When the Viking hordes were running amok 1,000 years ago, they’d amuse themselves by pillaging villages and generally being rather unpleasant.
Thirsty work. But they brewed enough beer to keep themselves suitably refreshed and usually consumed enough to prompt them to head fearlessly into battle, often without any armor.
Nowadays, the wheat the Vikings once harvested to brew their aul, or ale, is being put to less barbaric and altogether more beneficial use.
As global efforts to develop cleaner fuels gather pace, wheat has emerged as an important commodity. It plays a vital role in the manufacture of ethanol, which in turn makes an important contribution to e-diesel.
Essentially, e-diesel is a blend of standard diesel oil containing up to 15% anhydrous ethanol (ethanol is manufactured by the fermentation of grains such as sugar cane, sugar beet, wheat, barley or corn and can also be made from cellulose).
What has Akzo Nobel got to do with all this? Well, you can’t just add the ethanol to the diesel and cross your fingers, a solubilizer additive (up to 5%) is needed to achieve blend stability.
The company’s Surface Chemistry business in Stenungsund, Sweden, has been developing such an e-diesel additive since 1998. Christened Beraid ED, the product is closing in on commercialization, which could happen within the next two years.
Hugely successful trials have already been held in Scandinavia, another is currently ongoing in Thailand, while China and India have also expressed interest.
Why all the fuss? Because e-diesel can reduce particulate emissions by up to 30% and substantially cut emissions of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, while extensive trials have also shown that standard heavy duty diesel engines can be run on e-diesel without the need for modifications.
“We recently completed a six-month test in Denmark and the results were much better than we expected,” explains Urban Löfvenberg, leader of the e-diesel project group who is based in Stenungsund.
“The test proved conclusively that particulates can be effectively reduced by simply adding ethanol to diesel fuel, along with a solubilizer additive, in this case Beraid ED 10, which enables ethanol and diesel to be splash-blended, even at low temperatures, without the need for any heating or special blending equipment.”
The Denmark test was conducted on two tankers which both covered a distance of 124,000 kilometers. One was fuelled with e-diesel, the other with standard diesel. The results showed that particulate emissions—considered to be the most harmful to humans—had been reduced by an average of about 30%.
is not a new area of business for Surface Chemistry. The BU has been supplying ignition improvers for pure ethanol engines since 1985, with one of the main customers being the Stockholm transport authority in Sweden, who run 250 pure ethanol buses in the city center.
Unsurprisingly, the same customer is very interested in e-diesel, especially since Scania announced that they will be stopping production of the pure ethanol engines.
“The plan in Stockholm is to run the entire bus fleet on e-diesel, apart from the 250 that currently use pure ethanol,” says Löfvenberg. “There is potential for supplying about 1,500 buses and a new trial using our additive will start in Stockholm during 2003."
But it’s not just Europe where Beraid ED is being tested. A trial which poses a very different challenge is also being staged in Thailand. Launched last summer, the aim is to develop a new bio-ethanol fuel for diesel vehicles, with Beraid ED once again center stage.
Löfvenberg says it will be at least two years before e-diesel is available commercially, but only for users such as fleet operators, bus companies and taxi firms.
In other words, it won’t find its way onto the high street forecourt. Löfvenberg is confident, however, that e-diesel’s day will come.
“It will be a kind of intermediate fuel,” he explains somewhat philosophically. “It will be used from now until we have some kind of fuel cells. For fuel cells they’re talking 15-20 years’ time, so I think e-diesel could have potential for about the next 20 years or so.”
But any switch to e-diesel would bring immediate environmental benefits, and two decades of cleaner air is a prospect most people would be more than happy with—even the Vikings would drink to that.