Flex Fuel Engine Mechanism: You must have heard that film dialogue; Amitabh Bachchan asks, “I have a car, a bungalow, a bank balance. what do you have?” The answer comes- “I have a mother.” Relating to today’s news, the dialogue will be made, “Petrol-diesel is expensive, no problem. But we have ethanol.”
Yes, we are talking about alternative fuel. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said on Thursday, October 21, that the Center would make flex-fuel engines mandatory for all types of vehicles in six months. These engines can run on more than one fuel.
What is the whole matter? And how ethanol can be a good substitute for the fuel of vehicles. How will the engines work? What will the rate be? Overall, how much difference will it make on our transportation? I will understand everything in detail.
Let’s start from the beginning. One day some friends of ours were sipping tea at a tea stall. They say that if you don’t have a cup of tea in your hand, then the things that happen at that time are incredible. One thing also came to my mind. I told a friend, “Inflation is increasing, in English, Inflation. This is the current status of petrol and diesel prices. The world is running out of oil. What will happen next?”
The question was related to the future. If such questions come in the middle of entertainment, then the expressions on the listeners’ faces become serious. Still, there were many questions and answers. And the matter rests on the statement of Nitin Gadkari, which we told you in the beginning.
Union Minister Nitin Gadkari Statement
According to a report published in The Times of India, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said that the central government would make flex-fuel engines mandatory for all vehicles in the next six months. These engines can run on more than one type of fuel. Speaking at an event in Delhi, Gadkari further said,
“Given the rising prices of petrol and diesel, there is a need for alternative fuels. Ethanol, CNG, Bio-LNG and Electric are some of the available options. Among them, ethanol is the cheapest.”
Gadkari also said that he has spoken to Vikram Kirloskar of Toyota-Kirloskar Motors. Vikram has told them that they are ready to launch flex-fuel engines which can run on 100% petrol or 100% ethanol, complying with Euro-VI-emission parameters.
According to Gadkari, he has asked the MD of TVS and Bajaj Group to make two-wheelers that can run on ethanol, and they, that is, TVs and Bajaj, are ready for it.
Now hearing this news rings the bell of the mind and a question comes: What is this flex-fuel engine after all? So let’s understand.
What is Flex-Fuel Engine
Before understanding flex-fuel engines, understand non-conventional fuel, i.e. alternative fuel and fossil fuel, i.e. fossil fuel. Unconventional fuel. Those that are not traditionally used. Understand that if the cow and buffalo milk we drink is called conventional milk, then soy milk and milk powder will be called unconventional milk, i.e. unconventional milk.
Similarly, methane gas comes out of the Gobar gas plant, used for cooking in the kitchen. It can be called unconventional fuel. Solar energy can also be called a similar fuel. Suppose these fossil fuels, i.e. fossil fuels, are different from those which are conventional. Also, understand fossil fuels in a better way.
You must have read in science books. After millions of years of dead plants and animals being deposited in the ocean sediments, a thick layer becomes like this. And when there is the pressure of seawater on it for millions of years, then heat increases inside this slit. Crude oil is made from this heat. This process is very long.
And is still going on today. How? I will tell you sometime. For now, understand that the crude oil made in this process is called fossil fuel. Later, refineries refine this oil extracted from the sea. And we get pure petrol and diesel etc. Now let’s talk about Flex Fuel Engine.
Now on to the Flex Fuel Engine. This is an engine running on alternative fuel, i.e. unconventional fuel. Which is designed to run on more than one type of fuel. What is Flex Fuel? This is not a new term; the same unconventional fuel is called flex-fuel, which we have just mentioned.
Yes, Flex Fuel has been given this new name because of its flexibility, i.e. ease of use and cost-effectiveness. Yes, one unique thing about flex-fuel is that it is a mixture of two different fuels. We will talk about the percentage etc., but if we talk about its components, the fuel made by mixing ethanol or methanol with gasoline is flex-fuel.
The technology of Flex Fuel Engines is such that different types of fuels used to run them can be stored in a single tank. Don’t get confused between a flex-fuel engine and a bi-fuel engine. Bi-fuel machines are different.
Bi means two. These two fuels are stored in two different tanks. And the engine runs on one fuel at a time, now what can these other fuels be? Any two, such as compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or petrol.
Suppose my car runs on petrol plus CNG. This means the engine of the car is a bi-fuel engine. If there is a by-fuel engine, then the fuel tanks will also be two. In which two separate fuels will be filled. There is CNG in a tank. Drive the car on it and petrol on the other. When the car is not to be run on gas, then by changing the fuel mode of the engine, the vehicle will run on petrol.
A flex-fuel engine is also different from a bi-fuel engine because it has an internal combustion process. Internal combustion means the burning of fuel in the engine itself. Due to which up to 83% of the flex-fuel made from a mixture of gasoline and ethanol is combusted. Apart from this, flex-fuel vehicles have a single fuel system, and most of the components, i.e. parts, of this fuel system are almost the same type as the old ‘gasoline only car’.
