PARIS -- Audi has joined forces with a French biotech company to solve the two big problems that have been holding back biofuels.
On a windy morning at a track near Paris this month, the automaker started testing gasoline blended with 34 percent of a biofuel produced from sugar beet waste in one of its A4 sedans. Unlike ethanol, which requires special engines when used in large proportions, the new blend can work in any car engine without modification.
As automakers are rushing to develop electric and hybrid vehicles in response to stricter emission rules, biofuel manufacturers are jockeying to find a future in that revolution by touting their crop-based energy as friendlier for the environment than gasoline. The big issue is they must prove large-scale biofuel production won't worsen deforestation, nor use food or animal feeds to avoid criticism that they are jacking up prices and starving the poor.
"We're using the non-eatable part of the sugar beet," said Marc Delcourt, Chief Executive Officer of Global Bioenergies, the French company that made the bio gasoline tested by Audi. "No resources must be competing with human food."
The biofuel that powered the Audi A4 around the circuit near Paris originated at Global Bioenergies's demo plant in Leuna, Germany, and was converted by the country's Fraunhofer Institute into gasoline additives. The company has 32 patents to develop bacteria which transforms sugar found in corn, beet, wheat straw and wood chips into isobutene, a hydrocarbon usually derived from oil, which ended up in the Audi engine.
Global Bioenergies is also working with European chemicals makers Clariant and Ineos Group to extract glucose from wheat straw and convert it into hydrocarbons as it seeks to address the food versus fuel debate that has dogged biofuel makers for years. Clariant's technology is "mature," Delcourt said, without giving details of when this gasoline mix will be commercially available.