14/12/05 Sao Paulo (EFE Ingles)- The "flex fuel" technology developed and implemented in Brazil that allows a car to run on either gasoline or alcohol has revolutionized the local auto industry and caught the eye of other nations seeking to reduce the burning of hydrocarbons.
Biofuel vehicles, which hit the Brazilian market in mid-2003, became a big hit with consumers this year, accounting for 71 percent of all new vehicles sold in November.
More than 1 million biofuel vehicles are on the streets of Latin America's largest country.
A liter of alcohol yields less energy than a comparable amount of gasoline but costs nearly 50 percent less, making it an attractive fuel option in these times of sky-high oil prices.
"Vehicles with flex engines should continue gaining (market share), and it's reasonable (to expect) that within a short time they will account for between 85 and 90 percent of the market," National Vehicle Manufacturers Association (Anfavea) spokesman Ademar Cantero told EFE.
Flexible fueled vehicle (FFV) technology was invented by the Ford Motor Co. in the mid-1980s.
A FFV uses a single fuel tank, fuel system and engine, and it can operate on unleaded gasoline and an alcohol fuel, usually ethanol, in any mixture.
Ethanol, made from crops such as corn, is basically grain alcohol. The clean-burning fuel is usually mixed with unleaded gasoline and can be pumped into vehicles at existing service stations.
The FFVs in the United States, Canada, Japan and Sweden operate on a mixture of 85 percent gasoline and 15 percent ethanol.
The main downside to using alcohol as a fuel is that it is highly corrosive, requiring modifications to the engine and fuel system.
Brazil, however, has perfected FFV technology to allow vehicles to operate with any combination of fuels.
"Brazil had the technological precedent of Proalcohol and companies, such as Magneti Marelli, Delphi and Bosch, developed in recent years in this country a chip that allows engines to operate on gasoline, alcohol or a mixture of both," Cantero said.
Proalcohol, a program for the mass production of ethanol from sugar cane, was introduced by the Brazilian government in 1975 as a measure for dealing with the effects of the first global energy crisis.
Ethanol was hailed at the time as "the fuel of the future" because it was cheaper than gasoline, came from a renewable source and burned cleanly, unlike fossil fuels.
In the 1980s, alcohol-fueled vehicles eventually accounted for about 90 percent of national production and sales, but supply problems made them practically disappear from the market in the late 1990s.
"Now it's different, because with the flex system the consumer has a guarantee that if there are problems with the supply of one fuel, they can get the other," Alfred Scwarc, a consultant to the Sao Paulo sugar industry's Unica trade association, said.
Scwarc, who labeled the growth of the biofuel fleet "surprising," said the sugar industry, unlike in the 1990s, was ready to meet demand for ethanol this time around.
"We are in the process of expanding, of investing in new plants and distilleries to increase agricultural and industrial production," Scwarc said.
Brazil, the world's leader in the production and export of sugar and fuel alcohol, expects output of 16 billion liters (4.23 billion gallons) of ethanol during the 2005-2006 harvest, of which nearly 2.5 billion liters (about 660 million gallons) will be exported to the United States, India, South Korea, Sweden and Japan, mainly for industrial use.
In addition to sugar cane, ethanol can be produced from several other plant sources, including beets and bananas.
Scwarc said the industry planned to invest some $5 billion between now and 2010 in the construction of new plants, raising production to 28 billion liters (7.39 billion gallons) of ethanol.
Anfavea said the success of Brazil's biofuel vehicles, as well as the economic and environmental benefits of ethanol, have drawn the interest of India, the world's second-largest producer of sugar cane, Thailand and China, which want to acquire the flex-fuel technology developed in the South American nation.
Other countries, most of them in Latin America, are seeking Brazilian know-how in producing ethanol and implementing programs for adding alcohol to gasoline in an effort to reduce dependence on imported oil.
"In South America, technical advisement has been provided to Colombia, which recently inaugurated its first fuel-alcohol distillery, as well as Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay," Scwarc said.
Ecuador's government said Sunday it approved a project to make ethanol in an effort to reduce air pollution, and Ecuadorian specialists will be sent to Brazil to study the ethanol industry.
There is also interest in ethanol in Central America, and a technical mission from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama visited Brazil several months ago to learn about producing the clean-burning fuel from sugar cane.