The Times Online and Ecodriving

Saab UK seem to be sponsoring an Eco-Driving section of the Times Online. For those of you that are interested in the Biopower setup, it’s quite likely you’ll be interested in having a read.

There’s an ecodriving weblog tied in with it too, though I’m not sure there’s many people reading it. It’s only been up and running for a few weeks, but so far, counting the total number of comments won’t even involve the use of fingers, let alone toes.

In the Eco-driving section of the site there’s a few interesting articles, including the one below. I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing it and hope the Times don’t mind.

ERIC SOLBERG bought his new Saab 9-5 BioPower three months ago and the 26-year-old Swedish farmer says he has never owned a better car: “There are lots of pros with the car and few cons.”

The BioPower model is Solberg’s first Saab. “I used to drive an Alfa Romeo and a Rover. The powerful Rover was especially useful since I used it a lot on the farm.” But after taking a test drive in a friend’s Saab, he decided to switch to the BioPower.

“I believe this is the future. To drive environmentally friendly is very popular in Sweden and, besides, the fuel is much cheaper.” Petroleum costs an average 97p a litre in Sweden, while ethanol fuel is priced at 53p.

“BioPower is a powerful car. The salesman told us it produced 180 horsepower — 30 more than the petroleum model — and that is a big advantage when overtaking another car. It is a power machine with a lot of speed when needed. Besides that there is a lot of space and the car seats are very comfortable,” Solberg says.

He and his wife, Sofi, run a 150-head cattle farm in southern Sweden. “When not working I enjoy hunting moose, hare and wild boar,” he says.

His wife’s main hobby is horses. “The Saab has no problems with drawing horseboxes so my wife uses it a lot. She drives it every day to work as well.”

The couple intend to use the car for holidays and longer trips. “The fact that all countries may not have ethanol fuel yet is no problem. It can be driven on petrol as well.”

Sweden has what is reputedly one of the highest taxing governments in the world. Any Swedes reading this might want to share their experience. These funds are used for various social policies, one of which is obviously the subsidising of ethanol fuels. I can’t think of any other way that there could be such a disparity in price between E85 and gasoline (aside from huge taxes being placed on gasoline, of course).

Yes, the Brazilian ethanol produced from sugarcane is much cheaper than the US corn-based fuel, but such a huge difference as the one we see here in Sweden is more than likely the result of some government intervention.

This price difference goes a long way in explaining why the 9-5 Biopower has been so popular there. Unfortunately it also explains why it may not work elsewhere, not without similar support from government or a major breakthrough in cellulosic ethanol technology.

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  1. Thanks for pointing out the subsidy angle, Swade. I think this should be pointed out in any discussion where someone says that ethanol is “cheaper” than gasoline. It actually may be MORE EXPENSIVE when you add-in the taxes that farmer paid to subsidize it.

    I haven’t mentioned it in a while, so I’ll do it now: thanks for such a great site Swade, it takes a lot of dedication to have original content here EVERY DAY! I, as well as everyone else I’m sure, greatly appreciates all your work for the SAAB community.

  2. Gripen, You’re too kind. It’s a pleasure (99% of the time).

    Hopefully some Swedes will weigh in here later on. There’s 2 possible scenarios at play and I don’t know which one of them is correct.

    Either the Swedish government is subsidising ethanol heavily, or it’s taxing gasoline heavily. Either is plausible. The excise on petrol here in Australia is around 30cents or more per litre (or thereabouts). UP

  3. most sources i’ve seen comparing ethanol and petroleum fuel put ethanol at about half the gross cost of petrol per litre; adjusted to ‘equivalent mileage’ ethanol comes at about 60-65% of the cost of petrol.

    i think the problem is that the actual end-user cost of ethanol varies greatly from what it is distilled from, how it is distilled and then – as is mentioned here – what the government does in the way of excises and subsidies both on the fuel and the producer.

    Producing ethanol from corn just doesn’t appear to be a viable long term solution… switching to cellulostic ethanol production and refining that technology is key, as it will allow less-than-prime agricultural land to be used to grow biomass. One would hope that once cellulostic distillation technology matures the cost of production will fall to the point where it doesn’t need any kind of subsidy or artificial price protection to compete favourably with petroleum fuels.

    That said, I’d be more than happy for the government to triple the current fuel excise so unleaded costs over AU$2 a litre… provided we can get E100 and B100 at the pump for a $1 a litre ;-).

