Filling up with Super E10: Why biofuel is better than its reputation

With the current fuel prices, many people ask themselves whether it would not be better to fill up with Super E10 petrol, which is 6 cents cheaper – instead of the classic Super (E5). Instead of up to 5 percent ethanol as in classic Super, E10 contains up to 10 percent of it. In this article we will clarify whether it really pays off in the end, how E10 is compatible with climate protection and whether biofuel can damage your engine.

Lower price, higher consumption: whether E10 is worth it

Super E10 is currently usually 6 cents cheaper than Super E5. With a tank volume of 50 liters, the E10 tank filling is 3 euros cheaper than the E5 tank filling. But: cars with Super E10 consume around 1 percent more than with classic Super E5 “chemical theory”. Depending on the vehicle model, it can sometimes be more or sometimes less in practice. That depends on how well the engineers have optimized the engine and fuel control for biofuel. In concrete measurements by the ADAC on a total of six test vehicles, the range was from 1.7 percent more consumption to 2.21 percent less consumption with E10 compared to Super E5.

Consumption measurements with Super E10

Car Model Consumption with E10
BMW 318i 0.65% more
Ford Fiesta 1.1 1.70% more
Vauxhall Agila 1.2 1.50% more
Vauxhall Corsa 1.4 2.21% less
Renault Megane TCE160 0.18% less
VW Golf Variant 1.0 TSI 0.57% less
Source: ADAC measurements according to the WLTP measurement method, except Opel Agila (according to NEDC)

E10 or E5: Which is cheaper in the end?

For example, let’s calculate an additional consumption of 1 percent. Assuming that the petrol consumption is 7 liters of Super E5 or 7.07 liters of E10 per 100 kilometers. In our example, the petrol price should be EUR 1.80 per liter of E5. This results in the following costs per 100 kilometers:

  • Costs with Super E5: 1.80 euros × 7.0 liters = 12.60 euros (for 100 km)
  • Costs with Super E10: 1.74 × 7.07 liters = 12.30 euros (for 100 km)

In this example, the savings from the E10 are around 30 cents per 100 kilometers.

Ultimately, it depends on your specific vehicle whether and how much you can save with Super E10. It is very likely that you can save with it. Incidentally, you can mix Super E5 and E10 as you wish – filling up with one and the other is no problem for the car.

In addition to choosing the right type of fuel, you can (additionally) save if you fill up in the right place at the right time: if possible in the evening at smaller brands of petrol stations. You can find the cheapest gas station in your area with tank apps such as “Fill up more”, “Fill up cleverly” or “ADAC fuel prices”. You can find out more about this in the guidebook Cheap refueling.

More power with Super E10?

Theoretically, more ethanol in the fuel can increase the performance of your car. Because one property of ethanol is its higher “knock resistance” compared to petrol. The more anti-knock a fuel is, the less likely it is that it will ignite too early in the combustion chamber and burn uncontrollably. Such pre-ignition sounds like knocking in the engine, hence the name. But: Despite its higher ethanol content, Super E10 is usually not more head-tight than Super E5. Both types of fuel have 95 octane (this is the unit of measure for knock resistance). Because during the production of E10, the higher knock resistance of the ethanol is compensated for elsewhere, i.e. lowered, so that in the end you end up with 95 octane again. Interestingly, after several measurements with a standard (not tuned) Golf GTI, the tuning specialists from “Pro Boost” were able to determine a slightly higher performance with Super E10. However, the difference is so small (0.6 hp) that you should not expect a noticeable increase in performance. Your car will probably not have less power if you switch from the classic Super E5 to the E10.

These cars can fill up with E10

Virtually all petrol engines built after 2011, most built after 2000 and many even older cars can handle Super E10 without any problems. From 2011 at the latest, the engineers took eco-fuel into account during development and optimized the components for it. The manufacturers sometimes had to check the compatibility of the older models afterwards. BMW, for example, has even approved all of its classic cars for E10. However, Super E10 did not have a good start in Germany. The introduction of the fuel at the beginning of 2011 was accompanied by great skepticism from motorists – and soon there were reports in the tabloids about alleged engine damage caused by the new biofuel. Even if that quickly turned out to be nonsense, the image of E10 was never able to fully recover from it. An objective view is worthwhile.

