By Toneo Tonderai Rutsito
For Zimbabwe, it all began 4 years ago when businessman Billy Rautenbach the investor of the US$600 million ethanol plant in Chisumbanje began lobbying the government which had previously turned down his proposal to enact a law that benefits one person by making blending mandatory.
Today the plea by the businessman has not only been accepted but has found favour from the initial 5% blending proposal to an imminent 20% come march next year, a move government has already hinted, it will implement.
For Government the gains are obvious, Zimbabwe has been saving about US$4 million every month. Since the introduction of blended fuel prices had soared to US$1,52 per litre but now trading at US$1,40 and US$1,49, with total service station charging the most amongst other service stations.
But according to some experts, ethanol blends reduce fuel mileage, increase metal corrosion, cause deterioration of plastic and rubber fuel system components, clog fuel injectors and carburetors, de-laminate composite fuel tanks, varnish build-up on engine parts, damage or destroy internal engine components, water absorption, fuel phase separation and shorten fuel storage life.
Investigations show that many manufacturers of major auto, marine, motorcycle, lawn equipment, generator have issued warnings and precautions about the use of ethanol-blended petrol of any type in their engines.
TechnoMag can actually confirm that all our service stations are now selling the blended fuel hence the E10-15 with very few service still selling E10 as the market is only now buying directly locally blended fuel of E15 which shall be extended to E20 in three months time.
Our import bill was ballooning to at least US$50 million of unleaded petrol every month but the switch to the blended has resulted in a 20 percent reduction In Zimbabwe, by blending the fuel with ethanol extracted from Chisumbanje Ethanol Plant.
The most significant problem to the Zimbabwean motorists is the obvious , average reduction in fuel economy of 7,7 percent caused by E20 when compared to the distance achieved by test vehicles running on unleaded petrol.”
For most fuel saver cars in Zimbabwe going for as much as 15km per litre will see a serious decline to 12km or even lesser, something that I have personally noticed with my own car.
Zimbabwean motorists are also worried about the reported general problems likely to result from the use of ethanol blends include corrosion of metal parts, deterioration of plastic parts, damage of internal parts, starting and operating difficulties, water absorption, wear and damage of internal engine parts, damage or premature disintegration of the fuel pump, clogging and plugging of fuel injectors and unsuitable ignition timing resulting in ignition failure.
Drivability issues related to E10 include “engine performance problems, often simply due to lower energy of ethanol blends, hard starting and operating difficulty, hesitation and lack of acceleration and stalling, especially at low speeds”.
Ferrari, Hyundai, Kia, Porsche, Volkswagen and Audi are some of the car manufacturers that have expressed reservations about E10 and issued warnings against its use, saying the cars may develop drivability problems.
Motorcycle makers Ducati, Harley Davidson and Suzuki have done likewise.
However, there are some models like BMW, Honda, Kawasaki, Polaris and Yamaha which have no problems with ethanol blends.
“We have written to government advising them that most of our vehicles are compatible up to E10 blended fuel,” said Shamba in an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent on Tuesday.
“Above E10, older vehicles are likely to have performance problems relating to heat vapouring. The cars will not be able to cover the same distance they were able to cover with the unleaded fuel,” said Shamba.
He said the older vehicles are those that still use the carburettor system instead of the fuel-injection system. At the time of writing, Zera and Green Fuel were still to respond to questions that were e-mailed to them on Monday.
“Nissan vehicles are designed to take a maximum of 10 percent ethanol blended gasoline. If this percentage is exceeded, Nissan products will have most fuel injection components changed and various rubber components installed into the fuel system redesigning them to cater for a higher blend,” said Nissan Zimbabwe in a statement.
“Any use of ethanol blend higher than 10 percent will render all Nissan products assembled after 2001 fuel systems unwarrantable.”
With these worrying effects it would be really a cause of concern to have the blending as mandatory.
For consumers it is a great loss to have the buying price slashed with only 5cents while they lose about 5km per litre or more as this does not really bring any relief to the motorists with possible side effects of e20, some considerations may nay need to be taken before pushing the E20 as a mandatory fuel.
In the interest of fair business practices, it would be recommendable for the motorists to choose the fuel they want for their cars since blended fuel is cheap too.
This has to be a matter of choice and allow blended fuel to compete at the service stations to some its really about quantity and price yet some motorists only care about quality for their hard earned vehicles.