Tag Archives: ethanol

1952 BSA Bantam refurbished


I haven’t ridden this bike for five years. A few months ago I noticed that the front tyre was perished. The tyre was cracked, as was the inner tube (tubeless tyres weren’t widely available when this bike was made). The inside of the wheel was badly rusted so I decided to clean it up and repaint it. Then I thought I might as well tidy up and paint the mudguard and forks. One thing led to another. I took off the headlight. The wiring was poor. While I had the headlight off it seemed to make sense to replace all the wiring – and convert the electrics from 6 volts to 12 volts. That meant putting new electronics under the petrol tank.

When I took off the tank I noticed that it rattled. At some stage in its life it had been lined to prevent rust. Thanks to governments that are too thick to understand the consequences of what they do – UK and EU – insisting on ethanol being added to petrol, the lining had turned into broken-up lumps of what looked like old varnish. I flushed out loads of the stuff, it had clogged the fuel pipes and carburettor.

I added flashers, an LED ultrabright running light, and bicycle panniers. If any future owner wants to remove them, that’s fine. I want a safe bike that can be used on today’s roads. You might have noticed that the paint job finished just behind the engine. When the rear tyre needs replacing I’ll have a go at the rest.

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Ethanol in Fuel

Ethanol is added to our diesel and petrol. Ethanol damages engines. There is even an independent report commisioned by government (here) that confirms this (don’t be put off by the title, it’s the conclusions 6.1.1 and 6.3 on page 41 that are so worrying).
‘E10’ in the report refers to the 10% ethanol that the EU says must be added to our fuel by 2013. Currently we add up to 5%, an amount that is already causing damage by rusting fuel tanks, corroding other metal parts and rotting rubber seals.
The topic isn’t sexy enough for the media, and yet the addition of 10% ethanol will be on us before we know it (the year after next!)

As I’ve mentioned before, the addition of ethanol to fuel doesn’t just affect cars. There are tens of thousands of mowers, cultivators, boats, tractors, excavators, emergency generators and other kinds of machinery out there that stand to be (and are already being) damaged by ethanol addition.

The EU directive is a good example of politicians shooting from the hip and failing to commission proper research before making world-altering decisions. Not only is ethanol damaging engines, it is destroying the environment in so many ways. The article here is more than four years old. Since it was written, more and more arable land is being turned over to growing crops for fuel, and the destruction of rainforest for ethanol production is well under way.

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If you think biofuels are green…

This is not another dig at BP, I wouldn’t do that to you.

You may know this already. In the UK we now have 5% ethanol added to our petrol (when I did school chemistry it was known as Ethyl Alcohol). This percentage is soon to increase to 10%.

On the face of it this seems a good idea. Anything to wean the world off fossil fuels has to be taken seriously. What isn’t widely known is that ethanol is hygroscopic, it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere and as a result it corrodes steel containers. Ethanol also disolves fibreglass fuel tanks and there are many of these still around. The longer this petrol is stored in steel tanks, particularly if there is air space above the fuel, the more moisture it will absorb and the more corrosive it becomes. Older vehicles are already suffering from corrosion of the metals used in their carburettors and their fuel pumps. Many older fuel tanks (including a tank on one of my bikes) have been given an internal anti-corrosion coating. And guess what? This coating dissolves in ethanol to produce a foul glue that clogs up everything in sight (I should have said out of sight, because it’s all hidden away in the fuel system). Ethanol also rots rubber seals. Don’t think that it is only owners of classic cars and bikes who are affected by this. There are hundreds of thousands of older petrol engines out there, on generators, mowers, cultivators, boats, water pumps, and in farm and contractor’s machinery. All are in danger of damage by today’s petrol.

All of these problems seem trivial compared to the damage this obsession with ‘green’ fuels is doing elsewhere. Land previously used for food crops is now being used to produce biofuels (for diesel as well as petrol). We cannot afford to use our arable land to produce this stuff. The amount of grain required to produce enough ethanol to fill the fuel tank of a large car could feed one person for a year. Indonesia thinks it has the answer to this, and to get more land for biofuel crops it is felling an area of rainforest the size of 300 football pitches every HOUR. See here.

For an excellent and detailed information sheet on the problems (and some solutions) surrounding the use of biofuels in older engines see here. For more on the global problems we are making for ourselves by growing biofuel crops, simply google ‘deforestation diesel’.


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