This was the basic idea of the flex-fuel engine. It is now coming to the prices of ethanol and petrol. Petrol price is sitting at number 100, but the cost of ethanol is Rs 55 per litre. Mane almost half the price of gasoline. In this sense, it seems like a good option.
Now if you have a car in your house, then it will run on petrol or diesel. It is a different matter if there is a facility with CNG gas. But when it comes to the price in the market, both petrol and diesel have increased their prices like getting angry with vehicle owners. In such a situation, we have two options: either we convince the furious and wait when their price meter goes down or see the second option, let’s bring someone else instead.
Choose which option
Bring someone else. But to whom? The answer is ethanol. Ethanol is cheaper than petrol and diesel. That’s why its name is Flex Fuel. Flex means an abbreviated form of ‘flexibility. Which means flexibility. Flex-fuel has one more advantage.
Going back to Nitin Gadkari’s news, Nitin Gadkari also said one thing about ‘Flex Engine’: BMW, Mercedes and Toyota vehicles in America, Brazil and Canada have flex engines. Due to which farmers also get back up.
Now the thing to think about is that what has the flexible engine to do with agriculture. There is a direct connection because ethanol is extracted from maize, sugarcane, rice and barley etc. Especially from corn. Now suppose in-future ethanol best fuel comes into play, what will happen? The income of farmers growing ethanol-producing crops will increase.
There are more benefits of using flex-fuel instead of petrol.
The technology of Flex-Fuel Engine is excellent. The fuel blender sensor is used in the engine. Due to which the engine automatically adjusts the quantity of fuel in the fuel mixture. Which fuel will remain in the mane fuel mixture. The engine decides. When the vehicle starts moving, these sensors measure the ethanol/methanol and gasoline ratio and—the Flex made by mixing these two reads the concentration of alcohol in the fuel.
After this, the engine’s electronic control module works. The fuel sensor sends a signal to this module. The control module’s job is to control which fuel is to be delivered from the tank to the engine in what quantity. Now with the help of this technology, the advantage is that there will be no fuel wastage. The efficiency of the engine, i.e. efficiency, will also increase.
The second advantage is the ‘sustainability of the fuel.’ That is durability. Flex-fuel usually contains about 15 to 85 per cent ethanol. Now since ethanol is made from sugarcane and maize, its sustainability cannot be doubted. Like less fossil fuel, it should not be mined or refined as long as there are fossil fuel reserves.
Work is going on; what will happen later? This type of problem is not with the flex-fuel, because as long as there is farming. Flex-fuel will continue to be produced. This production can also be increased and as much as you want. There is no limit to fossil fuel.
How will the performance be? The first thing is that in today’s era, what happens without technology. A modern vehicle can have up to 80 ECUs. ECU means electronic control unit. The range of functions of these electronic control units is extensive. Fuel injection means delivering fuel to the engine to control the temperature of the chamber.
The fuel running mechanism in an engine running on flex-fuel works in conjunction with the vehicle’s ECU, i.e. Electronic Control Unit. With great cooperation. Due to which it becomes easy to get the best possible mileage. Flex fuels prove to be good in this regard as well.
Another significant issue is that of pollution. The Flex is undoubtedly better than petrol and diesel in terms of fuel combustion. Although not wholly environment friendly, but far better than pure fossil fuels.
The question can also be that whether the engine of a vehicle which is petrol driven will run on flex-fuel also? The answer is that yes, it is possible. Any car with a spark-ignition engine can run on flex-fuel as well. Just the same technical changes will have to be done in it. For example, setting up sensors, setting up control modules, etc.
Flex Engine FAQ
And now, when the minister has already announced that it will be mandatory to install flex engines in all the vehicles in the coming six months. In such a situation, with this new thing, many more questions will come to your mind. Like the cost of ethanol-based flex-fuel, its availability, how much better flex-fuel is than conventional fuels, etc. So let’s try to answer these questions as well.
What is the benefit of mixing ethanol in petrol?
See the price of petrol is Rs 100/litre. The price of ethanol is Rs 60/litre. Ethanol is cheap in terms of price. But if you get it, then even petrol will not. And then, the performance of gasoline was also better than ethanol (same thing with calorific value). Now, what is this calorific value? Let us understand it first. Will come forward on price and work.
What is Calorific Value?
The calorific value of being can be measured in any constant, such as ‘kilojoule per kilo’, ‘kilowatt per cubic meter. But let us use ‘megajoule per kg’ for convenience. ‘MJ/Kg’ means how many megajoules of energy is produced by one kilogram of fuel. Thus, the higher the calorific value of a fuel, the better the fuel, which means providing energy.
Well, you must have heard calories and kilocalories in the section on health and wellness, so understand that the same calorific value is being talked about there too. Or know that the matter is in this context. At the core of both is ‘energy’. Sujit Saurabh tells about the calorific value of ethanol-
“You will not be able to use ethanol as a single fuel because the calorific value of ethanol is meagre.
