Gasohol 95

There seems to be a lot of confusion about gasohol at the moment and even though it's 1.50 baht a litre cheaper than regular petrol at the pumps, the demand for the fuel is relatively low.

If you have heard of gasohol, but are not sure what it's all about, then this article may help.

What is gasohol?

Gasohol is a motor fuel blend of petrol and ethanol. Gasohol 95 is the name of the blend currently available in Thailand, where 95 is the octane rating. This fuel is a 90% petrol, and 10% ethanol, and you might also see this written as E10 (E20 would have 20% ethanol and so on). Gasohol 95 is currently 1.50 baht a litre cheaper than regular 91 octane petrol.

What is ethanol?

Ethanol is a drinkable alcohol! In fact, it's an active ingredient in beer, sprits, and wine. It can be produced from grain, sugar cane and other bio sources. Ethanol has a very high octane level: 113. This makes it a very high performance fuel. In 1908 when Henry Ford built the Model T to run on alcohol, he called it "the fuel of the future", now, almost 100 years later it's finally catching on.

Ethanol can be produced from a variety of crops including: corn, wheat and sugar cane. In Thailand palm, coconut and other locally grown crops can also be used in ethanol production for use as motor fuel.

Mmmmm, beer

A better use of ethanol?

 

Benefits of ethanol blended fuel, like gasohol

For the motorist, there are several distinct benefits of Gasohol:

  • Cheaper - At the time of writing Gasohol 95 is about 6% cheaper than regular 91 octane petrol. Since ethanol is about 40% cheaper to produce than petrol using more ethanol will reduce the cost of the fuel significantly. Presently only the E10 blend is available in Thailand, but with the price of petrol at record highs a 6% reduction in fuel bills is not insignifiant either.
  • Cleaner - Gasohol helps keep the cars engine running cleaner by reducing the build up of residue in the fuel system. Additionally the environment will benefit from reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Ethanol blended petrol has up to 50% less benzene and butadiene emissions, both of which cause cancer. Sulphur dioxide emissions are also lower since ethanol acts as an oxygenate and helps the petrol to combust more completely.
  • Better performance - As outlined above, adding ethanol to petrol increases the octane level, and higher octane levels equal higher performance. Higher octane fuels also burn more slowly, reducing engine "knocking", and leading to smoother running.

Snow on Smart

One benefit of adding ethanol to petrol is that it prevents the petrol from freezing in the fuel lines. Obviously this is not all that helpful in tropical Thailand though.

But the benefits of ethanol use extend beyond the motorist. Thailand produces ethanol locally. By using ethanol the country reduces it's reliance on oil, and in the long run could reduce the energy bills dramatically. Additionally ethanol production creates economic growth for the agricultural sector and other related industries within the country.

Why not just use 100% ethanol?

Good question. The answer seems to come down to a couple of issues. Firstly, in order for a car to run on ethanol (100%) the car's engine has to be designed to run on the fuel. Secondly, production of ethanol is still being built up, and if even a small percentage of the Thai motoring public rushed out to buy a new car capable of running on pure ethanol there would not be sufficient ethanol produced to run them and the owners would likely have to use a blend anyway.

Currently, using the E10 blend which is supported by the vast majority of motor manufacturers, makes sense. Most cars manufactured in the last 10 years are suitable equipped to run on E10. In the next few years we will see more cars suited to E20 in the Thai market. The new Ford Focus is the first to market to support this blend, and receives a special tax cut from the Thai government as a result. Other manufacturers would likely follow this example, wishing to benefit from the lower tax rate.

Ford Focus Image

In Thailand, the recently released Ford Focus is equipped with a 1.8 litre DURATEC engine that can run on E20 fuel. Ford is one of the market leaders in ethanol engine technology.

In Somerset, England, a version of the Focus is available using a Flexi-Fuel system capable of running on E85. As Thailand expands it's production capacity for ethanol, the FFV (Flexi-Fuel Vehiclel) Focus could be an option for motorists in Thailand in the near future.

Cars that run on 100% ethanol use the Flexi-Fuel system. The system detects how much ethanol and petrol is present and adjusts the motor accordingly. Cars based on this system can use pure ethanol, pure petrol, or any blend of the two.

Do other countries use ethanol?

Yes. Ethanol is not new, and many countries have been using it as a blend with petrol for many years. The best example is Brazil, where ethanol has been in wide use since the 1970's. More recently Australia have followed Thailand's example and are starting to adopt ethanol blended petrol. Australian blends will be E5 initially, but government vehicles will run on E10, in an effort to reassure the australian public that it will not damage their engines.

In Brazil approximately 40% of cars run on 100% ethanol, but Brazil started their move away from petrol in 1973 when the Middle East oil embargo lead to high petrol prices. It takes time to develop the industry to produce ethanol in the quantities that would be required were Thailand to attempt to emulate Brazil's ethanol strategy. In 2004, Brazil produced 4 billion gallons of ethanol making it the worlds largest producer.

Problems

Okay, we've seen that ethanol provides many benefits. Gasohol is cheaper for the consumer, better for the environment, offers increased performance and, crucially, it provides improved economic stability due to reduced dependence on oil imports. Sounds great, right? Are there any problems? Yes, but not what you might think:

Production

The first problem is production. The demand for motor fuel is massive. Producing ethanol as a replacement to petrol will take a lot of investment and time. Thailand has a positive plan in place which should see ethanol production increase dramatically in the next 2 years.

Reduced Fuel Economy

Yes, apparently this is true for fuel injected cars. If you use gasohol you can expect an average drop in fuel economy of about 2%. This would mean that if you currently get 12km/l with regular petrol, you might get around 11.78km/l using gasohol. But when you balance this against the lower fuel bill it's not really an issue for major consideration.

Not all cars are designed to use gasohol

One of the biggest fears most people have is that it will cause damage to the engine. This is unlikely, but possible if your car is not suited for use with the fuel. Check your cars manual to see if it supports gasohol. If your car is reasonably new, but your manual doesn't mention ethanol blends, or gasohol, check with your manufacturer. Do not ask a mechanic at a local garage as they probably won't know, but probably will advise you anyway. I've heard people being told not to use gasohol because it would damage the engine, even though the manufacturer guarantees the engine for gasohol.

Summary

Gasohol 95 is cheaper and has a reduced impact on the environment than regular petrol. If you have a reasonably modern car that runs on petrol the chances are that it can run on Gasohol 95. Check with your manufacturer, or a trusted garage and if your car is fit to use gasohol then you should seriously consider making the change.

The benefits of using gasohol vastly outweigh the problems. It seems that everybody wins: the motorist will save on fuel bills, the environment will benefit from reduced emissions, and the local economy will benefit in the longer term.

Will ethanol ever be the definitive fuel for motor transport in Thailand? That's another issue. There are other alternative fuels in the pipeline (sorry!) and it's possible that one of these will win out. But for the medium term it is hard to see another fuel offering all the benefits of ethanol. Flexi-Fuel cars should also allow for a graceful transition to ethanol, and owners of these cars will have peace of mind, knowing that they can run on petrol or ethanol.

Read More in this Related Article: Thai Ethanol Strategy - Not Optional