Thai Life


The Riddle of Gasohol

Recently the Thai Government has been promoting the use of locally derived ethanol (from agricultural sources) at varying concentrations in petrol. Known as Gasohol the benefits are : Cheaper fuel, less reliance on foreign imports, conserves existing fuel reserves and pollutes less.

Unfortunately the advantages are equally mirrored by the draw-backs. Namely that food prices increase as fields previously used for the local market are taken up for the production of gasohol sourced products. The second problem is that hydrocarbon-based fuels have a very dense chemical structure and alcohol-based fuels are not as dense. In layman's terms this can mean that the you would need to use more organic/alcohol based fuels to go the same distance as 91 or 95 octane fuels.
A third (some say crucial flaw) draw-back is that the organic nature of Gasohol petroleum can cause complications and problems for engines that aren't designed to run on the stuff. The gasohol mix that contains more than 10% can aggravate an engines problems even further. Specifically, if an engine uses a carburettor the density difference will mean the float-chamber is out-of-sync and severe performance problems can result. Metal fatigue has bee reported in small Honda Engines and there is a high risk of rotting the rubber parts and seals in the fuel lines. With an increased ethanol additive this could lead to accelerated engine wear and break-down as well.
In fact only the very latest (ie 2007) engines tend to come with a specific manufacturers endorsement that they are 100% gasohol compatible. As one expat put it:

"The average Thai consumer's purchasing decision is cost based, and he/she has little to no knowledge on the technical issues. Put simply gasohol is not compatible with a vast majority of vehicles on Thai roads, and in fact is unsafe in many."

As many expats already are aware there were three main fuels available in Thailand: Diesel
91 Octane aka Benzine 91- slightly cheaper than 95
95 Octane aka Benzine 95 - slightly dearer than 91 but more suitable for high performance engines (typically turbo and supercharged ones). Ideally they should be 99 octane + but that's another story. ;)

Now that gasohol has entered the scene there are two 'new' fuels to choose from: 91 Gasohol and 95 Gasohol, both mixes at 10% concentration.
As of 8th January 2008 95 Octane petrol is very scarce and only a few gas stations in Thailand still have it due to the refineries bowing to government pressure to encourage gasohol. This is a shame as many of the high performance bikes and cars in Thailand use this fuel for best results.
The Thai government seems to be overpromoting gasohol while not realising that few of Thailands vehicles can use gasohol without risking engine damage!

According to a source in BMW, they are working on a solution to fix the wear and tear problems imposed by gasohol but the solution will be at least 2 to 3 years away.

91 Octane is still available for those of us who value the performance and state of our bikes/cars and this gives near-similar performance compared to 95 Octane. Unfortunately even this budget fuel is under threat by the powers-that-be who have declared that it is to be phased out by 2012 in favour of 20% Ethanol Gasohol (E80).

Whether the government will see sense, manufacturers will be able to guarantee engine compatibility or the unfortunate bikers and petrol heads will have to replace our machines with ones that are fuel-injected/compatible remains to be seen. It could well be that in the near-future there will be a glut of cheap bikes up for sale!

Thai politics are a changing entity so watch this space for updates!

Farang columnist Johnny BThis section is hosted by our resident columnist Johnny B. who has been living in Thailand for seven years now and currently is based out of Bangkok.

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