Superethanol-E85: reasons for the crazy success of anti-crisis fuel

Bioethanol – or superethanol-E85 – has broken a new sales record in 2022 in France. Its consumption has grown by 83%, or more than 854 million liters in twelve months, rejoiced on Tuesday, January 24, the Bioethanol Collective, which at a press conference described the year as “exceptional”.

Marketed as superethanol-E85 or E85, bioethanol is a fuel in which ethanol replaces some of the gasoline found in conventional fuels and is produced from 80% French-produced agricultural alcohol, cereals (corn and wheat) or sugar beets. . in fields located, in particular, in the north or south-west of the country. More and more motorists are welcoming its price, which is 30% to 40% cheaper than other fuels, thanks to the favorable taxation “justified by its positive externalities,” says Nicolas Kursoglu, Engineer in Charge of Fuel at the National Agricultural Alcohol Syndicate. (SNPAA). ).

“As of January 20, 2023, the price difference is 76 cents/l, with an average pump price of 1.11 euros/l for superethanol and 1.87 euros/l for SP95-E10,” explains the L’Express engineer. “It should be noted that there is a 25% overrun between superethanol E85 and E10. Despite this, by using the E85 we save 24 euros per 50 liter fill. This amounts to 670 euros in savings per 20,000 kilometers,” he adds. Even if the box costs 1,000 euros, if you have help from the Île-de-France or Paca region up to 500 euros, it pays for itself very quickly.”

A box is sold “every four minutes”

To use this fuel, the first option is to buy a suitable vehicle and the second is to convert yours by installing an approved box called “flex fuel” in an approved garage. In 2022, 85,000 new boxes were installed across the industry compared to 30,000 in 2021, i.e. almost three times. Market leader Biomotors sold “one car every four minutes” last year, according to its managing director, Alexis Landriu.

Bioethanol now makes up 6.5% of the gasoline market – up from 4% in 2021 – and the number of filling stations offering it has increased by 20% to 3,300, the sector said. Half of motorists who drive on bioethanol use it for less than a year, according to a November survey by the Bioethanol Collective. “Among the events that played a trigger role, the increase in fuel prices is mentioned (74% are mentioned) and the environmental aspect associated with this biofuel (39% is mentioned),” she said.

“This fuel is interesting from an economic point of view, it is fundamental, but it is also more environmentally friendly: it reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, i.e. it prevents the emission of 1.8 million tons of CO2, which is the equivalent of 900,000 cars, and improves air quality by reducing the content of fine particles. by 90% compared to unleaded petrol,” explains Nicolas Kurstoglou. However, the environmental benefits of biofuels remain controversial. At the end of March 2022, the NGO Transport and Environment, for example, published a damning report condemning the use of grain to feed cars rather than the population, despite the “imminent risk of food shortages” exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. .

Together with a dozen other NGOs, Transport and the Environment thus called on “national governments to immediately stop the use of raw materials based on food and feed crops in biofuels” and the European Commission to “refrain from exerting pressure to open biodiversity areas for food production.” before he ran out of other options. The EU has indeed decided to temporarily suspend parrying in order to free up fertile land, increase production and thereby compensate for the production losses caused by the war in Ukraine.

Stable prices in 2023

Moreover, bioethanol has not escaped inflation. At French gas stations, E85 sells for 1.1083 euros per liter, according to data from the Ministry of Energy, arrested on January 20. However, according to the same source, at the beginning of 2022 it was sold at 0.7433 euros per liter, and at the beginning of 2021 at 0.6517 euros.

“Bioethanol prices have been hit by rising agricultural costs and energy prices, particularly gas, as reflected in the supply contracts negotiated between ethanol suppliers and fuel distributors for 2023,” the Bioethanol Collective emphasizes. The gas, whose price increased by 250% between January and August 2022 due to the consequences of the war in Ukraine, is indeed used to distill bioethanol in factories, explains Nicolas Kursoglou.

The price of bioethanol is set each year in autumn by contracts with farmers and depends, among other things, on the inflation index, which rose sharply last year. “Therefore, the price of E85 is stable for 2023,” the engineer emphasizes. On the other hand, gasoline prices are likely to fall in September 2023, and this will increase the price difference with unleaded gasoline in 2024.

There is still an unknown factor influencing the consequences of the decision of the French government to lift the third derogation allowing beet growers to use neonicotinoid insecticides. “In the absence of effective solutions, the area (beets) is likely to shrink significantly,” the sugar beet growers union (CGB) said, emphasizing that this would increase “the risk of massive imports of sugar or ethanol (from Brazil in particular).”

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