A particular type of irony: Sweden of all countries, who intends to control the alcoholophilia of its people through high taxation on beer, wine and schnapps, is now concentrating on alcohol and is even promoting the nationwide consumption of the substance chemically known as ethanol in petrol stations throughout the country. However this schnapps is not destined to run down the throats of the Scandinavian people and thus raise to new heights the traditional addiction to excessive partying, but instead should reach fuel tanks in cars.
Sweden's government has resolved to become the first country in the world to have freed itself from the drug that is natural oil by the year 2020. It should above all manage to turn the country's enormous sources of wood into organic fuel using the latest sustainable technology. It has only recently become possible using inexpensive enzymes from sugar to obtain alcohol from cell material that is found in wood, straw and organic waste.
"Flexifuel" (Petrol station identification code E85) is thus the magic word of the hour: a mix of 85 percent ethanol (so pure alcohol) and 15 percent normal petrol. However a special adapted engine is needed for this type of fuel, because the spirit is more aggressive, the expenditure is however far from that which is necessary for hydrogen vehicle engines and natural gas aggregates. Even the necessary modifications to petrol stations are minimal.
In Sweden a car that can go with almost any mixture out of ethanol and petrol currently costs about the same as a similar diesel car. Volvo spokesman Christer Gustafsson in an interview: "The difference for a Volvo S40 comes to around 200 to 300 euros, meaning that the new fuel is not only cheaper, but also extremely environmentally friendly and in addition the engine gives a few more HP performance" (with a slightly higher consumption).
Actually, in comparison with pure petrol, the burning of this new fuel produces 80 percent less of the greenhouse gas CO2. Figures show the arrival of the nationwide promotion of this program by Sweden – cheaper spirit, no city toll for Stockholm, cheaper parking – alone in March, 15 percent of all the new approved vehicles of such environmentally friendly cars (mainly offered by Ford, Saab ad Volvo) were ready. And shortly afterwards Saab presented its first Flexifuel Cabriolet.
Sweden's government – above all Mona Sahlin, Minister for sustainable development – is very content, because, as the oil prices have once again reached new records, the programme that even industry is integrated into, is already having a positive impact on the national budget and the competitive position of the country.
Despite everything that up till now crude oil has needed, changing to ethanol is however not the energy solution for all countries in the world. In any case Brazil has since the 70s been demonstrating how far one can go with it. Up till today the country turned the raw sugar from its gigantic plantations into organic spirit and does not have to rely on petrol because of its huge area of cultivable land. Sweden on the other hand will pay a high price for its oil-phase out by 2020: the nuclear power must once again be forced in order to provide the industry with oil-free energy. Environment experts are asking themselves with regards to these views what the lesser evil is.
But there are other countries who are in luck by having lots of hydro power at their disposal and being able to use fallow cultivable land because of resigning countrymen in order to take the first steps towards "oil independence" in a similar way...