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Photo: Luleå tekniska universitet
Sweden has 250,000 E85 cars that could run on a fuel mixture of petroleum and forest waste Photo: Luleå tekniska universitet View original picture , opens in new tab/window

E85 cars can drive on biomethanol made from forest industry residues

Published: 12 April 2018

An E85 vehicle, a Saab 9-5 BioPower with more than 120 000 km on the meter has been driven more than 10 000 km on a mixture of 56% Swedish-made renewable methanol and gasoline. No changes were made to the engine control system or in any other way, still the engine worked as well as with pure gasoline or with E85.

The methanol that was used for the test is made from forest industry residues at Luleå University of Technology's pilot plant, LTU-Green Fuels.

– The question was whether an unmodified E85 passenger car would work with biomethanol. The result shows that E85 cars works well with the biomethanol mixture and this opens up a large market for biomethanol in Sweden and elsewhere where there are E85 cars in traffic. This is no science fiction, the fuel can be produced efficiently and the vehicles are there, it works here and now, says Rikard Gebart, Professor of Eneregy Engineering  at Luleå University of Technology.

250 000 E85 cars in Sweden

Today, in Sweden there are about 250,000 E85 vehicles on the roads. These cars can be fueled either with standard gasoline or with E85 fuel, which consists of about 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. The purpose of the M56 study, initiated by researchers at Luleå University of Technology, was to see how a modern E85 car works with M56 biobased methanol fuel in the long term, plus that the methanol used was made from forest waste from the Swedish forest industry.

The process technology to convert forest waste to biomethanol has been implemented and tested for more than 10 000 hours at the LTU Green Fuels pilot plant, which is owned and operated by Luleå University of Technology. The only preparation that was done on the pre-owned E85 car before the project started was a standard oil service, but otherwise the car was standard as it came out of the factory.

– What distinguishes this study from earlier studies with M56 is that our methanol is 100 percent biobased and not purified to chemical quality because we wanted to see if we could simplify the process and still maintain engine performance, which proved to be the case," said Rikard Gebart .

No visible or measurable wear of abnormal impact on the engine

The biomethanol used in the project was mixed with 44% regular gasoline by volume before refueling. The distances that were driven were a mixture of longer and shorter journeys and were made during the period June 2016 to May 2017. During driving, no problems occurred. But at cold starts at lower temperature, the engine speed was a bit uneven during the first 10 seconds. The same behavior was also noted for the E85 mixture, but not if the car was driven solely on gasoline.

Driving started in May 2016 and after six months and about  10 000 km driving, the engine was disassembled by the Engine Research Laboratory at Lund University in November 2016. All relevant parts were inspected and measured.

The disassembly, inspection and measurement of engine components showed neither apparent nor measurable wear on the engine. The small but insignificant corrosion damage commonly seen on the inlet ports of the corresponding E85 motors was significantly less in this motor, which may be due to the fact that the previous owner has been driving primarily on gasoline. No damage was found on the vehicle's fuel system (pump, tank, filter, etc.) or otherwise. After assembly, the vehicle worked flawlessly as before and the test will continue for an even longer distance to see if any other problems can be detected.

After disassembly of the engine, the car has been driven further 3500 km on the M56 mixture without problems and a total of about 23 000 km since the test was started. In a few situations, when the car for practical reasons could not be fueled with M56 we have used E85 instead, says Fredrik Granberg, Project Manager at  LTU Green Fuels at Luleå University of Technology.

Petrol of biomethanol

Another possibility connected to biomethanol that has not been discussed so much, according to Rikard Gebart, is to make synthetic gasoline from methanol. The process is called MTG (Methanol-To-Gasoline) and has been in commercial operation since the 1980s. Fuel cost per km will be about 25 percent higher than for pure methanol but the quality of the gasoline is very high and the manufacturing process is proven. In Sweden, this type of gasoline could be manufactured from biomethanol from forest waste, which would make it completely renewable.

-You can use 100% MTG gasoline in today's gasoline cars, and this could simplify the transition to a fossil-free transport system, as you do not have to wait for the existing vehicle park to be replaced first, says Rikard Gebart.