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What is E10 petrol and is it as eco-friendly as it claims to be?

E10 petrol has already been introduced in Germany
E10 petrol has already been introduced in Germany   -   Copyright  ANGELIKA WARMUTH/AFP
By Rosie Frost

A more environmentally friendly form of fuel is set to be introduced into the UK later this year.

The Department for Transport intends to make E10, a blend of fossil fuels and biofuel, the new standard for petrol.

Currently, the standard in the UK is E5, fuel that contains up to 5 per cent ethanol, but this change will see that increase to 10 per cent bringing the UK in line with other countries across Europe, the US and Australia.

The UK government claims that the increase could see the same impact on CO2 emissions as taking roughly 350,000 cars off the road - that's all of the cars in the county of North Yorkshire.

The imminent introduction of this new blended fuel would be an interim step for the UK where plans are being made to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 as part of a move to “decarbonise” transport.

“Before electric cars become the norm, we want to take advantage of reduced CO2 emissions today,” said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last year.

“This small switch to petrol containing bioethanol at 10 per cent will help drivers across the country reduce the environmental impact of every journey.”

What is E10 made from?

To make E10 and other blended fuels, petrol is mixed with ethanol.

This alcohol can be produced from crops like wheat or corn and is the most widely used form of biofuel in the world.

Just like making beers and wines, the crops are fermented together with microorganisms which eat the sugars and starches and turn them into alcohol. Advocates also point to the potential for the crops used to capture CO2 and offset emissions.

There is some uncertainty as to whether the emissions from burning this fuel can actually be offset by growing these crops and some people object to the idea of using food to make fuels. While it may reduce the use of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions, E10 doesn't tackle problems of air quality and public health either.

Unsplash
Seaweed could offer a good solution for a country surrounded by sea.Unsplash

Surrounded by the ocean, there is another possible source to feed the UK’s fuel evolution; seaweed. The slimy relative of algae is naturally high in the sugars need to make alcohol and can easily be fermented to make biofuels.

Growing seaweed doesn’t require land, freshwater or fertilisers either making its potential environmental impact minimal says the Scottish Association for Marine Sciences (SAMS) who are currently researching the possibility of using it as a green fuel source.

Where is E10 already being used?

Across Europe, a number of countries have been using the E10 blend for years.

The fuel was introduced to France in 2009 where it has proved a consistently popular option for French motorists year on year, thanks to tax breaks.

Other countries to have adopted E10 include Germany, Belgium, and Finland, driven by EU targets for renewable fuel sources.

Further afield, Brazil is the world’s biggest biofuel user and second-largest producer mixing its petrol with up to 27 per cent ethanol.

New cars in the South American country have been completely fuel-flexible since 2003 which means they can run on a fuel made of anything up to 100 per cent ethanol if needed.

Will my car run on E10?

Most modern cars built after 2011 should be able to deal with the 10 per cent ethanol content being introduced in the UK.

It has been the reference fuel against which all new cars are tested for emissions and performance since 2016.

The UK government says that around 95 per cent of petrol-powered vehicles currently on the road should be compatible and this figure is increasing all the time.

If you are unsure whether your car will run on the new fuel, a government website has been launched that allows you to check whether your car is compatible.