Bioethanol: Flex Fuel technology

"Bi-fuel": Brazil defends bioethanol.

Soaring prices per barrel of oil are changing the behavior of Brazilian consumers who are looking for alternatives to the petrol car and are increasingly opting for “bi-fuel” vehicles (petrol / alcohol).

In September, one car in three sold in Brazil (32%) was already bi-fuel or "flex fuel", against only 4,3% in 2002, said the association of car manufacturers (Anfavea).

This new technology allows a vehicle to run on petrol only, alcohol only (ethanol, a biofuel based on sugar cane), or a mixture of the two.

Renault is the fourth car manufacturer to have attempted the flex fuel, less polluting technology adventure, to equip its models after Wolkswagen (in March 2003), General Motors (June 2003) and Fiat this year. The Peugeot-Citroën PSA group promises to start dancing in 2005.

Renault has just presented its “Clio Hi-Flex” at the Sao Paulo motor show.

“The client finds a freedom he did not have. Depending on the price at the pump, the customer can choose any petrol-alcohol ratio. The car software adapts the mix to the engine, ”said the company's product manager, Alain Tissier.

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"Renault took a little longer because it had never had an alcoholic engine but today its flex fuel technology is 100% Renault," he added.

According to him, since alcohol has "aggressive chemical characteristics", the rubber hoses, for example, have been reinforced.

“There is therefore no problem of durability and the customer uses petrol or alcohol according to price variations. This has an immediate effect on his portfolio. The bill for refueling is 300 reais (94 euros) and 180 for flex fuel (56 euros) ”.

Brazil can now, according to Tissier, export technology, cars and ethanol, which represents "new data for Brazil's sustainable and renewable energy matrix".

According to Anfavea, this year, 218.320 bi-fuel cars were manufactured in the country and 35.497 with alcohol. In 2005, half a million flex fuel cars, all brands combined, will be sold in the country.

Since the launch of dual-fuel cars, the share of alcohol-only cars, which was 5,1% in January 2003 of Brazil's total sales, rose to 24,4% in April 2004.

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This is still very little compared to the 1980s when 90% of the cars produced in Brazil ran on alcohol. But at the time, producers preferred to use sugar cane for the production of sugar for export, causing a supply crisis.

Now, with this flexible system, the user will no longer suffer from the lack of one or the other fuel, bet the car manufacturers, especially since there is also the gas alternative.

"We are at the beginning of the end of the oil era," sums up Roslaino Fernandes, vice-president of the Latin American gas association.

Brazil has the second largest fleet of vehicles using natural gas (NGV) in the world, with 770.000 vehicles, behind Argentina which has 1,2 million (13% of the fleet). The economy is almost 60% compared to petrol, according to Francisco Barros, manager of the Ipiranga vehicle gas department.

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In September the conversion of petrol engine to gas engine increased by 15% in Brazil and 52% in Rio, according to the Brazilian petroleum institute. In Rio, 80% of the fleet of 35.000 taxis already run on gas, according to the Taxis union.

While the current fleet of CNG represents 3,3% of the country's total, forecasts are that at least 1,7 million vehicles will be reached in 2009, or 7% of the total number of cars.

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