    Really, the governments of the world are the ones who are going to make or break biofuel. Sweden is doing their best to make it happen and from all views, seem to be doing a mighty fine job. Australia on the other hand is pretending that making E10 available is actually ‘news’ and instead giving out $2000 cheques to help people convert to LPG. sigh.

    I really recommend people watching this presentation by Vinod Khosla – covers a lot of the background around the whole biofuel movement.

  4. For comparison purposes (California):

    US$0.18/gal California excise tax
    US$0.184/gal Federal excise tax
    US$0.248/gal State and Local Sales tax (L.A. County 8.25% Sales Tax)
    US$0.014/gal State underground storage tank fee

    Grand total taxes per gallon: US$0.626 = US$0.165 per liter = AU$0.217 per liter.

    Ben W: the problem (as you know) is that many of the proponents of ethanol are speaking of cellulosic as if it’s already a reality. The problem is, it’s not even a sure thing and even IF they can get an efficient process together to create it in great amounts (good luck fighting the corn lobby), I don’t see that happening for at least 15 years. Like hydrogen, it’s a future promised panacea some people are trying to sell NOW.

  5. I write this from my head. Ethanol is a little bit cheaper than petrol for the consumer in sweden. You have to take in consideration that the car needs more E85 than petrol for the same mileage.

    Also sweden has heavy taxes on petrol. I think close to 70% of the price is taxes and so on. On the other hand the Brazilian E85 has to pay customs. This is done to get the swedish and european E85 a possibility to develope.

    Sweden has a lot of forest and the research for bigscale production of E85 has come a long way.

    People by E85 because of it is not more costly than petrol and you get some benifits in some citys. Like free parking.

    Sweden is very high taxed and then it also is the greatest country in the world! 🙂

  6. Tobias,

    My 18 year old’s just left Stockholm and the impression I got from him as that he’d agree with you. He’s still got a few places to go on his world trip but Stockholm’s the best place he’s been so far.

    His thoughts:

    America= too loud
    Mexico= Great ruins but crap cities
    Canada= loves it but he was born there so he’s biased
    Sweden= Beautiful cities (and blondes) and lots of free stuff
    London= Grey

  7. There has been some press recently in Sweden about ethanol vs diesel vs petrol.

    Ok, ethanol is cheaper than petrol, but (as pointed out) you need more to go the same distance. Also, the more ethanol that is sold, the higher the price. Thats because people want to buy it and you can get the consumer to pay a higher price. Has nothing to do with taxes. 🙂 Ethanol is only about 25% cheaper than 95-octane petrol now…

    If you take in the whole picture with taxes and so on, I think diesel is the cheapest.

  8. I think you are missing a big point here.
    This is not about fuel from renewable sources being CHEAPER, this is about the fact that environmentally sounder fuels are suddenly economically AFFORDABLE in Sweden (and the rest of the world).

    I have many friends who have chosen a “sprit-Saab” (booze-saab) because it helps their conscience.

    It’s not about money, but money helps us take the step.

  9. Particle filter-equipped diesels are very clean and considerd a environmentally firendly car in Sweden. Also, consider that for Sweden most ethanol must be imported from Brazil and that you need much more ethanol than diesel to go the same distance. Diesel will really take of in Sweden now when the extremely high taxes on it are gone. In three years time, I think 50% of all cars sold will be diesel. I hope Saab can bring them to the U.S market, because I think it will really take of there as well.

  10. CTM you are right about diesel is a good choice. But diesel is often a bit moore expensive to buy and the taxrelief is only for a short period of time. So you have to do a lot of travel to come in as cheaper.

    But I think that we might get a problem with E85 because it has become to popular and therefore the price might go up.
    The big plants for this is not yet errected.

    The thing I think people often miss about ethanol is that i can be made out off waste-products. Also EU has 10 % of its farmland not producing. So the costs for ethanol could probably be a lot lower in time…

  11. They have already taken away the 5 year tax-relief on electric- and hybrid-cars. When enough people are driving ethanlo-based cars, they will put more taxes on both the fuel itself and the ownership of the car. It’s always like that in Sweden. I’m not saying it’s bad, because you get a more rapid shift towards environmentally friendly things. The problem is, people think it’s gonna be cheap forever… :/

  12. that is correct the tax-base cannot dicline to much. So this “carrot” will only be in place for a couple of year. But it is a rather effective way to give incentives for a change.

    I general pollution is too cheap but the problem is that more countries need to come to the same conclusion otherwise it wont help at all.

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