A few weeks ago Rio de Janeiro landed the 2016 Olympics largely thanks to the fact that Brazil is climbing up the rank of nations. It has grown to become the 10th largest economy in the world and a key reason has to do with the country's energy policy.
By committing heavily to ethanol, Brazil no longer imports oil to make fuel. That means the country now has a trade surplus and a positive balance of payments. The economy is growing while unemployment is dropping. Ethanol doesn't get all the credit for Brazil's impressive growth, but it's playing a significant role. Instead of talking about kicking its oil addiction, Brazil did it.
An unexpected side benefit of committing to ethanol is that Brazil is also taking the lead in developing new fuel injection systems that allow cars to run on pure ethanol (E-100). This is arguably the first time that Brazil has ever taken the lead on automotive technology.
John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers.
You can buy two types of cars in Brazil: ones that run on gasoline, or flex-fuel cars that can run on any combination of gasoline and ethanol. (Diesels are banned in passenger cars.) Yet, even the gasoline cars have to be highly tolerant of ethanol. All the gasoline in Brazil is blended to E-22. At a time when the United States is still debating whether it's prudent to blend anything higher than E-10, Brazil blew through that number over a decade ago.
There are technical challenges to running engines on pure ethanol. Cold-starts are an issue even in a tropical country like Brazil. At temperatures less than 13°C (about 55°F) ethanol doesn't vaporize well, making it hard to start an engine.
To compensate for this, E-100 engines in Brazil start and run on gasoline for the first 90 seconds or so. This requires a separate gas tank, which for packaging reasons, is located under the hood. It looks like an extra windshield washer fluid container that holds about a half a gallon and uses the same kind of pump as the washer bottle. But automakers don't like this arrangement because most motorists in Brazil rarely see the temperature drop below 13°C. That means they can go months on end before their car has to start on gasoline, meaning the gas can go bad or even gum up.
Moreover, it's inconvenient for motorists to have to fill two different tanks from two different pumps at the gas station. And who wants to pump gasoline into a tank that's located under the hood next to the hot engine?
To eliminate the need to use gasoline for cold starts, Brazilian automakers are now developing new fuel injection systems that preheat the ethanol. Bosch and Magnetti-Marelli have come up with glow plugs that are located in the fuel rail. This involves a slight delay of about six seconds before the engine can be cranked up. Delphi has come up with a new type of fuel injector that incorporates a heating element within the injector itself. And Denso is working on some kind of induction heating for injectors but so far not a lot of information has come out about this.
I just got back from Brazil where I got to drive an E-100 car (Ford Ecosport). If nobody told you it ran on E-100 you'd never know the difference.
Using ethanol generates passionate pro and con debate in the United States. But Brazil is well past the debating stage and is reaping the benefits of this energy policy.
Airs every Sunday at 10:30AM on Detroit Public Television.
Autoline Detroit Podcast
Click here to subscribe in iTunes
Follow Autoline on Twitter for ongoing updates every day!