A car that is powered by green fuel could soon win a formula one race, according to engine designers at the car company Lotus.
Richard Pearson, a technical specialist at Lotus Engineering and a champion of greener engines, says tests being conducted at the company have found that high-performance engines run on ethanol – which is mostly made from sugar cane and maize – can produce more power than their petrol counterparts.
“We are developing a demonstrator vehicle based on a super-charged Lotus Exige that is more powerful and more efficient than a petrol version,” Pearson says. “We have found that you can get more performance from a high-performance engine if you use ethanol because of its octane number, which is better than petrol’s. It’s particularly marked in cars that have super- charged and turbo-charged engines.”
The company’s research, says Pearson, could revolutionise the car industry. “We have found efficiency increases which, while not enormous, are still the sort of increases that people are spending billions of dollars trying to achieve in the automotive sector,” he says.
The work at Lotus, which has become increasingly interested in developing biofuel technologies, is now being reflected across the globe, with ethanol seen as one of the most promising options to help meet Kyoto targets.
“We have found that you can get more performance from a high-performance engine if you use ethanol because of its octane number, which is better than petrol’s”
At FEV, another company involved in research into biofuel engines for the car industry, researchers confirmed that they too were working on a project involving an ethanol engine. “There are a lot of possibilities for it as an additive, and there’s obviously going to be a lot of interest in these fuels for a long time,” a spokesman said.
Around the globe, more farmers are turning maize and sugar cane into fuel alcohol. Last year, ethanol fuel production jumped 19% to 36bn litres, says Washington-based thinktank Earthwatch in its latest Vital Signs book. The knock-on effects of Brazil turning more and more of its sugar cane production to ethanol are partly responsible for a doubling of the world’s sugar price. Meanwhile, 660m litres from the EU’s wine lake is to be turned into ethanol this year.
The increased demand for alcohol and biofuel powered engines is now prompting a surge in the number of countries proposing biofuel programmes, with Canada, China, India, Malawi, the Philippines and Thailand joining British entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley venture capitalists in biofuel projects.
“While it can’t replace petrol globally, because of the land area necessary to produce ethanol, it can still provide the solution for a lot of countries,” Pearson says. “If you take Australia as an example, 30m hectares of fast-growing trees would be able to produce enough alcohol to provide 90% of the country’s fuel requirements by 2050.”
Published 12th of July, 2006 – The Guardian