Fuel ethers are oxygen-containing petrol-blending components. Their high octane ratings and clean-burning characteristics help mitigate the problem of air pollution. They also allow for quicker and easier bio-ethanol use and deliver additional CO2-emission savings.
Ether usage varies across Europe, but at the current time it represents somewhere between 3 and 4% of the EU petrol pool (about five million tonnes).
Apparently random short-term concentration peaks of fuel ethers MTBE (methyl tert-butyl ether) and ETBE (ethyl tert-butyl ether) were analysed regularly throughout the year in the Rhine at the International Monitoring Station at the Dutch-German border in Bimmen-Lobith, and other measuring stations. The peaks lasted less than 24 hours and varied in severity, typically up to 15 μg/l. This was far below any health risk, but in a range of magnitude causing a possible risk of taste and odour tainting of drinking water produced from the Rhine.
EFOA led analysis of the data, and investigations about possible sources resulted in indications that barges transporting the substances on the Rhine are the probable source, especially after they have unloaded the product and contain liquid and vapour residues of the products only.
Deeper analysis of the measured concentration data has demonstrated that most of the incidents with higher concentrations are happening in the Rhine from Duisburg to just north of Wesel.
EFOA believes that this problem can be solved by raising awareness of the properties of fuel ethers and the need for correct product handling and residue management. For this reason, in 2012 we prepared a Code of Best Practice when transporting fuel ethers by barge.
Read the full report here: MTBE/ETBE transport over inland waterways guidelines