Volvo's Bi-Fuel Technology Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary

Volvo Cars’ Bi-Fuel technology for methane made its debut in 1995 in a Volvo 850, and the technology has undergone steady refinement during its ten years on the market. Since production of the latest generation of Bi-Fuel engines got under way in 2001, sales have met with considerable success and more than 12 000 cars (7 500 powered by methane and 4 500 by LPG) have been sold in Europe. Volvo has a leading position and the company’s largest markets for methane-powered cars are Sweden, Germany and Italy.

Several of Volvo’s car models feature Bi-Fuel engines, running on methane with petrol as back up, a combination that offers benefits to consumer and environment alike. The Bi-Fuel concept offers better environmental properties and lower running costs without impairing the driving pleasure, comfort, safety or versatility that are such renowned hallmarks of any Volvo car.

The five-cylinder 2.4-litre Bi-Fuel engine for the Volvo S80, Volvo V70 and Volvo S60 is powered by methane (natural gas or biogas). Maximum power output is 140 hp with both methane and petrol.

Two kinds of methane

Methane is a combustible gas, which is obtained in two ways. It can be extracted from the earth’s crust in the form of natural gas, or from waste sludge and biological waste as biogas. What is more, carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to the greenhouse effect, are about 25% lower for methane than when running on petrol. Biogas forms part of the natural ecocycle and therefore makes a zero net contribution to the greenhouse effect.

Available in most European countries

Methane gas is available in most European countries, with a total of about 2 000 public filling stations - and the number is increasing rapidly, especially in Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. A few examples:

Up to now, biogas has been produced on a small scale but interest in this clean fuel is growing. The Volvo Car Corporation’s home country of Sweden provides an excellent example of how biogas is produced from waste and is systematically added to the existing distribution of natural gas.

An economical choice for the environment and the wallet

The increasing focus on the need to limit greenhouse gas emissions has led to initiatives that support the establishment of alternative fuel systems in many countries. In some regions, owners of methane gas-powered vehicles are offered exclusive advantages such as free city-centre parking, access to bus lanes and to parts of towns normally closed to traffic, or permission to use their cars when restrictions apply to conventional cars. In several countries, the tax system favours ownership of cars that can run on alternative fuels.

The cost of a methane-fuelled engine makes the price of a new car slightly higher, but driving on methane generally means significantly lower operating costs - and the higher purchase price is quickly recovered through lower fuel costs. Depending on the market, the cost of driving on methane is 20–60 per cent lower than for petrol and between 20 and 40 per cent lower than when running on diesel.

Long range - without affecting load space

The original Volvo 850 estate car model had the gas tank installed in the luggage compartment. Since 2001, however, the gas tanks have been concealed under the floor. This gives the owner access to the same generous load space as in petrol- and diesel-powered models. The ability to create an individualised car is of course also the same. You can cover about 250–300 km on a tank of methane. The backup petrol tank gives you an additional 300–350 km of range. The ability to switch from methane to petrol gives the flexibility to fill up everywhere.

Bi-Fuel engines are factory-fitted and the cars are collision-tested to meet Volvo’s strict safety requirements.

Published : 03/03/05 Author : Melanie Carter

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