10.5.2016 | printed in the Summer 2016 issue of VITAL magazine
Robert Champion doesn’t think twice when he fills his 33-foot Ocean Hawk – a high performance offshore powerboat sporting twin Mercury Verado 400R- engine with a 10% ethanol blend.
“I’ve taken time to ask questions and get educated about ethanol,” says Champion, a recreational boater who has owned several boats (everything from cabin cruisers to yachts) in his nearly 40 years of boating (everywhere from Michigan to Miami). “I’ve just tried to separate the facts from the myths.”
That basic education when it comes to ethanol – taking that time to ask questions and get the fundamental facts – is all Kelly Manning asks for.
As the Vice President of Development for Growth Energy, Manning focuses his efforts on educating the general public about ethanol. Manning, though, finds he often spends less time promoting the positives than he does dispelling the negative misconceptions.
“Unfortunately, we have a lot of people out there spreading misinformation,” says Manning, who also manages the day-today operations for the American Ethanol NASCAR program within Growth Energy. “We’ve found that when people are given the real facts, they form their own opinions – positive opinions – about ethanol.”
When Growth Energy launched their partnership with NASCAR in 2011, research into NASCAR’s fan base revealed that roughly half of the group’s fans were supportive of ethanol in their vehicles. Today, that same research shows that number has grown to 80 percent.
“When we get a chance to explain our message, folks understand what a great fuel ethanol is, everything from where it is produced, to the jobs it supports, to the potential technical benefits, to the environmental benefits,” says Manning. “People are passionate about their boats, and we want them to make their own decisions once they know the answers to some of those basic questions about ethanol.”
Yes, marine engines are warrantied for E10, and have been for nearly two decades.
No, ethanol companies are not advocating for E15 or E85 in marine engines.
Yes, 95 percent of Americans currently use E10, and most boaters today are using E10, whether they realize it or not.
Yes, ethanol is safe for both inboards and outboards, two-stroke and fourstroke motors.
Yes, ethanol costs less than gasoline.
No, you are not required to use E10.
Yes, ethanol is much safer for the environment, especially when it comes to emissions into the water.
No, this isn’t something new. Virtually all gasoline today contains 10 percent ethanol.
Keith Holmes has heard the questions, and seen the real-life answers, firsthand. As a certified Mercury Marine Technician and the owner/operator of CK Motorsports in west Michigan, Holmes and his team service 500 or so boats per year.
“Is E10 safe to use in boats? Yes, it’s absolutely safe to use in all of today’s marine engines,” says Holmes, who owns a 1972, 27-foot Magnum Marine sport boat with twin 350 engines. “I’ve always filled up at the pump, and most of my customers have for years as well and never even realized they were burning ethanol.”
In his 28 years as a marine technician, Holmes says he hasn’t encountered the types of issues that others blame on ethanol. In fact, he’s seen just the opposite.
“As far as the quality of the fuel and what it’s doing, we’ve seen a significant gain in the longevity of marine engines,” says Holmes. “We notice the fuel systems are a lot dryer, we don’t see water like we used to. I’ve been around boats all my life, and I’ve seen what water does to engines. With ethanol, we just don’t see those problems.”
Holmes’ other boat, by the way, is the Cat Can Do, a 40-foot Unlimited Extreme offshore powerboat with twin 1,700-horsepower Sterling engines. With 80-plus wins and 13 world and national titles in 24 years of racing, Holmes is one of the nation’s top Offshore Powerboat racers.
The Cat Can Do runs 10 or so races per year in the Outdoor Powerboat Association, runs nearly 200 miles per hour and runs on 90 percent ethanol (one of the highest-performance racing fuels available).
In 2015, Holmes partnered with Ignite Racing Fuels and, eventually, American Ethanol to create what’s now called the Ignite American Ethanol Cat. The team retooled and recalibrated its engines – which ran on 116 octane race fuel and produced 1,500 horsepower – to run on E90, the blend of 90 percent ethanol.
“We were instantly seeing about 200 more horsepower and 225 pounds more torque for the engines,” says Holmes. “The E90 gave us better compression, more power, more torque, lower engine temps and lower fuel costs.”
