Believe it or not, ethanol blended biofuel has been available to Australian consumers for more than two decades, and after a somewhat shaky start it's become a staple option on service station forecourts across the country.
So, why is it there, what are the advantages, and should you be using it?
Way back in the 1990s fuel suppliers began offering unleaded blended with Ethanol as a more sustainable and environmentally conscious alternative to regular petrol.
Ethanol is a type of alcohol, typically created from sugar cane molasses or red sorghum, so unlike oil-based petroleum it's a renewable resource.
It also produces less carbon and carbon monoxide emissions because it burns more cleanly than petrol. And it's marginally cheaper at the pump, generally by around two cents a litre.
On the flip side, ethanol isn't as efficient as petroleum in that it has a lower ‘heat of combustion' which means it doesn't contain as much energy and generally increases fuel consumption by 1.0 to 3.5 per cent, so any price advantage at the pump may be neutralised by using more of it per kilometre.
And if you really want to get into a complex discussion there's the question of how crops destined for ethanol production are planted, harvested and processed, raising issues of appropriate land use, how required machinery is powered, etc.
Most car engines are suitable for E10 fuel.
Soon after ethanol blended fuel went on sale in Australia reports of engine damage in particular models surfaced. But in mid-2003, as a result of vehicle testing that showed petrol containing ethanol blends of 20 per cent or more may cause problems in some older vehicles, the federal government capped the level of ethanol that can be added to petrol at 10 per cent. Hence the almost ubiquitous E10 branding, with E5 a less common offering.
An exception was made in the late noughties for specific Saab models and the Series II ‘Flex-Fuel' VE Commodore, able to run on a much richer E85 blend. But with the sad demise of that once great Swedish brand, and the deletion of E85-compliant Commodore variants, sales of E85 have diminished, and E10 remains the universal standard.
Any question marks related to engine issues faded away long ago, and according to the Biofuels Association of Australia, the majority of cars manufactured since 1986, and therefore designed to run on regular unleaded petrol (ULP), are sanctioned by their manufacturer as E10 compatible.
And in a move destined to further increase E10 use the Queensland Government has introduced a biofuels mandate, effective from January 1 this year, requiring certain fuel suppliers to meet a three percent target for the sale of biofuels.
This is also occurring with other government regulations including a NSW mandate requiring that six per cent of the total volume of petrol sold in the state is ethanol.
In the development of the new Queensland biofuels mandate, research into biofuel use indicated a majority of motorists are unaware of their car's E10 compatibility, so an easy-to-use online compatibility checker allows entry of registration details, or a vehicle's make and model information, to determine whether a car is okay to run on E10.
Consumers won't be forced to buy E10 and will continue to have a range of fuel options open to them, while the main thrust of the initiative is to reinforce the fact that engine development has come a long way in recent years and today most car engines are suitable for E10 fuel.
National standards governing blending ratios, technical specifications and labelling requirements, not to mention fuel manufacturer initiatives like the inclusion of additional anti-corrosion agents, mean the quality and performance of E10 fuel is improving in parallel with engine development.
So, a lot's changed with ethanol blended fuel, and it might be time to take as fresh look at it. If you'd like to dig a little deeper and check your vehicle's compatibility, visit the Queensland Government E10 OK website for more information.