By converting my car to run on bioethanol, I can cut down my car’s carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 80 percent. The conversion costs a few hundred euros, which will pay itself back in saved fuel costs.
But wait a minute. Why are we discussing bioethanol driving on this website? We are bidding to become the Capital of Culture, not the Capital of Cars!
The reason for this has been written in the core values of our Capital of Culture bid: “We want to fight against climate change, for sustainability and for future generations.” This is why we also want to raise awareness on companies that are at the forefront of this fight with such operations as cutting down emissions. We are actively seeking collaborations with companies in this field.
This is why we are travelling into an industrial park in Pirkkala, where StepOne Tech has been building and installing these conversion kits for seven years. The company’s eFlexFuel conversion kit has already been installed in over 10,000 cars, 4,000 of them in Finland.
Ethanol Made out of Waste
Conversion into an ethanol car? What is that about?
The conversion kit itself is a device roughly the size of a mobile phone, which can be installed into a vehicle with a petrol engine. Out of the two million cars in Finland, the device is compatible with approximately 1,5 million. You can check on the company’s website which cars are compatible with the device.
With the device, a petrol engine can run on E85 fuel which is approximately 80 percent ethanol.
In Finland, E85 is made from renewable sources and waste, making it environmentally friendly, StepOne Tech’s CEO Tuomo Isokivijärvi says.
Hold on a second. A petrol car and an ethanol car both have exhaust pipes. Why does it matter, what’s combusting, when it is combusting and emitting carbon dioxide out of the pipe?
“The environmentally friendly aspect of the bioethanol conversion is based on the idea of circular economy,” Isokivijärvi explains.
“The RE85 and EkoE85 fuels sold in Finland are made from biowaste and food industry by-products such as sawdust, meaning materials that would in any case decompose and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In Finland, there is no such thing as biofuel farming where the primary purpose for the crops would be biofuels.”
“The exhaust pipe spews just about the same stuff, whether the engine is combusting petrol or ethanol. But when you look at the big picture, the life cycle of the source material, the emissions are cut down by 80 percent compared to fossil fuels.”
Electric cars should also be considered. How do they compare to bioethanol cars in ecological terms?
“It is a complex picture,” Isokivijärvi admits.
“An electric vehicle doesn’t have an exhaust pipe. But as 85% of energy is produced from fossil sources, it is very likely that you are charging your electric car with fossil energy. So, the idea is more complicated than just exhaust pipe versus no exhaust pipe.”
“Emissions-wise, a hybrid car is a good solution, if you have for example short commutes that you can drive electrically and charge the battery with renewable energy. But to put it bluntly, in many of the so-called mild hybrids, the hybrid part is just a sham,” Isokivijärvi states.
In the beginning of November 2019, a total of 11,000 scientists signed a widely reported statement on the climate emergency in the BioScience journal. In the report, the scientist community presented six critical actions that should be taken right away to avoid disaster.
The first action concerned energy use. The report stated the following: “The world must quickly implement massive energy efficiency and conservation practices and must replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables.”
Traficom Supports the Conversion
Isokivijärvi does not want to judge any alternatives to petrol cars.
“We need all solutions. Electric, natural gas, bioethanol and biodiesel vehicles. We all have the equal right to cut down our emissions. Our company wants to offer a solution where with an investment of just a few hundred euros, you can get rid of fossil fuel.”
Now, financially speaking, what does all this mean for the motorist? The cost of the ethanol conversion including installation is approximately 450 euros. There is an additional cost of 50 euros for the mandatory alteration inspection. After passing the inspection, the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom will reimburse 200 euros to your bank account. This is the government’s way of contributing to the efforts to cut down emissions.
Vehicles consume more bioethanol than petrol, but it is cheaper. This savings calculator helps you see how long it takes for the conversion to pay itself back. If you drive 20,000 kilometres in a year, it will take about a year. The same calculator also tells you how much the conversion decreased your emissions.
Let’s ask a consumer. Merja Määttänen, a communications director from Tampere, converted her A-Class Mercedes-Benz to run on bioethanol.
“I had the eFlexFuel conversion kit installed in my car, and it turned my dear little “Meze” into an ecological bioethanol car. To be precise, my car was turned into a flexible fuel vehicle, so it takes ethanol and petrol in any mixture ratio. After years of procrastination, the conversion was amazingly effortless,” Määttänen says.
Motorists suspected that the conversion would bring problems. The only problem is with cold starting:
“In freezing temperatures, I have adopted a trick tried and tested by bioethanol drivers: I mix approximately 5% more petrol into the tank, and the cold starting issue disappears.”
Määttänen is happy with the conversion: “The idea that I can this easily and cheaply lighten my load of environmental offences appeals to me deeply enough.”