Sulfate Salts in Gasoline and Ethanol Fuels -- Historical Perspective and Analysis of Available Data

Robert McCormick, Teresa Alleman, Janet Yanowitz

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


This report reviews the chemistry of sulfate salts dissolved in ethanol and gasoline, potential sources of sulfate salts in ethanol and gasoline, the history of consumer vehicle issues with sulfate salt deposits in the early 2000s, and the corresponding changes to the denatured fuel ethanol specification. Recommendations for future research are provided. During a period of rapid market expansion in 2004-05, issues were reported with vehicles running on E10 provided by certain suppliers in some markets. It was commonly believed that these vehicle problems were caused by sulfate salts precipitating from the fuel. Investigators identified sodium sulfate, and in one case also ammonium sulfate, as the predominate salts found in the engines. Several stakeholders believed the issue was excess sulfate ions in the ethanol portion of the E10, and in 2005 the ASTM specification for ethanol (D4806) was modified to include a 4-part per million (ppm) limit on sulfate ions. While there have been no further reports of consumer vehicle issues, the recently approved increase of ethanol in gasoline from 10 to 15 volume percent has resulted in renewed interest in the sulfate ion concentration in fuel ethanol. This report reviews published data on the solubility of sulfate salts in ethanol. The possible sources of sulfate anions and charge balancing cations (such as sodium) in fuel ethanol and petroleum derived blendstocks are discussed. Examination of historical information on the consumer vehicle issues that occurred in 2004-2005 reveals that a source of sodium or ammonium ions, required for the formation of the observed insoluble salts, was never identified. Recommendations for research to better understand sulfate salt solubility issues in ethanol, hydrocarbon blendstocks, and ethanol-gasoline blends are presented.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages46
StatePublished - 2017

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5400-69001


  • fuel ethanol
  • solubility
  • sulfate


Dive into the research topics of 'Sulfate Salts in Gasoline and Ethanol Fuels -- Historical Perspective and Analysis of Available Data'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this