The Saab Beginner’s Guide to Biofuels

Following is a press release from Saab UK, released today upon the announcement that Saab’s entire UK range will now have a BioPower option (or, in other words, the 9-3 BioPower has now been released for the UK market).


1. What are biofuels?

Biofuels are fuels which are made from plants and usually mixed with traditional ‘fossil’ fuel like petrol and diesel. So for example, bioethanol is made from plants such as wheat or sugar beet and is mixed with unleaded petrol. Biodiesel is made from different types of oils, like palm oil or rapeseed oil. Be careful though, as the word ‘biofuel’ can be confusing. It could refer to a mix of a small proportion (for example just 5 per cent) plant fuel, and the rest petrol or diesel, or it could refer to a mixture which is made up mostly, or even entirely, from plant fuel, with little or no petrol or diesel used at all.

2. How do I make this less confusing?

It is best to refer to the exact mixture. When talking about bioethanol, the letter E is used to indicate how much ethanol is contained in the fuel, and when talking about biodiesel, the letter B is used. So E5 means that the fuel is made of five per cent bioethanol and 95 per cent unleaded petrol, whilst E85 is made of 85 per cent bioethanol and just 15 per cent petrol. Similarly, B30 is made from 30 per cent ‘biodiesel’, and 70 per cent traditional fossil diesel, and B100 is made of 100 per cent biodiesel and does not contain any fossil diesel at all.

3. So bioethanol and biodiesel are not the same thing?

No, absolutely not! They have been made from very different plant sources and are as distinct from one another as petrol and diesel. Just like you can’t fill up a petrol car with diesel and vice versa, you cannot fill up a car that has been engineered to run on bioethanol E85 with biodiesel B30. Currently, your car’s warranty will allow you to put bioethanol E5 into a petrol-engined car, and biodiesel B5 into a diesel-engined car. If you want to use higher blends of biofuels, such as bioethanol E85, you must buy a car with a specially-modified engine. For example, the new Saab 9-3 BioPower has been designed to run on bioethanol E85 as well as on standard unleaded petrol. These kind of cars that can run on both types of fuel are called ‘flex-fuel cars’.

4. But where can I buy these different types of biofuels?

Some supermarkets and petrol stations already sell bioethanol E5 and biodiesel B5 without telling you, so it’s quite possible that you already run your car on biofuels without even realising! This will not do any damage to your car’s engine, and means that you are helping the environment. In fact, if every car in the UK ran on bioethanol E5, this would be the same as taking one million cars off the road, in terms of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that would be saved. If you own a flex-fuel car, you can buy bioethanol E85 at certain Morrison supermarkets across the UK – just think about how much CO2 you would save then!

5. Why are these cars better for the environment?

When the plants to produce bioethanol or biodiesel are grown, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and give out oxygen, through nature’s photosynthesis process. That CO2 is then returned to the atmosphere when you burn the biofuel in the engine. This means that you are simply recycling CO2 instead of adding new CO2 to the environment, which is what happens when you run your car on petrol and diesel.

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