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A NEW range of ‘flex fuel’ cars is joining Brazil’s growing fleet of cars that run on alcohol (ethanol), gasoline or a combination of the two and now representing nearly 20% of all the new cars sold in the country.
The new Gols and other models produced by Fiat SpA and General Motors Corp have modified engines that given the rising oil price are welcome news for Brazilian motorists, and are environmental friendly to boot. The clean fuel sells at half the price of petrol in Brazil.
Brazil hopes to export ‘flex fuel’ cars and technology around the world, and motor industry executives say interest from abroad is increasing. So far, Volkswagen has hosted delegations from Australia, China, the UK, India, Japan and South Africa. “They want to know how it works,” said Volkswagen Brasil’s engineering executive for the ‘flex fuel’ cars, Jao Alvarez Jr. “Oil is going to run out some day, everyone knows that.”
Engine and assembly changes to make ‘flex fuel’ cars are not complicated, though cars come outfitted with a tiny gas only tank under the hood smaller than a windshield wiper fluid reservoir. It is used to start the car on cold days just for a moment before automatically switching back to alcohol or whatever is in the main tank. Virtually all Brazil’s service stations offer ethanol, reflecting the growing popularity of ethanol fuelled cars. Before 2003 they only represented 3.5% of all new car sales, but between September 2003 and the end of the year 50,000 of ‘flex fuel’ cars were sold, rising to 150,000 between January and June 2004. The British industrial biotechnology company TMO has developed a new technology that will revolutionise the way in which renewable fuels like bio-ethanol and bio-diesel are produced and used.
TMO’s fermentation system is ideally suited to utilise abundant, sustainable biomass as its raw material. Based on the massive growth of the renewable fuels market, bio-ethanol is expected to grow from its current annual production of approximately 30m tpa (tonnes per annum) with a value of around $13bn to 48m tpa ($21bn) by 2006. TMO’s technology will improve efficiency and reduce production cost of bio-ethanol to be cost competitive with gasoline.