The team won the Outdoor Power Association National and World Championships in 2014 and 2015.
“The advantages and the performance we’ve seen from ethanol have been outstanding,” says Holmes. “Normally, these engines would need a rebuild around 400 or 500 hours. The cylinders and valves would be worn out. These engines have already seen 800 hours of racing on them without needing to be rebuilt.” As a longtime recreational boater, Holmes also appreciates the big-picture positives of ethanol, from supporting the American farmer to reducing dependence on foreign oil to, most importantly for him, going green.
“When you spend time on the water, you appreciate how important it is to keep these waterways clean,” he says. “Ethanol is a cleaner fuel and that means cleaner engines and cleaner emissions, especially when you’re talking about water. It feels good to know we’re doing our part.”
When it comes to promoting the ethanol movement, Holmes realizes that, in the offshore powerboat circuit, results are the real marketing tool.
The back-to-back world and national championships, he says, have helped drive the conversation and the education about ethanol.
“Honestly, the important thing for us is that ethanol has given us a winning advantage in the performance world,” says Holmes. “That has opened the doors for us to share our other messages and clear up some of the myths. But in the speedboating world, speed is what matters.”
And maybe no one knows more about speed, and ethanol, than Jay Berry.
In 2002, when he was just 22, Berry built his first ethanol plant (Central Indiana Ethanol, which produces more than 55 million gallons of ethanol per year).
In 2008, he started making racing fuel, E85, for a few friends who raced cars, and they soon realized that Berry’s fuel was better than the E85 they bought elsewhere (due to Berry’s highend blend).
Today, Berry sells his Ignite Racing Fuel, which is highperformance ethanol, to more than a dozen countries, including Japan, Sweden, Germany and Dubai.
“I’ve got the fastest cars in the world, the fastest boats, the fastest motorcycles, the fastest lawnmower ... all running ethanol,” says Berry. “I’ve been scratching, clawing and fighting to get ethanol’s message out. For the first time, it’s popular, it’s sexy.”
And while that may be the first time anyone has ever described ethanol as “sexy,” Berry knows that “speed sells.”
“It’s all a power game,” he says. “With ethanol, we are gaining 100-plus horsepower over gasoline. Ethanol burns 20 to 30 degrees cooler than gas. On the maintenance side, ethanol burns so clean that there is zero carbon buildup, so guys don’t have to tear their engines down and rebuild them. When we get this kind of performance, it makes it easier to tell the story of ethanol.”
For Berry, that story is as simple as “Clean fuel. Clean engine. Clean air and water.”
Especially in the boating world, where fuel emissions make their way directly into the water, Berry stresses that communication is key.
He believes that big-picture, environmentally-friendly message will eventually resonate with boaters, who, maybe more than most, value clean water and clean air. Ethanol, after all, is biodegradable, non-toxic and burns much cleaner than gasoline.
“This is about the bigger good,” he says, “and right now there is a lot of pushback and misperceptions about ethanol when it comes to boating. If we really want to accomplish that bigger good, we all need to work together – the ethanol people, the boat manufacturers, the engine companies, the recreational boaters.”
For the recreational boaters, it all begins when they pull up to the pump. While many people don’t even realize that they are already filling up with E10, those like Robert Champion believe it’s important to have that choice.
“I like knowing I can help the environment, especially when it comes to the water, by choosing E10,” says Champion. “When you really look at the facts, it makes choosing ethanol easy.”
When Growth Energy’s Kelly Manning hears those kinds of anecdotes, it just reinforces the fact that ethanol education can help dispel those myths and misperceptions.
Just like the inroads made with those NASCAR fans, Manning believes that, if given the chance, the ethanol industry can enlighten boaters as well.
“We just want consumers to have a choice at the pump,” says Manning. “And we believe that if they have a choice and know the facts, they’ll want to choose E10 in their boats. Sure, we want them to choose E10 because it’s good for the American farmer, and good for the environment and good for the country. But we also want them to choose ethanol because they know it’s good for them and their boat. It all starts right there.”
Making Waves with Ethanol
by Steve Lange | photos by Jeff Helmkamp