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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

19 February 2003

Ethanol Tests on Non-automotive Engines

Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, today condemned the State and Territory governments for failing to respond to his call to use their consumer protection laws to require labelling of ethanol blends in petrol.

The Minister also announced that his department is preparing options for Commonwealth action - delivering on Cabinet's December decision to act if States failed to do so.

"It is the States which have the power to require labelling, but apart from existing regimes in Queensland and South Australia, they have failed to respond to my repeated calls to use those powers to give motorists the information they want," Dr Kemp said.

Ethanol is banned as an additive in petrol produced in South Australia, while in Queensland, E10 is labelled, marketed and promoted as an environmentally friendly alternative fuel.

"This shows that it is quite clearly possible for other States to act in this matter, but they refuse to do so," said Dr Kemp. "Today I am releasing letters I wrote to State and Territory governments last December."

"The Commonwealth will now take action. It is a far more complex task for the Commonwealth to regulate for labelling. Nevertheless, I expect to be making an announcement shortly and hope that motorists will see labels on petrol bowsers within the next couple of months."

Dr Kemp today also released results of tests carried out for Environment Australia on the effects of ethanol blends on two common small non-automotive engines - a garden trimmer engine and an outboard motor.

"The release of these results is consistent with my December 17th commitment to make available full information on the effects of ethanol blends in petrol as it becomes available to me," Dr Kemp said.

The tests by the Orbital Engine Company were on two brands of common small engines - the Stihl line trimmer utility engine and the Mercury outboard engine - with 10 per cent and 20 per cent ethanol petrol blends.

The testing included an assessment of engine performance and durability as well as materials compatibility with E20.

The tests found "no substantial impacts" from 10 per cent ethanol (E10), with performance and operability comparable with the results of the engine operating on straight petrol.

Durability tests revealed slight swelling and blistering of the carburettor diaphragm on the line trimmer engine and a slight increase in carbon deposits in the piston.

"These impacts did not however stop the engine from completing the allotted durability period with the engine performing in a similar manner at the commencement of the durability cycle," the Orbital report states.

However, testing of 20 per cent ethanol blends revealed a number of performance and durability concerns, including stalling, an increase in exhaust gas temperature, carbon deposits, as well as distortion and blistering of the carburettor diaphragm.

Some corrosion of metallic engine components and changes to plastic and rubber hoses were also found.

"These results highlight the need for public information about ethanol levels in fuel," Dr Kemp said.

"Although we do not yet have conclusive information about the impact of ethanol blends between 10 and 20 per cent on automotive engines, this reinforces the need for States and Territories to institute proper labelling regimes and for industry to take immediate voluntary action."

A national standard for ethanol is being developed as part of the Government's commitment to cleaner air through the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000. The full range of fuel standards is being introduced under the Act from January 2001 through to 2006.

"It is essential that standards for fuel quality are based on sound science, which is why comprehensive testing is being undertaken on the effects of ethanol blends on petrol," Dr Kemp said.

"The Literature Review on ethanol found the information to date was 'vague' and 'conflicting', 'leaving the only valid conclusion that testing is required to obtain data to form a view', so we are proceeding on that basis."

He said the results of further tests on non-automotive engines and the initial results of tests on automotive engines would be made available as they were received by the Government.

For a copy of the Minister's letters to States and Territories on December 17th, 2002, contact the Minister's office on 6277 7640.

A copy of the Orbital report on non-automotive engines and the Literature Review are available at

Media Contact:
Dr Peter Poggioli Dr Kemp's office 0412 970 063

Commonwealth of Australia