Bioethanol: Flex Fuel technology

The "bi-fuel": Brazil defends bioethanol.

Soaring oil prices are changing the behavior of Brazilian consumers who are looking for alternatives to gasoline cars and are increasingly opting for “dual fuel” vehicles (gasoline / alcohol).

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

This new technology allows a vehicle to run on only gasoline, only alcohol (ethanol, a biofuel made from sugar cane), or a mixture of both.

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

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

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

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“Renault took a little longer because it had never used an alcohol-based engine, but today its flex fuel technology is 100% Renault,” he added.

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

“So there is no sustainability issue and the customer uses gasoline or alcohol depending on price changes. This has an immediate effect on his wallet. The invoice for a full tank of gas is 300 reais (94 euros) and 180 for flex fuel (56 euros) ”.

Brazil can now, according to Mr. Tissier, export technology, cars and ethanol, which represents "new data in the sustainable and renewable energy matrix of Brazil".

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

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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.

This is still very little compared to the 1980s when 90% of 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 automobile manufacturers, especially since the alternative of gas also exists.

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

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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 savings are nearly 60% compared to gasoline, according to Francisco Barros, manager of the Ipiranga vehicle gas department.

In September the conversion from gasoline engine to gas engine increased by 15% in Brazil and by 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 CNG fleet represents 3,3% of the country's total, forecasts are that 1,7 million vehicles will be reached in 2009 at least, or 7% of total automobiles.

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