Alcohol Powered Imported Brazilian Cars

Believe it or not, factory-built Brazilian cars that run on renewable alcohol fuel are available now.

| May/June 1981

  • 069 brazilian cars - white chevy
    This 1981 Chevy is one of 1,000 Brazilian cars an Alabama group purchased to promote alcohol powered cars in the U.S.
  • 069 brazilian cars - alcool label
    The left fender of the alcohol-powered Chevy sports an "Alcool" label.

  • 069 brazilian cars - white chevy
  • 069 brazilian cars - alcool label

As regular readers of this magazine know, the subject of alcohol motor fuel has been discussed in these pages for well over two years now. We've covered just about every phase of ethanol manufacture and use from legal requirements to hardware, and from raw materials to auto conversions. Our editors have been to Brazil to see, firsthand, the "alcohol-powered" Brazilian cars that are helping the nation get out from under the thumb of the petrol-producing countries, while our seminar staff has been educating all comers—both on the road and here in North Carolina—in the finer points of ethanol production.

And it looks as if such efforts are helping other folks push for the use of the homegrown fuel. The following is the story of what one small group is doing to help our nation along on the road to energy independence and—at the same time—offer a "second chance" to the thousands of small-scale farmers who desperately need a way out of the multifaceted economic squeeze that's forcing them from their land.

One of the most pointed questions raised by skeptics of the alcohol-for-fuel movement involves not, as one might expect, supply (although that is certainly a consideration), but use. Because the efficiency of any size ethanol manufacturing plant can be improved, to a point, by utilizing the "volume" techniques employed in the large alcohol "factories," even a small (by industry standards) alcohol producer might have a potential production capacity of several hundred gallons per day. But unless the product is anhydrous—an unlikely prospect in the case of most on-farm manufacturers—he or she may well have difficulty finding a profitable market for the ethanol.

This problem exists primarily because most fuel alcohol produced today is used in the blending of gasohol, and thus must be of 200-proof quality. There simply aren't enough straight-ethanol vehicles around to warrant the establishment of service stations selling 185-proof alcohol. And, even though commercial distilleries will purchase hydrated fuel in order to then drive the water from it themselves, the prices they'll pay to suppliers when doing so often don't allow a comfortable profit margin.

The Sao Paulo Connection

The solution to our lack of markets for "straight" fuel ethanol seems obvious: Engine manufacturers just have to build or convert their equipment to run on alcohol, then offer it for sale along with their conventionally fueled wares. Unfortunately, most firms are unwilling to invest in what must still be considered an unsure market.

On the other hand, there are already vehicles—in Brazil, where an intense pro-alcohol program is underway—that are factory-made to burn the clean, renewable fuel. Recently a group of Alabama-based businessmen chose to make the ethanol-powered imports available in the United States!

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