Interesting that I write an article hassling Saab about BioPower availability in the USA and on the same day, the Detroit News puts out what amounts pretty much to a scare article about ethanol.
The article’s written by the Sussex based Neil Winton, the European correspondent for Detroit News and in terms of facts, it doesn’t get off to a great start:
dat ain’t a 9-3, kiddo
But this isn’t a snark piece. Not completely at least. It’s not something that I’d normally care to spend too much time on, but given the tome I wrote this morning I think something needs to be said.
Let’s start at the beginning:
Europe’s car manufacturers, led by Saab and closely followed by Ford, are endangering their credibility with buyers as they exaggerate the environmental benefits of ethanol and hide its disadvantages in a desperate scramble to catch up with the need to appear green.
Saab are in a desperate scramble to appear green?
Tell us more, Neil:
After soft-pedaling the problem for years, Europe’s automotive manufacturers have been caught out by a sudden sea change in public opinion, which now wants more attention paid to the need to conserve fuel and protect the environment. Tire-squealing, macho advertising campaigns underlining speed and performance are on the way out; green, tree hugging is in.
I’d like to see the tire-squealing macho advertising campaign from Saab that Neil’s referring to. He opened with a focus on Saab so I assume that he’s still pointing this particular arrow at them.
Let’s deal with this.
Saab’s credentials as a ‘green’ manufacturer should be fairly plain to see, I’d have thought. Perhaps if Neil had looked into them a little more prior to this article he would have seen that. So, for Neil’s benefit….
Saab have had a vehicle recycling centre in Sweden for quite a while.
Saab were one of the first companies to cease use of CFC based air conditioning systems back in 1991.
Saab have been producing turbocharged vehicles since the late 1970s, getting the power of a six cylinder engine from a four, with the economy of a four to match.
After a brief flirtation with a V6 during the 1990s, Saab only got it’s second ever six cylinder engine in 2006.
There’s probably a bunch more I could write here if I had the time or the inclination, but I think that those in the know would agree that Saab could hardly be called an environmentally irresponsible company.
Ford can defend themselves.
Now, back to Neil:
Saab, General Motors’ Swedish up-market subsidiary, is running a TV ad campaign which claims its new ethanol Flex Fuel engines, powered by renewable fuel which sucks in CO2 as it grows, can cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to an amazing 70 percent.
Given that he’s in England, this would be the ad he’s referring to. It does claim an extra 25hp but there’s no claim of a 70% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. There’s no other ad listed on the Saab UK BioPower site.
I don’t want to be accused of too much petty pedantry, but if you’re writing something that’s supposed to inform the public about an issue you believe to be misrepresented, it’s best to not misrepresent your point of view.
They do, however, say in their Q&A section that it can result in a cut in C02 of up to 80% at the tailpipe based on the increased consumption when running on E85. This is a figure that needs some explanation and I wish I was the man for the job. Other sites that I can find mention cuts from 10% to 34% but I can’t find a proper explanation for the 80% claim. That’s something I’ll pursue.
I can, however, recall time spent with a CSIRO scientist named David Lamb back in January who told me (and Richo) about the legitimacy of E85 as a fuel source for reducing emissions and cutting dependancy on oil (article by him here). He’d run plenty of tests that showed genuine reductions at the tailpape. The big issue, from his point of view, was the source crop used for the fuel. The more efficient it was, the more genuine the gains made.
I’m not going to go through this article paragraph by paragraph. It’s taken me long enough just to get this far.
There’s several issues that bear stating quite directly, though.
* No-one’s advocating E85 as THE solution to emissions reduction or climate change. It’s one piece of a bigger puzzle, and a legitimate one at that.
* The thing about ethanol and fuel consumption: What recently showed with the BioPower100 concept was that you could extract 150hp per litre of displacement. This means that you could build small cars with smaller engines and retain a level of output closer to what people are used to driving now. Smaller engines mean better mileage and reduced emissions for the amount of horsepower attained. This is what Kjell Bergstrom recently referred to as “right-sizing” of the engine.
* Neil claims that Saab have hidden the reduced mileage figure in the fine print. As you can see from the bit I quoted above, it’s right there amongst the Q&A and anyone that’s done their due diligence on the subject would be hit in the face with it pretty quickly.
* I’d be willing to bet my 6 month old puppy that for every ‘scientific’ study Neil’s found that criticises ethanol, I can find one to promote it. Producing ethanol from corn definitely isn’t the most efficient solution. But ethanol’s a long-term issue and the production of the fuel is getting more efficient as time passes. There’s numerous institutions that are already using other forms of biomass and it’s only a matter of time and investment before these alternatives go online on a commercial basis.
* Neil goes so far as to publish some opinion that ethanol most likely leads to higher emissions than gasoline. Like I said, you can find a ‘scientific’ opinion for anything if you try hard enough.
For a country like the US where the infrastructure is going to be hard to establish due to size, and where the base crop is less than ideal for the purpose, it may well be that E85 is not as ideal an idea as it is elsewhere.
In spite of this, I found this article to be written with a fair amount of bias and preconception. I wouldn’t call it irresponsible journalism, but it calls for some considerable examination.
There’s a number of governments around the world that are promoting ethanol as a fuel for both emissions and dependancy reasons. As the fuel gets easier to produce it’ll become more common, and Saab are well placed to take advantage of this due to their turbocharging expertise, which extracts the best performance out of the fuel.