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Girl TORQUE: Holden & Biofuel


What's all the fuss about? And how does it effect us here in New Zealand?

The biggest news about Holden's Commodore Series II update is that it can run on any mix of petrol and ethanol from pure fossil fuel to E85 - 85 percent ethanol.

But that's not big news here in New Zealand, where few cars are rated to use it. While new-car manufacturers carry info on which models can run on what proportion of biofuel, used Japanese imports are rarely rated at over E3.

So it's tempting to wonder what the big fuss is about, and why Gull has decided to sell biofuel from every pump - starting with its Albany filling station, which now sells bioethanol blends at its petrol pumps, and B5 biodiesel manufactured by Te Kuiti-based company Environ Fuels, using recycled cooking oil.

I asked Holden NZ's managing director why Holden bothered to build Commodore to use E85, given it's still not freely available.

He said, "There are other products in Australia that can run on E85, in small numbers at the moment, but it gets back to the chicken and egg situation. Fundamentally E85 is part of our energy diversity strategy. There is no single solution to alternative fuels or propulsion, you need a range of solutions whether that's LPG, hybrid-electric, biodiesel or ethanol biofuel or blends."

He says Holden is future-proofing: "E85 isn't here yet, but when it is we are ready."

Some are more future-proof than others... Volkswagen NZ general manager Dean Sheed says all its diesel vehicles can use B5 with no modification to car or maintenance required, and some of them can use 100 percent biodiesel, including a few Passat, Golf and Polo variants.

There are several benefits to using biofuel. For example, it delivers fewer emissions, and reduces our dependency on imported fuel. Simon Carr says Holden is looking at the bigger picture.

"Nations like ourselves and Australia are dependant on imported fuel. Our reserves are small, energy security is a very important issue and creating an ethanol economy, or a biofuel economy, is an important part of the transportation future. If manufacturers like ourselves aren't willing to invest in the technology, that's one half of the equation."

Albeit a powerful one - as Carr says, "If every player in the automotive and fuel industry says it won't work, it'll become self fulfilling."

Meanwhile, as Toyota manager of product planning Bruce Buckland says, "The challenge is to grow the percentage blend at a responsible rate. There appears to be some that are impatient, and for commercial reasons want to sell higher blends than are suitable (for many vehicles). This increases the risks of vehicle damage, particularly long term."

In the end the decision isn't up to us. Which alternative fuels NZ uses is largely dictated by developments and vehicle manufacturing overseas.

So should you try it? If you have a New Zealand-new car, check with the manufacturer. Many list cars which are rated to use it on their website.

Good news if you're diesel's happy with B5 - it's easier on your wallet as government subsidies aimed at reducing the impact of transport on our carbon footprint mean it's a couple of cents a litre cheaper than the standard stuff.

Read past Girl TORQUE columns here.

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