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Superethanol-E85: the reasons for the crazy success of anti-crisis fuel

Bioethanol – or superethanol-E85 – broke a new sales record in 2022 in France. Its consumption has soared by 83%or more than 854 million liters over twelve months, rejoiced on Tuesday January 24 the Collective of bioethanol which described the year as “exceptional” during a press conference.

Marketed under the name of superethanol-E85 or E85, bioethanol is a fuel where ethanol replaces part of the gasoline contained in traditional fuels and is made from agricultural alcohol produced at 80% in France, from cereals (maize and wheat) or sugar beets in fields located in particular in the north or south-west of the country. It is acclaimed by more and more motorists for its price, 30% to 40% cheaper than other fuels due to advantageous taxation “justified by its positive externalities” underlines Nicolas Kurstoglou, engineer in charge of fuels at the National Syndicate Producers of Agricultural Alcohol (SNPAA).

“As of January 20, 2023, the price difference is 76 cts/l, for an average pump price of €1.11/l for superethanol and €1.87/l for SP95-E10”, explains the engineer to L’Express. “It should be noted that there is 25% overconsumption between superethanol E85 and E10. Despite this, by using E85, we save 24 euros for each 50-litre fill-up. This represents 670 euros in savings for 20 000 kilometres, he adds. Even if a box costs 1000 euros, if you have help from the Ile-de-France or Paca region up to 500 euros, it pays for itself very quickly”.

A box sold “every four minutes”

To use this fuel, the first option is to buy a suitable vehicle and the second is to convert your own by installing an approved box called “flex fuel” in an approved garage. In 2022, according to the sector, 85,000 new boxes were installed compared to 30,000 in 2021, i.e. almost triple. The market leader, Biomotors, sold last year “one every four minutes”, according to its managing director, Alexis Landrieu.

Bioethanol now represents 6.5% of the gasoline market – compared to 4% in 2021 – and the number of service stations offering it has increased by 20% to 3,300, the sector announced. Half of motorists driving on bioethanol have been using it for less than a year, according to a survey conducted in November by the Bioethanol Collective. “Among the events that played a triggering role, are mentioned the increase in fuel prices (cited at 74%) and the ecological dimension associated with this biofuel (cited at 39%)”, she noted.

“It’s a fuel that is economically interesting, that’s fundamental, but it’s also more ecological: it reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, i.e. 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 avoided, that’s the equivalent of 900,000 cars, and improves air quality by reducing fine particles by 90% compared to unleaded petrol”, explains Nicolas Kurstoglou. However, the environmental benefits of biofuels remain contested. At the end of March 2022, the NGO Transport & Environment published for example a report damning denouncing the use of cereal production to feed cars, and not populations, and this, despite “the imminent risk of food shortage”, accentuated by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

Along with a dozen other NGOs, Transport & Environment thus called on “national governments to immediately stop the use of raw materials based on food and fodder crops in biofuels”, and the European Commission to “refrain from putting pressure to open up biodiversity areas for food production,” before he exhausted other options. The EU has indeed decided to temporarily suspend fallowing to free up fertile land, produce more and thus compensate for the production losses caused by the war in Ukraine.

Stable prices in 2023

Moreover, bioethanol has not escaped inflation. In French service stations, E85 is sold for 1.1083 euros per liter, according to figures from the Ministry of Energy Transition arrested on January 20. However, it sold for 0.7433 euros per liter at the start of 2022 and 0.6517 euros at the start of 2021, according to the same source.

“The price of bioethanol has suffered from the increase in agricultural costs and energy prices, in particular gas, which has been passed on in the supply contracts concluded between ethanol suppliers and fuel distributors for the ‘year 2023’, emphasizes the Collective of bioethanol. The gas, the price of which increased by up to 250% between January and August 2022 due to the consequences of the war in Ukraine, is indeed used to distil bioethanol in factories, explains Nicolas Kurstoglou.

The price of bioethanol is fixed each year in the autumn by contracts with the farmers and it depends in particular on the inflation index which rose sharply last year. “The price of E85 is therefore stable for the year 2023, underlines the engineer. On the other hand, in September 2023, gas prices will probably drop and this will strengthen the price difference with unleaded gasoline. in 2024″.

An unknown factor still remains on the consequences of the French government’s decision to waive a third derogation allowing beet growers to use neonicotinoid insecticides. “In the absence of effective solutions, the surfaces (of beets) risk falling significantly,” said the union of beet growers (CGB), stressing that this would increase “the risk of massive imports of sugar or ethanol ( of Brazil in particular)”.


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