the same sort of alcohol that you might quaff from a cocktail glass with a splash of Noilly Prat and an olive – not that we’d recommend this, as automotive ethanol is about 200 Proof. Bioethanol is distilled from plant material, most often corn or sugar cane, although cellulosic ethanol distilled from plant and wood fibre (cellulose), is seen as a more environmental alternative.
You can check your car’s compatibility with E10 fuel at the Government’s online checker.
What is E10 petrol?
The E10 label denotes regular unleaded fuel that contains up to 10 per cent plant-derived bio ethanol. This ‘green’ proportion has already been used in UK pump fuel at concentrations of up to five per cent (labelled E5). The Government says that pumps will be clearly labelled.
Cars produced after 2011 are able to use this fuel without having to modify the engine. Older cars, including classics, may have to be adapted (see below).
Diesel fuel curerently has a ratio of bio ethanol; it is labelled B7, indicating up to seven per cent bio content, but is not changing in line with the switch to E10 petrol.
What will it mean to drivers?
This move is part of the UK Government’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), which requires 12.4% of road transport energy to be from renewable sources by 2032. Large-scale fuel providers are obligated to meet these targets and show what percent of their fuel comes from renewable and sustainable sources.
Interestingly, the Government’s own Impact Assessment report * satated that “there are no clear consumer advantages to choosing E10 fuel” and also asserts that RTFO targets up to 2032 could be met without the introduction of E10.
Nevertheless, adding bio ethanol to petrol saves the release of climate-changing carbon dioxide greenhouse gas when fossil fuels are burned, though exactly how much it saves is the source of some debate. In 2019, the UK Government’s own figures claim that the 1,400 million litres of fuel equivalent saved about 82 per cent of CO2, but that figure falls to 78 per cent when indirect land use change is taken into account.
In theory E10 fuel should have been introduced around 2011 when the new EU standard was established, but in typical style Britain dragged its feet. By 2014 the Government was talking seriously, but again a combination of pushback from interested bodies and poor pump labelling put paid to the plan.