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Volkswagen and GM Jump on Brazil’s Biodiesel Bandwagon

Research for the use of biodiesel is progressing fast all around the world. A study recently published by American magazine New Scientist shows that researchers from the United States have managed to develop a mixture that may be used in commercial aviation.

Biodiesel had been discarded as useable in the sector as it freezes at 0°C, but, according to the article, scientists have managed to find a mixture that is less susceptible to the cold.

The study was developed by Purdue University, in the state of Indiana, USA, and coordinated by researcher Bernard Tao. The biodiesel used in the study was produced from soy and its intention is to become a more ecological alternative to the fossil fuel known as Jet A, widely used in commercial aviation.

Like all fossil fuels, Jet A lets carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The gas is supposedly responsible for the greenhouse effect. When soy oil is burnt, it also lets out carbon dioxide. However, as it is of vegetable origin, it does not represent an increase in the levels currently in the atmosphere.

The difficulty in the use of biodiesel for aviation was the need for the fuel to remain in the liquid form even at low temperatures. Studies in the past had failed as vegetable oils freeze at temperatures lower than 0°C. Tao’s team, however, managed to develop a B40 mixture – containing 40% biodiesel and 60% Jet A – which only freezes at minus 40°C.

The technique used by the American scientists was to freeze the vegetable fuel at low temperatures and remove all the solid crystals created, as they were responsible for the freezing at 0° C. The resulting liquid is a fuel with a lower freezing point. Airlines have not yet tested the product.

Carmakers

The auto industry’s studies are more advanced and field tests have generated good results. They were so good that at the beginning of last month, French president Jacques Chirac, who provides great incentives to the use of biodiesel, adopted as his official vehicle the recently launched biodiesel powered Citroën C6.

The purchase caused a change in the garages of the government palace, Elysée, where the pumps that supply the government vehicles are located. The pumps will be changed to vegetable diesel pumps. Chirac’s intention is to make half the presidential fleet run on the clean fuel up to the end of the year.

In Brazil, Peugeot Citroën has also put on the streets two biodiesel powered models: the Peugeot 206 and the Xsara Picasso. The experiments began last year, in Rio de Janeiro. The carmakers technicians have managed good performance even using B30 – 30% biodiesel mixed with the fossil variety.

Another carmaker that is progressing well in the area is Volkswagen. The company is testing the technology in heavy vehicles – trucks and buses. Trucks in the Coca-Cola fleet in the city of Ribeirão Preto, in the interior of the state of São Paulo, and Viação Real buses, in Rio de Janeiro, also in the Southeast, are running on B5 – 5% biodiesel mixed with the common diesel – and are being monitored by the company. The results will be known up to the end of this year.

General Motors is also testing biodiesel in its vehicles. At the beginning of this year, when the Ale chain of gas stations started trading the fuel in Belo Horizonte, capital of the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, the carmaker offered an S10 pickup to be tested with B2 – 2% biodiesel mixed into common diesel. "The performance of the vehicle was the same, it suffered no losses," stated Cláudio Zattar, a director at the Ale chain.

According to information supplied by the National Association of Vehicle Manufacturers (Anfavea), the vehicles do not need modification so as to be fueled with B2. And, for this reason, do not lose their factory guarantee. All carmakers agree.

The association’s position, however, is only for the volume of 2%. "Other percentages of biodiesel still need testing and approval by the carmakers," stated an Anfavea spokesperson by e-mail.

Agricultural Machinery

The agricultural sector is also moving. Tractor producer Valtra do Brasil, a member of AGCO Corporation, is testing biodiesel in its vehicles. According to figures supplied by the company, the 100 horsepower BM100 4 x 2 model is being tested.

The results were positive. There has been no loss of performance even with the B50 mixture – equal mixtures of biodiesel and fossil diesel. The tractor engine is the same as the diesel-powered engine, and it needed no modification.

The company is a pioneer in testing biodiesel powered agricultural machinery. The work with the clean fuel began three years ago and is in partnership with the University of the State of São Paulo (Unesp), the State of São Paulo Research Foundation (Fapesp) and the Clean Technology Laboratory (Ladetel). Valtra has tradition in alternative fuels. It was the first company to release an alcohol-powered tractor in 1983.

In Brazil, the B2 mixture will be compulsory after 2008. The government decision was taken at the beginning of this year. The intention is to gradually increase the percentage so as to reach 5% – B5 – in 2013.

Next year, however, the federal government agreed to distribute, via B2, the entire production of companies that produce biodiesel from raw material purchased from family agriculture. The measure, in a way, anticipates to January 2006 the addition of 2% vegetable fuel into the fossil one.

This article appeared originally in Anba – www.anba.com.br.

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