Brazilian cars may start cruising with an engine powered by four different fuels until the end of this year. The technology was developed by the Brazilian subsidiary of the Italian company Magneti Marelli, in the city of Hortolândia, in the state of São Paulo.
The system allows vehicles to be fueled with alcohol, gasoline, natural gas and naphtha (pure gasoline), used in some countries in South America.
According to Silvério Bonfiglioli, Marelli president in the country, the four-fuel engine is an evolution in the bi-fuel system, which has been on the market for two years and allows users to fuel up their vehicles with alcohol and petrol.
The company was the pioneer in the development of this technology and is responsible for about 60% of the vehicles – also known as flex fuel – that circulate in the Brazilian roads.
The four-fuel technology – in the same way as the bi-fuel system – is part of a program the company has since 1998 to develop a unique vehicle for the whole of the Mercosur, the Common Market of the South, which includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.
“The aim is that the driver may go from Venezuela to Tierra del Fuego (south of Argentina) without worrying about how to fuel the car. Driving through Brazil, the driver may use alcohol. In Bolivia, gas. In Argentinean territory, naphtha,” states Bonfiglioli.
In the four-fuel system, the fuel switch occurs without the driver noticing it. “An electronic central commands the distribution of the four kinds of fuel. And the user doesn’t have to press any buttons or turn a key (as is currently the case in vehicles that go through an engine transformation from gasoline to natural gas). Everything is automatic,” explains Bonfiglioli.
Another of the company’s concerns was to minimize power loss in the car at the moment of switching from liquid to gaseous fuel. According to the executive at Marelli, in the transformed engines, the car loses between 20% and 30% power in this operation. For this reason, the system becomes unpractical for small motors, like the 1.0 liter engines.
In the four-fuel system developed by the company, these power losses were reduced to between 5% and 8%, depending on the model of the car.
“This means more safety for the driver. When overtaking, for example, the vehicle loses a minimum in performance,” explains Bonfiglioli.
A study prepared by Marelli shows that between 25,000 and 30,000 cars powered by gasoline are adapted every month in Brazil for natural gas.
The conversion charges vary according to the car model and may cost between US$ 910.00 and US$ 1,460.00.
The adaptation is always outsourced. “The manufactured product would cost, in average, 30% less than the transformation,” states Bonfiglioli.
The manufacture of four-fuel engine cars should take place yet in the first half of this year. Marelli has already negotiated the sales of the system to a great carmaker in Brazil. The name of the company, however, is kept secret.
Outside Brazil, the company is talking to Arab nations, mainly to Saudi Arabia. There are also contacts with Iran and China. “In the Middle East there is gas abundantly and they are interested in our technology. They are potential buyers, but there is nothing settled yet,” stated Bonfiglioli.
In China, the negotiations are more advanced. Brazilian technicians have already been to the country to advise the Marelli subsidiary in the development of bi-fuel technology.
China is currently the fastest growing automobile market in the world. Over there, alcohol is produced from rice and mixed with gasoline. In some regions, the percentage of alcohol in the fuel is of 30%, but the Chinese aim to increase this quantity.
To develop the four-fuel system, the Marelli factory in Hortolândia received investments of US$ 40 million in the last ten years. The value was invested in the purchase of equipment and hiring capacitated personnel. Currently, 90 development engineers work in the company that occupies about 3,000 square meters.
Translated by Silvia Lindsey
ANBA – Brazil-Arab News Agency