England receives ethanol buses

By Brian Warshaw in Burgundy, France | March 10, 2008
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Web exclusive posted March 21, 2008 at 11:41 a.m. CST

On March 10, Nottingham became the first city in England to operate a regular bus service with ethanol-fueled vehicles. Three newly delivered E95 single-deck buses took over service on the city's No. 30 route.

Reading, England, is not far behind, awaiting the arrival of 14 ethanol-powered double-deckers for service in May. The two cities have been vying to be the first outside of Sweden to use ethanol-fueled vehicles. In Sweden, 600 E95-powered buses ply routes, including approximately 400 in the capital Stockholm.

Swedish manufacturer Scania AB, which builds ethanol-fueled buses, is currently the only manufacturer constructing a modified diesel engine for E95 fuel. Scania started developing the technology in 1989 and is now on its third generation of ethanol-compatible engines.

Compared with a diesel engine, the E95 engine has a higher cylinder compression ratio, larger injector holes, modified injection timing, a fuel pump with larger flow capacity, and alcohol-resistant materials for gaskets and filters in the fuel system. Routine service requirements are generally the same for Scania's third-generation E95 burners as for a diesel engine but come at shorter intervals primarily because of more frequent oil changes.

Scania's engine already meets the requirements of the Euro 5 emission standards taking effect in 2009. Scania said its engines pollute less, including up to 90 percent less carbon dioxide than diesel, if the ethanol is made from Brazilian sugercane. Meanwhile, the company's exhaust-recirculation technology requires no aftertreatment of exhaust gases. Other manufacturers clean the exhaust with urea, and city bus operators said they prefer not to handle both fuel and urea.

On the downside, ethanol-fueled buses use nearly 40 percent more fuel than diesel buses because of ethanol's lower energy content. Also, an E95 bus costs between €11,000 and €22,000 ($17,000 to $34,000), more than the diesel model. The UK Ethanol Bus Users Group reported that ethanol costs 2 percent more than gasoline. Ethanol prices track rising oil prices; however, bus operators can lock into 10-year ethanol supply contracts.

Scania buses run on 93.6 percent ethanol, 3.6 percent ignition improver and 2.8 percent denaturants.

In 2006, former U.S. President Bill Clinton launched the Clinton Climate Initiative and lauded Scania's buses as a way to clean up urban air. As a result, Scania could negotiate with 40 cities collaborating with the CCI.
Several other cities in Europe are testing E95 buses, as are São Paulo, Brazil, Melbourne, Australia, and Beijing, China. Cities using ethanol instead of gasoline must be ready for one other difference: neither water nor fire-retardant foam has proven effective at extinguishing ethanol fires.

Nevertheless, the city of Reading is ready. "All our foam supplies are of the alcohol-resisting type," said Deputy Chief Fire Officer Olaf Baars of the Royal Berkshire Fire Authority. "We maintain sufficient stocks, both on front-line appliances and on the operational support unit, to deal with all normal circumstances."