By Anna Fitzpatrick, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - The race around the world to develop an alternative fuel to petroleum is making great strides in Brazil. Already a market leader in the ethanol industry: technology development, production and consumption, Brazil is also leading natural gas developments, making their claim to be a front-runner in alternative powering of vehicles a strong one.
At the beginning of 2010 Brazil had over 1.5 million natural gas cars on the road and as of December 2010 12 million cars and light-vehicles were designed along the flex-fuel principle, where-by they can use either petrol or ethanol. The latest development is tri-fuel cars which can run on ethanol, petrol and natural gas, a common choice for taxis.
This is proving popular in Brazil as not only is natural gas a lot cheaper to use, but the conversion in Rio gets you a 75 percent reduction in annual vehicle registration (IPVA). In São Paulo the IPVA reduction is 25 percent.
According to Chuck Cassie, a Canadian engineer living in Rio, converter kits for natural gas are significantly cheaper in Brazil compared to in the United States: “The cost of a converter in Brazil is between R$1,200 – R$2,500, depending on the kit. In the U.S. prices start around US$5,000 (R$8,000) for installed kits.”
Cassie started thinking about a natural gas conversion for his car because: “It’s a V6 engine that uses a lot of gasoline and therefore petrol, which is expensive”. After talking to friends that had cars running on natural gas he realized that just about everyone was very happy with it.
“The kits switch seamlessly from petrol to natural gas when the car is cruising, and switch back automatically to petrol when more power is needed”, explains Cassie.
With over 1,800 registered natural gas stations in Brazil, and with the price of ethanol and petrol rising, natural gas stands out as the cheapest option.
Average fuel consumption in São Paulo is 10 km per liter of petrol, 7 km per liter of ethanol and 12 km per cubic meter of natural gas. The average cost for natural gas was R$1.213 compared with R$2.538 for petrol and R$1.977 for ethanol with prices expected to rise for the latter two.
All new General Motors vehicles that are now sold in the Brazil are flex-fuel – the company is actually the leading producer of flex-fuel vehicles. In 2004 the Brazilian arm of the company released the MulitPower Engine that runs on petrol, alcohol and natural gas.
It has been used in the Chevrolet Astra 2.0 model since 2005, a model aimed at the taxi market. General Motors is backing natural gas both here and in the United States with the launch of vans using the technology.
With an average of one car per every six residents, or 32.4 million cars on the road, and the fourth largest nation in auto sales, it is not surprising Brazil is leading the technology to alter how vehicles operate.