This is how you check your car for E10 suitability

The decisive factor is whether the manufacturer has approved your specific car model for Super E10. If your car is approved for E10, you don’t have to worry about engine damage or increased engine wear. You can easily find out whether your car is ready for E10 on the website. The database is huge and includes all possible vehicles. If your car’s make is listed but not the model, click Other. For example, if you own an Opel Astra, click on Opel and then on Other. That’s because it’s easier to list models that don’t fit E10 (because there are rather few) than those that do E10 (countless). The fact that the Opel Astra does not explicitly appear in the database in the example does not mean that it was “forgotten”. Rather, all Opel Astra models of all years of construction are approved for E10. There is also an official brochure from Deutsche Automobil-Treuhand (DAT), which brings together the Association of the German Automobile Industry, the Association of International Motor Vehicle Manufacturers and the Central Association of the German Motor Trade. DAT published the brochure for the launch of Super E10 in 2011. The list is still up to date, because since 2011 practically no petrol engine has come onto the market in Germany that is not approved for E10. As a guide, we’ve listed manufacturer information on the top ten best-selling car brands from the DAT brochure below. Be sure to check your exact model.

Overview: That’s what the car manufacturers say about the E10

Brand These models tolerate E10 Example of exceptions
Audi With a few exceptions, all Audi brand vehicles are suitable for E10. The A4 model with auxiliary heating from 2008 and older is not suitable.
bmw E10 can be used without hesitation in all BMW cars of all years of manufacture. Vehicles that require Super Plus are of course excluded.
ford With three exceptions, all Ford petrol engines for the European market can be operated with E10. For model years 1991 and older, however, Ford recommends refueling with Super E5 to eliminate possible residual risks.
Mercedes Most Mercedes-Benz passenger cars as well as all Maybach, AMG and Smart with petrol engines can be operated with E10. All vehicles built in 1985 and older, as well as some model series up to 2003, are not approved for the E10.
Opel With a few exceptions, all Opel brand vehicles are suitable for E10. Opels with the “2.2 Direct” engine (engine code Z22YH) are not approved.
Renault Almost all Renault petrol vehicles with Euro 2 and higher marketed since January 1997 are suitable for E10 fuel. Exceptions mainly concern the years of construction 2000 to 2002.
Seat Almost all current Seat models are E10 compatible. For example, the Seat Altea FSI with engine code BLR from June 2004 or earlier is not approved.
Skoda Almost all 1989 and later models are E10 compatible. Exceptions mostly concern the years of construction 1995 to 2002.
Toyota All European vehicle models produced from January 1998 can handle E10. The engine types 1AZ-FSE and 2AZ-FSE are exceptions.
Volkswagen With a few exceptions, all Volkswagen brand vehicles with petrol engines are suitable for E10. The exceptions relate to the years of construction 2001 to 2004.
Source: DAT brochure E10 compatibility, December 2011.

In this way, E10 makes a contribution to climate protection

The biggest difference between Super E10 and the classic Super E5 is the ethanol content: E10 contains up to 10 percent ethanol and at least 90 percent petrol from fossil sources. Super E5 contains up to 5 percent ethanol and at least 95 percent petroleum gasoline.

Effects on climate change

Ethanol is what is known as bioethanol, which is obtained from plants. For example, barley, rye, wheat, corn, sugar cane and sugar beet are suitable. Ethanol could also be produced from wood, straw and organic waste if the material was pretreated accordingly. Plants absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) during growth through photosynthesis. When the ethanol is later burned in the car, CO2 is emitted in turn – the amount that the plants previously absorbed during growth. This creates a climate-neutral CO2 cycle. Up to 10 percent of Super E10 fuel is good for the climate, just the 10 percent share of bioethanol. With a classic Super E5, a maximum of 5 percent is climate-neutral. However, the tractors that are needed to harvest the plants, for example, are just as climate-neutral as the trucks that transport the fuel. But that’s still better than oil production, which is not climate-neutral at all and sometimes takes place in crisis regions. In addition, petroleum has to be transported halfway around the world by ship, while plant cultivation for E10 can also take place regionally. This strengthens local agriculture. And with biofuels like E10, Germany can at least reduce its dependence on oil and countries like Russia a little.

