The Saab fact-and-fiction guide to BioEthanol

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).


Bioethanol is currently the buzzword in green motoring, and Saab is at the forefront of this exciting trend. Most recently, Saab has added its innovative and award-winning BioPower flex-fuel engine to its popular 9-3 range, bringing environmentally responsible driving to a whole new audience.

With Saab now the first car company in Great Britain to offer an environmentally friendly engine in every single model in its range, we thought it time to replace some of the fiction surrounding bioethanol with hard facts.


FICTION: You can’t buy bioethanol E85 fuel anywhere in the UK.

FACT: Morrisons, one of the UK’s largest supermarket chains, now stocks bioethanol E85 at an increasing number of its stores across the country. In 2006, Morrisons opened the UK’s first ten bioethanol E85 pumps in conjunction with Saab in the East of England and in the South-west. Since then, Morrisons has made bioethanol E85 available at other stores across the country, including in the south-east of England, in the east and west midlands, and in Wales.

This is in line with its strategy to stock the eco-friendly fuel at every single new supermarket with a petrol forecourt that it opens. Furthermore, Morrisons promises that before too long, we’ll see bioethanol E85 appearing at many of its existing sites up and down the United Kingdom. Don’t forget though that because Saab BioPower cars are flex-fuel cars, they can run on standard unleaded petrol as well, giving you flexibility until a supermarket or petrol station near you starts stocking the fuel. For a full and constantly-updated list of the exact locations where you can buy bioethanol E85 in the UK, see


FICTION: The UK does not have enough farmland to grow crops for fuel and for food

FACT: The National Farmers Union (NFU) says that there is an adequate amount of land in the UK on which to grow crops for both fuel and food. The NFU estimates that there is around 1.2 million hectares (ha) of spare arable land which could be used to grow crops such as wheat for the production of bioethanol, in addition to a large amount of set-aside land, some of which the NFU believes could be used for this purpose. Furthermore, the UK currently grows a huge surplus of cereals (around 3 million tonnes each year).

This excess grain is all exported, which has the knock-on effect of lowering world grain prices, to the detriment of many emerging economies. The NFU points out that this excess cereal could more usefully be used to produce biofuels. Moving to second-generation biofuels, the NFU estimates there will be enough excess straw in the UK, which currently goes to waste, to power 77% of all UK new car sales on bioethanol E85. Incredibly, 2nd-generation biofuel technology will make 3000 litres of bioethanol from one hectare (just over two acres) of straw. That’s enough 2nd generation bioethanol to power ONE Saab 9-5 2.0t BioPower for 1.4 years!


FICTION: The production of bioethanol is so energy-inefficient that any CO2 savings are wiped out

FACT: Using optimal production processes, bioethanol can actually deliver close to zero emissions calculated on a “well to wheel” basis. It is true that emissions from bioethanol E85 vary according to a number of factors, including feedstock (what raw material is used to make the fuel), cultivation processes (how intensively the crop is cultivated), and production processes (how the fuel is refined and whether this process incorporates combined heat and power (CHP)). However, provided these processes are optimised to be as efficient as possible, independent research shows that bioethanol E85 can deliver significant reductions in CO2 – typically between 50 and 70% compared to petrol.

For example, British Sugar, which will be producing bioethanol from locally-grown sugar beet at its plant in Norfolk in 2007, says that to ensure that its production will be sustainable it has carried out a study with Nigel Mortimer, one of the UK’s leading experts on life cycle assessments. The study shows that British Sugar’s bioethanol should save at least 60 per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions when compared to petrol, on a life cycle basis. This includes all GHG emissions from growing the crop, to producing the ethanol, and transporting it to the blending point, ie from field to wheel. On an energy basis, British Sugar expects the bioethanol to contain twice as much energy as it took to produce it.


FICTION: 1st-generation biofuels are no good, the industry should wait for 2nd-generation technology.

FACT: If we are serious about meeting our obligations to reduce carbon emissions and diversify energy supply, we cannot afford to wait for the development of 2nd-generation biofuels. Saab recognises the huge potential offered by 2nd-generation biofuels and believes that their development should be fully supported and appropriately incentivised. However, current generation biofuels, such as bioethanol E85, are available now, offer immediate CO2 savings and help engage the consumer in the role that biofuels and renewable energy can play in reducing the environmental impact of their activities. Don’t forget that it will take time for these fuels to penetrate the market, for the refuelling infrastructure to appear, and for consumer awareness of their benefits to develop, which is why it is important that 1st-generation biofuels are marketed to UK consumers today.


FICTION: All cars running on bioethanol E85 get more power because E85 has a higher octane rating than petrol.

FACT: Although bioethanol E85 does indeed have a higher octane rating than standard unleaded petrol, Saab BioPower cars are the only ones that enjoy better performance, thanks to our renowned expertise in turbocharging technology. Simply filling a petrol-engined car with E85 does not result in a power increase, unless changes have been made to the engine management system. Saab BioPower engines differ from other flex-fuel engines on the market because they are the world’s only turbocharged flex-fuel engines. This, combined with Saab’s application of the highly-advanced Saab Trionic engine management system allows full advantage to be made of bioethanol E85’s higher octane rating. A key benefit of a higher octane rating is the ability to reduce the possibility of detonation (pre-ignition) during the combustion process. As such, increased turbo boost pressure and more advanced ignition timing can be used, resulting in the increased power and torque found in Saab BioPower engines.


FICTION: Increasing demand for biofuels will inevitably lead to the destruction of environmentally-sensitive habitats in developing countries.

FACT: The UK Government has already signed partnership agreements with countries such as Brazil, Mozambique and South Africa for the development of biofuels, and is now working with Latin America and Asian Countries on the preservation of rainforests. Saab supports the development of a robust sustainability certification scheme to ensure biofuels are sustainably produced. Certain biofuel suppliers are already voluntarily auditing their supply chain to ensure sustainability. As the market develops, it is anticipated that an increasing volume of biofuels can be sourced from conventional farmland in UK and Europe, thereby helping to ensure that sensitive habitats in developing countries are not placed at risk. Dr Jeremy Woods, from the Imperial Centre for Energy Policy and Technology, remarks: “Biofuel production has the capacity to be a force for improving land management and protecting biodiverse habitats for the good of rural communities around the world, but it could also cause adverse impacts in about equal measure. Assurance and certification are critical tools in helping to deliver the good rather than the bad. In its current form the UK’s ground-breaking Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation will help develop these assurance systems from East Anglia to Malaysia.”



* Saab is the biggest seller of flex-fuel cars in Europe. In 2006, Saab took a gigantic 43 per cent share of the European flex-fuel segment.

* Saab is the first and the only car company in Europe to offer every single car in its range with an alternative fuel engine.

* Saab BioPower is the number one environmentally-friendly car in its home market of Sweden, which is leading Europe in this progressive trend.

* Saab, together with Morrisons, opened the UK’s first bioethanol E85 pumps in the UK in March 2006.

* Saab BioPower is the world’s first turbocharged flex-fuel engine. This means that Saab BioPower is the only flex-fuel production car that takes advantage of bioethanol E85’s higher octane rating, and gains more brakehorsepower as a result.

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  1. Smart move by SAAB to do a Q&A. There are a lot green “experts” out there that swear they know it all. Distributing some real facts can only help consumers.

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