From: The national - 09/04/2008
Independent tests are about to start to assess the ability of older Japanese-made cars to run on high biofuel blends in New Zealand.
The Ministry of Transport has awarded a $160,000 contract to international certification agency SGS to test blends of up to 10 per cent bioethanol on components of older cars. That is the level contained in 98-octane petrol which Gull Petroleum has been selling in New Zealand since August. Motor industry representatives say any mix containing more than 3 per cent biofuel could seriously damage up to a million imported Japanese vehicles.
Gull NZ general manager Dave Bodger says the company has not received a single complaint from customers about the performance of their vehicles, despite making more than 10,000 sales a month of biofuels produced from dairy company whey.
Mr Bodger told an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority biofuels conference that although customers were not slow to contact the company with queries about the new fuel, and even with complaints of incorrect information from forecourt staff, there had been a complete absence of reports of engine malfunctions.
He admitted initial concern that there may have been isolated failures in older vehicles with too much water in their fuel tanks, because of water's high affinity with bioethanol. The energy efficiency authority recommends that the first fill of a car with bioethanol-blended petrol should be a big one, to increase the fuel's capacity to absorb any residual water.
But Mr Bodger said Gull could scarcely believe its good fortune in receiving not a single report of "phase-separation" from the presence of too much water for the fuel to absorb.
"My worst nightmare was of someone stopping at 5pm on a Friday on Spaghetti Junction and jamming up the motorway," he told the conference.
The Ministry of Transport hopes to have preliminary findings from the testing programme available for the introduction of a mandatory biofuel sales target starting at 0.53 per cent of overall petrol and diesel supplies this year and rising to 3.4 per cent in 2012.
But a proposed start date of July 1 may have to be delayed, because of indications that National, New Zealand First and United Future may oppose the Biofuels Bill unless clear rules can ensure ethanol made from "unsustainable" sources such as food plantations and rainforest clearings is not imported.
Senior ministry adviser Tony Frost said the tests would replicate most aspects of those conducted by Japanese vehicle manufacturers using a corrosion-accelerating substance on scoured fuel tanks to simulate hard-wearing conditions.
It was those initial tests which deterred the manufacturers from recommending blends with more than 3 per cent bioethanol for older vehicles made for the Japanese domestic market but exported secondhand to New Zealand.
But a big difference in the New Zealand tests would be the use of fuel with a corrosion-inhibiting additive, as supplied by Gull, to simulate real-life conditions.
The ministry's land transport environmental and safety general manager, David Crawford, expressed confidence last night that the tests would not reveal any unforeseen problems and would give motorists added confidence in using carbon-reducing biofuels.
"We are fairly confident the tests will say there is not a problem, but if there is, we need to know that too."