BoatUS: Alcohol & Boat Engines, Is There Another Way?

June 18, 2012

Federal law says the nation must increase its “biofuel” capacity dramatically in the next decade, but does it have to be ethanol?

It's zero-dark-hundred at an undisclosed marina somewhere on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Two men noiselessly transfer gear from the covered bed of a pickup truck to the cockpit of the non-descript center-console outboard at dockside. Quickly they stow hoses, canisters, and meters, plus vinyl pouches that sprout tubing with stainless-steel fittings. Two others silently remove unmarked barrels from a storage shed, wheeling them toward the boat.

Finally the men whisk a secret weapon known only as “MPSS” aboard, a white metal cabinet the size of a large ice chest. Laid flat on the cockpit sole, it's below sight from curious eyes that may pass in another boat, or attempt to spy from shore.

Once loaded, two of the team begins rigging the MPSS to its attendant vinyl bag, the hoses tracing umbilicals to the exhaust system of the 175-hp Evinrude E-Tec engine on the transom. It takes more time to rig a battery of sensors — from water temperature and barometric pressure, to fuel flow and boat speed — but eventually and with little fanfare, the boat heads for a quiet creek that shall remain nameless. Once on the unmarked, one-mile-course track, the boat begins a repetitious navigation routine — up and back, up and back — as team members monitor the MPSS, now sucking samples of engine exhaust into the pouch.