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Sterling Deep Into Ethanol Fuel System Testing

Although Sterling Performance in Milford, Mich., has, like all high-performance marine engine builders, experienced a severe downturn in new-engine orders and moderate substantial upswing in engine rebuild work in the past three years, testing fuel pumps and fuel systems has been keeping the company busy.

“It’s off the charts,” said Mike D’Anniballe, the owner of Sterling. “The flavor of the year here is fuel pump and fuel system testing with ethanol fuels. Right now, it’s all automotive but of course it’s going to spill over into marine.”

D’Anniballe said he is currently testing fuel lines and fuel pumps from all five “Tier 1” fuel-pump manufacturers including Bosch, Denso and MTI Automotive. To that end, he said he has purchased more than 20,000 gallons of gasoline, with and without the controversial additive, this year—just for fuel system development testing. Current testing involves one mixture that has 22 percent ethanol, as well as a non-ethanol-added gasoline.

“Right now, we’re working on development of fuel lines and pumps,” said D’Anniballe. “Once we get that to where the fuel-pump and automotive companies want it, we’ll move into durability testing.”

According to D’Anniballe, Brazilian ethanol, which is made from sugarcane, is becoming popular and automobile manufacturers, most notably Ford, want to test fuel systems with it. But getting pure Brazilian ethanol, without paying a substantial tax on it, is a problem because it technically qualifies as a distilled spirit. (“Remember ‘Everclear?’ said D’Anniballe. “Brazilian ethanol is basically that.”)

For that reason, the Brazilian ethanol that is exported as fuel is colored with a dye that, among other things, makes it undrinkable.

Unfortunately, the dye also makes Brazilian ethanol unsuitable for testing in automotive applications such as fuel line and pump development.

“Ford doesn’t want us to use the Brazilian ethanol with the dye because that’s not what the consumer will put in his car,” said D’Anniballe. “But we can’t get it because we can’t import a drinkable spirit.”