the super success of superethanol

► What is bioethanol and what is it used for?

Bioethanol is a biofuel produced from the fermentation of sugars and starch contained in sugar beets and cereals. It contains 60% (winter) to 85% (summer) ethanol. In 2022, the volumes of superethanol-E85 consumed increased by 83%. Their share of the gasoline market rose from 4% to 6.5%, while that of SP95-E10 (which contains 5 to 10% bioethanol) stood at 56% (+5 points). This growth is also reflected in a growing number of service stations offering it (nearly 3,300, out of approximately 11,000 stations, or 550 more in one year).

In principle, this fuel is reserved for “flex fuel” vehicles, which can use gasoline, bioethanol or a mixture of both. However, some motorists “wildly” add superethanol to their SP95, at the risk of reducing the life of their engine.

Some are equipped with this technology from the factory. Last year, 35,000 new vehicles offering this device were registered in France. With a manufacturer clearly ahead: Ford claims 32,000 new registrations of flex fuel or flex fuel hybrid vehicles, i.e. “80% of sales of its personal vehicle range”according to its director of public affairs Fabrice Devanlay.

Another possibility of driving on superethanol-E85: have a conversion box installed on your vehicle. In the space of one year, 85,000 motorists have opted for this solution. In total, 120,000 additional vehicles (+67%) therefore use this biofuel.

► Is superethanol-E85 financially advantageous?

The main motivation of drivers who switch to superethanol-E85 is often financial: its price at the pump has long remained below one euro per litre. Last year, however, the energy crisis increased the price of the gas used to produce this biofuel. Result: the price of superethanol-E85 crossed this threshold to settle on average, on January 20, at €1.11, against €1.87 for SP95-E10.

With such a price difference, even taking into account a 25% overconsumption, superethanol-E85 saves €675 per year (for 20,000 kilometers travelled). Enough to quickly make the cost of the case profitable, in the order of 800 to 1,000 €. Especially since some communities, such as the Île-de-France, South and Hauts-de-France regions, offer aid covering 40 to 50% of the sum.

► Are biofuels really good for the environment?

Unlike that produced in other countries, French bioethanol does not come from soy or palm oil, two crops often linked to deforestation. First producer in Europe, France could, with 1% of the useful agricultural surface, deliver in 2035 18 million hectoliters, against 12 million today. Enough to run 5 million cars.

Ecologists criticize the sector for exploiting soils that could be used to produce food. A sector that defends itself by suggesting that certain components of cereal grains cannot be used for the manufacture of fuel and can be used as high-protein animal feed, in particular replacing soybean meal, largely imported from Brazil.

Above all, superethanol-E85 makes it possible to “reduce CO2 emissions by 50%” compared to fossil fuel, argues Sylvain Demoures, secretary general of the National Union of Agricultural Alcohol Producers. Moreover, he argues, if we think about the life cycle of the vehicle, including manufacturing and a total mileage of 150,000 km, a plug-in hybrid car with flex fuel technology is equal (13 tonnes of CO2 ) with an electric car.

► What future for bioethanol?

Manufacturers will no longer be able to market thermal vehicles in Europe from 2035. But, convinced by the ecological advantages of its fuel, the bioethanol sector hopes that the review clause planned for 2026 by the Europeans will make it possible to extend beyond this horizon the marketing of flex fuel rechargeable water models.

In any case, the box market still has a bright future ahead of it, says Alexis Landrieu, managing director of Biomotors, a producer of conversion boxes. From an ecological as well as a financial point of view, “it is better to convert than to replace thermal vehicles”, he considers. A goal that will be easier to achieve if vehicles equipped with conversion kits benefit from derogations – as will be the case in Reims and Montpellier – allowing them to enter the low emission zones (ZFE) which are developing in metropolitan areas. .


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