Has Prince Charles Really Got an Aston Martin Powered by Wine?
What a lot of us do not realise is that the first internal combustion engines didn’t run on petrol or diesel, but on ethanol and cooking oil, basically. Our favourite fossil fuels have become commonplace, simply because they pack a lot more bang for your buck than biofuels in general. Even now, though, and with just a few modifications, you can run a standard car on biofuels, LPG, heating oils, secondhand cooking fats and even alcohol—in fact, just about anything that burns.
The most common alternative fuel at the moment is not electricity—it is bioethanol. This is commonly blended into fuel around the world in relatively small amounts of between 5 and 10%. But some people go a little further and modify their cars to accept a much higher ratio of bio-content, such as Prince Chares did with his Aston Martin.
To say that the successor to the throne in the United Kingdom runs his car on wine is a little bit wrong, though. He did modify his car—and you have to like his style, doing it to an Aston Martin—to run on a fuel known as E85: 85% bioethanol and 15% regular fuel. The bioethanol in question can be sourced from a variety of sources, which does include wine, but don’t go thinking that he simply pours wine into his fuel tank; he doesn’t, as it wouldn’t work.
There are a number of alcohols that readily burn when you put a naked flame to them. I don’t have to cast my mind back too far to remember the flaming Christmas pudding; bioethanol is similar to the brandy we use during the festive season then, but with a lot more alcohol in it, but I wouldn’t go soaking my Christmas dessert in it. So, wine with about 12-14% alcohol just will not power a car.
It is called bioethanol because it is sourced from food crops or ‘surplus bio-mass’ and not from fossil fuel, with one of the great sources being the leftover mash from the whisky-distilling industry. Most modern cars, post year-2000, will run quite happily on E10, but cars before that are likely to have a problem. One of the big drawbacks, though, is that above E10, the fuel will have a problem working properly at lower temperatures, particularly if you are using cooking oils in diesels.
So, if biofuels are readily available, shouldn’t we all be using them to power our favourite rides? Steady on now, not so fast. In theory, the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by these fuel crops should balance off the amount given off when we burn them in your engine. But it is not as simple as that. Much of the bioethanol comes from the likes of palm oil, the environmental impact of which is being fiercely debated at present.
Other critics simply point out the impact on world hunger if we start to devote food-growing land to producing fuel for transportation.
So, bioethanol can be made from waste biomass, like Prince Charles has done to his Aston Martin. The impact that this could have in the world’s fight to slow global warming, though, is arguable; after all, you still have to burn the stuff and the exhaust still spews out of the tailpipes.
Converting an Aston to E85 is obviously a step in the right direction, although perhaps he should have considered doing to a car that is perhaps a little more green in the first place.