Criticism of E10: competition for land with food production

When Super E10 was introduced – and again at the moment – there were even protests from environmental organizations. How can this be explained when E10 actually contributes to climate protection? The main point of criticism from environmentalists is that the area under cultivation for bioethanol would be needed for something else: to grow food. “Plate instead of tank” or “Food does not belong in the tank” are some of the slogans of environmentalists. In fact, however, the legislator has considered this and issued rules, for example in the EU Renewable Energy Directive or the German Biofuel Sustainability Ordinance. The cultivation of crops for the production of ethanol for biofuels is strictly regulated. According to the Federal Association of the German Bioethanol Industry, only 2 percent of the arable land in Germany is used for the production of bioethanol for fuels such as E10. Apparently, bioethanol is not currently competing with food production anywhere in the world. In an ADAC article, the Autoclub refers to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO): Worldwide there are still large areas available for biofuels that could be used for food production without competing uses. However, this assessment comes from the time before the Russian war against Ukraine. The Russian invasion of its neighboring country has worsened the food supply. Russia could even use food shortages as leverage in the conflict. In this case, climate-neutral fuel may again compete more strongly with food.

Can combustion engines be made climate-neutral with biofuel?

It is now clear that the future belongs to electric cars – they can be operated in a largely climate-neutral manner. But scrapping millions of functioning combustion engines prematurely is not exactly sustainable either. Existing vehicles with internal combustion engines could become more climate-neutral with biofuels. In the USA, for example, E10 has been the standard grade since the 1970s, and E5 has long since ceased to be available. There you can even fill up with E85, which contains up to 85 percent ethanol. In Brazil, the standard fuel is E25, you can buy up to E95. However, the cars must be equipped accordingly (so-called Flexible Fuel Vehicle, FFV). Since FFV play practically no role in Europe, it will probably stay at a maximum of E10 in this country. Thus, the biofuel sold by us can only make the combustion engines a little bit more climate-friendly. Fuels such as E10 can probably no longer prevent the fundamental departure from the combustion engine.

Fewer pollutants with E10?

In addition to the climate killer CO2, two other pollutants in particular play a role in our health: particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. However, these are mainly caused by diesel vehicles, hardly any by petrol engines. The fine dust problem has been minimized for several years by diesel particle filters. Nitrogen oxides, on the other hand, are usually far too high in diesel vehicles with emission class Euro 6b and older. Nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel cars have only finally been under control since Euro 6d-Temp. In contrast to diesel cars, petrol engines generally emit fewer particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. Because ethanol burns cleaner than some petroleum components, E10 improves particulate matter emissions in particular. Apparently, there is also an effect on nitrogen oxides.

Nitric Oxide. According to measurements by the ADAC on behalf of the Federal Association of the German Bioethanol Industry (BDBe), the emissions of nitrogen oxides fell by an average of 25 percent in five test vehicles when E10 was refueled instead of E5 (see graphic above). Since the emissions are low both before and after, the reduction is “almost irrelevant to the total emissions from road traffic,”.

Particulate matter. On behalf of the BDBe, the ADAC measured a 70 percent lower fine dust emission in its five test vehicles with E10 than with E5. Apparently, this cannot be transferred to all cars at this level. “Data from the scientific literature shows reductions of 20 to 50 percent for E10 versus E0 with 0 percent ethanol. There are also indications that the emission advantage only exists in the cold start phase and is not significant when the engine is warm,” the Federal Environment Agency informed us. E10 has advantages over E5 for both fine dust and nitrogen oxides – but only slight ones.

You can take that from the article

By filling up with Super E10 instead of Super E5, you can usually save money and contribute a little to protecting the climate and the environment. The fuel consumption could increase slightly, but that usually doesn’t eat up the savings due to the lower price. Up to 10 percent bioethanol instead of up to 5 percent in classic Super helps a little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stop climate change. In addition, the emission of fine dust and nitrogen oxide is minimal compared to E5. Up to now, the cultivation of plants for bioethanol has not competed much with food production. However, Russia’s war against Ukraine could exacerbate the problem. Be sure to check whether the manufacturer has approved your car model for E10. This can be done, for example, on the website, with the DAT brochure – or ask the manufacturer or car dealer. If your car is approved for E10, you don’t have to worry about engine damage from the biofuel. Damage caused by E10 is still a widespread myth. But the fears have not been confirmed in the more than ten years that biofuel has been available in Germany.