Search Past Articles
Explore Past Articles
Haz Mat "Specialist Course"
« Color Chemistry | Main | Saint Paul's Church Baltimore, MD 1692 »

The New Fuels - Ethanol Response

Ethanol is now to some degree, in all motor fuels for highway and local street consumption by all our motor vehicles. The Emergency Response Training that I recently attended in Troy, Michigan was sponsored by “TransCaer/CN Railroad/and The Ethanol Industry” was very informative. This month we shall look at some of the elements of Emergency Response to these spill/release incidents and how tactics have changed from the increase of alcohol in our vehicle fuels. Also, we will look into one element still troubling the Marine industry and its motors.

Regulatory parameters for this newer field can be found via while response data and information should be directed by your SOP’s to One pending question to the responder and on-scene personnel is how the Railroad industry keeps up with SDS identifiers as technology advances. Currently, CN rail can furnish all SDS data requirements on site by phone, FAX, or email internet by simply contacting the CN railroad access phone number in your local area. Another key element that is often overlooked by railroad emergencies is the “tracks” you will be operating on. Be sure to place that first call to the train guys, so that they can slow or stop any future or on-coming rail traffic towards your incident. The last concern you want is to have the next train bearing down on you at full speed while your team is working on the railroad tracks. This feature often gets delegated last as opposed to “FIRST” to avoid responders being struck by rail traffic!

98% of ethanol produced in the Midwestern States amounts to 15 billion gallons per year. Above 90% of all ethanol produced is located in these States. Ethanol refineries basically operate on a day-to-day basis of importing by truck “corn” while refining and shipping out ethanol liquid fuel. Little is transported by pipeline, while most is moved by truck, railroad, and barges along the Mississippi river. Before the production upscale to environmentally friendly fuels shifting into high gear, sugar cane from South America provided the raw feed-stocks for the industry in its infancy.

Ethanol blended fuels or (EBF’s) as they are commonly referred to are shipped according to DOT (Department of Transportation) flammable liquids guidelines and placarding restrictions. There are four (4) familiar red diamond shaped placards with the familiar burning flame indicator in the lower corner that are seen hauling these materials. These placard differences demonstrate the % concentration of ethanol “IN” the gasoline solution. Knowing these differences may change your decisions of Foam selection or percentage application when fighting an ethanol fuel fire. The UN (United Nations) designations for these four liquids are;

1] 1987 = E95 (95% ethanol with gasoline mixture)

2] 3475 = E10 (>greater than, 10% and <less than 94% ethanol with gasoline mixture)

3] 1203 = <less than 10% ethanol mixed with gasoline

4] 1993 = Denaturant, hydrocarbon only, natural gasoline, and etc type flammables

The remaining concern that may become a variable for firefighting and hazmat decisions is based on the chemical orientation of these products. These are “mechanical” blends, not chemical ones. This is important because in a mechanical blending process, the chemical constituents of the blended components retain their physical properties. When settled for long periods of time, phase separation occurs and the end result is the responder is fighting a fire with multiple hazards. If you view the enclosed link you can view two videos from the ethanol industry demonstrating mechanical phase separation, solubility, Foam types, and emergency response considerations. The core issue of hazardous materials properties is that of these fuels being a “mechanical mixture” rather than a chemical one. For varying motor equipment there are ancillary issues one of which is more clearly shown throughout the Marine industry.

Boats have been designed with a variety of fuel tank materials for many reasons. The mechanical mixture mentioned above illuminates two (2) primary issues of concern in and around marine activities. The first consideration ranges from weight concerns to design elements all developed around the particular performance characteristics to maximize the effectiveness of boat type design. Through the addition of varying tank materials, galvanic corrosion has become an issue. This concept of course leads to fuel and engine contamination both of which are undesirable. The second consideration is the phase separation mentioned earlier. Some boats are static for quite some time before weekend type use or cargo transfer taking extended time before use (ship-in-port.) This period of no use reduces the mechanical agitation from being at sea, thus promoting fuel phase separation. This in turn can degrade fuel tank materials to some degree resulting in fuel contamination. It is here that the engine will have operating problems due to contaminated fuel, not necessarily the fuel “type.” You can appreciate how the various economic representatives will apply “their” inaccurate “SPIN” on these issues. The simple difference between mechanical and chemical mixtures/solutions is an issue of storage tank material vs. rate of use, rather than engine function. When choosing recreational boat fuels, you should research the “factual” data on mechanical mixtures of fuel, storage rates, and tank materials for a correctly operational system. 

                      Haz Mat Mike



PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend