How Maruti-Suzuki’s game plan on ethanol vehicles could be a game-changer

In line with stricter BS6 emission rules, Maruti Suzuki was one of the few automakers to drop diesel options from its full model range. The company is currently researching flex-fuel ethanol cars for India. Managing Director and CEO of Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. Kenichi Ayukawa said the company is aggressively looking at the prospects for ethanol-powered automobiles and flexible fuels.

The initiative was intrigued after government support for automakers to start marketing ethanol-powered automobiles. He called on automakers to start mass-producing flex-fuel vehicles that can run on up to 100% ethanol or gasoline.

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What is a flex fuel vehicle (FFV)?

A flexible fuel vehicle

A flex-fuel engine is a type of internal combustion engine that can burn many fuels and a mixture of fuels. Typically, a mixture of gasoline and ethanol or methanol is used, and the engine can automatically adapt to any gear with upgrades such as a fuel composition sensor and programming appropriate ECU. Flexible fuel machines, which can run on 100% gasoline or ethanol, are already on the market in countries such as Brazil, the United States and Canada. Although flex-fuel vehicles may be less expensive than gasoline-powered vehicles, the cost of purchasing a vehicle may be higher.

Ethanol, often called ethyl alcohol, is a starch-based fuel made from corn kernels, crop scraps, wood chips or sugar cane. It is a renewable fuel that helps clean the air by oxygenating the fuel it is paired with. Due to the low energy content of ethanol, flex fuel provides lower fuel economy than fossil fuels, depending on the blend. However, because ethanol has a higher octane rating than gasoline, it produces more power and improves acceleration when used with higher ethanol blends.

Maruti-Suzuki’s progress with FFVs

An image of a Flex Fuel filling station

As consumers expect cost-effective, fuel-efficient automobiles, and the government pushes for cleaner, less import-dependent fuel, automakers are now almost forced to provide such solutions. Maruti Suzuki India and oil refiners, including the large state-owned Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), have teamed up to meet this demand. At Indian Oil’s Research and Development Center and other locations, tests are being conducted at various levels to work on different biofuel blend configurations, including gasoline/diesel combined with ethanol and engine that could help save fuel and improve mileage.

Apart from Indian Oil Corporation, Maruti-Suzuki also works with NITI Aayog and the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) to develop different engine designs and test them. Along with the development of the engine, the company and its associates are also working on upgrading the existing E10 fuel to E20, i.e. a 20% blend. Maruti Suzuki, India’s leading manufacturer with over 50% market share, is already E10 compliant and its cars will be E20 compliant by 2023.

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The impact of ethanol vehicles

A flexible fuel pump
Via Hot Cars

According to experts, the cost of gasoline blended with ethanol may not be prohibitive as the current purchase price of ethanol in India is lower than the world price of gasoline. Additionally, oil refiners claim that by upgrading the e10 blend to the e20 blend, the ethanol component would be larger, which will have a positive influence on gasoline prices. Additionally, ethanol production also creates greater job opportunities.

According to India’s National Biofuels Policy, the country’s energy security would be compromised until locally produced alternative fuels can replace or augment petroleum-based fuels. Additionally, the transportation industry has been identified as a major polluter. Biofuels give the country a glimpse of hope in terms of energy security as they are environmentally friendly fuels, and their use would help solve global problems regarding carbon emissions. It was pointed out that biofuels have become relevant in light of stricter rules on motor vehicle emissions to reduce air pollution.

Maruti-Suzuki did not reveal a date for the launch of the flex-fuel automobiles in India, but the company acknowledged that the flex-fuel engines are in the research and development stage. The government has also issued instructions and authorized the installation of 100% ethanol fuel pumps across the country. He also intends to make ethanol vehicles mandatory for automakers with flex-fuel engines. On top of that, people looking for greener alternatives will have more options to choose from outside of electric vehicles.

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