How low? While the calorific value of diesel ranges from 40 to 45 MJ/Kg, the calorific value of ethanol is only 26 to 27 MJ/Kg. It is clear that if it is mixed with diesel, petrol, etc., there is benefit or savings.
Meaning it has become clear that the base fuel will remain petrol-diesel, but the question is, how many toppings should be kept in this pizza base, meaning how much ethanol should be mixed in petrol?
To understand the comparison of the two, you are getting bean quality rice at different rates in the market; one has pebbles, the other does not. In which there are pebbles, its rate is 60 rupees/kg. And in which there is no, its rate is 100 rupees/kg. So if someone asks, “Which rice will be the best of the two?” There are several things you need to know:
The first thing is, how many pebbles are there in 60 rupees of rice? That is, how much yield (rice) will come out of it. Now set the analogy of these rice with ethanol-petrol. So the question is, okay, ethanol is cheaper than petrol but does not have to burn a quarter-litre or one and a half litres of ethanol for the same amount of energy released from one litre of petrol?
Now, if we assume that pebbled rice is getting cheaper according to the first answer, is it not just ‘prima facies? Meaning it will take time to pick the pebbled rice. Resources will be accepted. And those who say time is money will already reject this rice. Ethanol seems to be a cheaper option at first glance as compared to similar petrol, but the question is, what effect will it have on your engine?
The question is also whether some modification will have to be done in the engine? Which we know that we have to do. And despite all this, is ethanol or ethanol mixed petrol still a cheaper alternative?
Look, we will take the first and second questions forward. But the answer to the third question is complicated. Because there are so many variables, ethanol will not be used as a substitute for petrol, but a mixture of ethanol-petrol will be used as a substitute. So this comparison is not between rice without pebbles and rice without stones, but this comparison is between a mixture of ‘pebble rice’ and ‘rice without pebbles plus rice with pebbles’.
Although a ‘fair idea’ we get from a statistic that-
Fuel efficiency is reduced by 6-7% when the E20 is inserted into vehicles built for E0 and calibrated for E10. Here E20 means petrol that contains 20% ethanol. And similarly, E0 and E10 petrol includes 0% and 10% ethanol.
Thus, if a vehicle is designed to run on petrol only but calibrated/modified for 10% ethanol mix petrol, 20% ethanol mixed petrol is added to it. The vehicle that used to run 15 kilometres in a litre would be (rough) will run 14 km.
Also, when the demand for ethanol increases, what is the guarantee that it will not become expensive gradually? And this gives rise to the second question.
How much is the availability of ethanol?
To know the status of the availability of ethanol in India, we had to read a PDF of NITI Aayog. From which what is understood roughly is that:
India’s ethanol production capacity is 426 million litres (molasses-based) and 258 million litres (cereal-based). It is proposed to increase it to 760 crore litres and 740 crore litres, respectively. Not only will 1016 crore litres of EBP (Ethanol Based Petrol) be produced from this much ethanol, but the remaining 334 crore litres of ethanol can be used for other purposes.
Now the question is, is this enough? Let’s not get into the figures; even then, it is clear that even if our product does not come under ‘Cumin in Camel’s Mouth’, it still comes in the variety of ‘Delhi Door Hai’. The question becomes justified whether ethanol or EBP will also become expensive if the demand increases. And the answer lies in the future. However, in response to this question, auto expert Tutu Dhawan says:
“Ethanol is a ‘by-product’ of agriculture so that it can be produced very easily and cheaply. Meaning ethanol production is not a ‘big deal’. It is produced in villages. Of course, only for use locally. And as demand increases, production will also increase.”
By the way, the news also confirms the point of Tutu Dhawan. on July 14, 2021. According to which BPCL is going to set up an ethanol plant in Telangana. And in this, he will invest one thousand crores.
Will engine performance make a difference?
When we put this question in front of Tutu Dhawan, he told-
“Cars have ECM installed. Electronic control module. Which will set the tolerance according to the mixture of EBP. But if the ratio becomes too bad, then there is a possibility of engine failure. It overheats.”
Mr Dhawan also tells about the Flex Engine-
“Nowadays, the name flex engine is not heard so much. But 50-60 years ago today, kerosene was mixed with petrol and poured into the machine. The amount of petrol in it was significantly less, and the amount of kerosene was very high. Kerosene was also cheap then. So this mixture of kerosene-petrol was used in large quantities.
A similar flex engine will only run on ethanol (or with EBP in which the ethanol content will be much higher than that of petrol). This engine will also come fitted from the factory.
Has it been arranged at petrol pumps?
Auto expert Tutu Dhawan tells about this-
“There is no change in the petrol pump for EBP. It comes mixed from behind. Meaning the blending takes place in the refineries. The petrol pump does not require any preparation, modification or calibration. Similarly, when we talk about the engine of the vehicles, then the things related to it are also set at the factory level; nothing has to be done at the consumer level.
That’s all for today in simple language. Then again, with complex questions, if a new discipline comes into our life, we will come back with its explainer. Thanks for till then.