Fiat cars plant with "40 years ethanol-fueled" logo

​Ethanol: the start of a new phase for the technological evolution of the engines

The fuel contributed to the strengthening of Brazilian engineering and the creation of other innovative solutions, such as the Fiat Grand Siena, the factory fitted CNG vehicle

July 19, 2019 - Remembering the launch of the first ethanol-powered car four decades ago is special not only for Fiat. The 40 year anniversary of the ethanol-fueled 147 is also an important landmark for Brazilian automotive engineering, which in 1979 put into gear the development of technologies for more efficient and less polluting vehicles.

Because of the new fuel derived from sugarcane, several car components needed to evolve rapidly and steadily, prompting manufacturers to develop new solutions and visualize other fuel sources for cars. "If we look at it from today’s perspective, where we have become accustomed to flexible engines, biofuels and even hybrid and electric alternatives, we will see that the decisive step in this scenario happened way back with the first alcohol-powered car", says engineer Everton Lopes , of SAE Brazil (Society of Engineers of Mobility).

Fiat ethanol engine

"At the time of the 147, the fuel injection system was the carburetor, which at first was not effective in containing the corrosion of ethanol. We, of course, adopted materials that protected the components, but at the same time we were working on reaching another level of technology, which would end up being the double carburetor all the way to the electronic fuel injection", recalls FCA Product Engineering supervisor Ronaldo Ávila. It was precisely the double carburetor technology that, in the early 1990s, brought yet another historic achievement for the brand: the quickest and fastest 1.0 car in the world, the Uno Mille Brio.

The evolution of the injection system improved the mixing of air and fuel in the engines. With this, there were significant gains in performance and, at the same time, consumption reduction. "With research we discovered the high power of ethanol as a gasoline additive. So much so that gasoline marketed today in Brazil is not pure, it contains a percentage of ethanol to, among other reasons, increase its resistance to knocking and improve performance", explains Everton Lopes.

All the baggage that Brazilian engineering acquired with ethanol engines was extremely beneficial in the era of biofuels of the 2000s. However, there were still challenges to be overcome. "Flex cars needed to work well with both gasoline and ethanol and finding the balance was not easy, because of different compression rates, for example", explains Renato Romio, head of the engines and vehicles division of the Mauá Institute of Technology.

At that time Fiat had innovated when it launched the 1.0 flex engines for the Mille Fire, the Palio Fire and the Siena Fire. "It was in 2005, when competitors only had bi-fuel options on larger displacement engines. We were the first to implement it at entry level cars", recalls Ronaldo Avila.

Fiat Grand Siena’s CNG engine compartmentFiat Grand Siena’s CNG engine compartment

The necessary fine tuning for the flex-fuel engines came with time and, in addition, new alternatives appeared in the market with the traditional pioneering approach of Fiat. Proof of this is the Grand Siena factory fitted for CNG. "CNG deserves greater attention from other manufacturers because it’s as clean and efficient as ethanol", says Everton Lopes of SAE Brazil.

For Ronaldo Ávila, the current cars from the FCA group are the right source for those who want to check out the technological advances achieved in 40 years since the debut of the ethanol fueled Fiat 147. "They are synonymous with energy efficiency and extremely modern features. The Fiat Toro and the Jeep Renegade, for example, no longer have cold start thanks, but instead there is a preheating system of the nozzles".

Director of Regulatory Affairs and Compliance at FCA, João Irineu confirms the high importance of ethanol for future Fiat launches in Brazil. "Ethanol was, is and always will be important to us. It’s one of the elements in one of the pillars of strategic points of the brand and it plays a very important role in reducing the greenhouse effect. We started 40 years ago with a carburetor system and today we work on turbocharging, direct injection and a host of other alternatives that will be incorporated into ethanol engines that, when compared to gasoline engines, will improve performance".

It is also worth remembering that ethanol continues to be a fuel of great importance for the Brazilian market, in order to achieve the commitments of the 2030 Agenda (a program that defines rules for the manufacturing of automobiles produced and marketed in Brazil for the next 15 years) and further improve energy efficiency and reduce pollutants. "Ethanol doesn’t degrade the vehicle as much and contributes to reducing the greenhouse effect. It’s no surprise that 2030 Agenda will benefit the brands that can increase the efficiency of their cars with alcohol [better performance and lower consumption], something that will benefit both the environment and the consumers", says Everton Lopes.

Words: Leandro Alvares

Pictures: Marketing

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