As fuel prices rise, will Australians adopt alternatives such as LPG and, also, Bio-Ethanol.
Liquid petroleum gas (LPG) has long been the domain of taxis and hire cars, but, as petrol pricing continues to rise at the bowser, does LPG provide an option that will attract the average motorist?
This year, both Ford and Holden have launched new electronically-controlled fuelling systems that have substantially improved the performance of their engines when running on LPG. Unfortunately, for both manufacturers, much of the expected appeal of these new developments has been diluted by the rising price of LPG at the bowser.
For the car or ute buyer, the gas option all comes down to whether or not the effort is worth the investment. Sure, it costs on average around $2,500-$3,000 to add a gas conversion to any vehicle, but, until now, part of that additional cost has been rebated to private car buyers through Government grant.
Using the older systems of LPG injection also resulted in a trade-off that amounted to around a ten percent reduction in performance and a worsening of fuel economy by about the same amount. This was, however, offset by the attraction for the user of the ability to fill the fuel tank for around half the comparable cost of using petrol or diesel.
The new LPG injection systems released by both Holden and Ford this year have closed the gap between both performance and economy of LPG versus standard unleaded petrol. What has also changed is that both these factory-developed LPG alternatives are now dedicated to LPG only, removing the option previously available that enabled a car or ute owner to choose between LPG or petrol in a vehicle designed to operate on both fuels.
Having an engine that is designed to only operate on one fuel brings the benefit of being able to tune the engine to run at its optimum level. Having to run on two different fuels means there’s always a compromise, and the trade-off comes by way of less efficiency and worse performance.
Both carmakers have tackled the development of the latest LPG systems in slightly different ways. Ford chose to develop a new liquid phase injection system, while Holden stayed with the older gas injection technology but improved its efficiency.
The Ford liquid phase injection system, developed in conjunction with Orbital engineering, is undoubtedly superior to the Holden system. But both systems provide vehicles that drive well and don’t suffer from the old complaints of poor starting and longer engine cranking cycles.
Where Ford left off was in looking at the development of other alternative fuels. This is where Holden picked up the ball and ran with it, producing a separate version of the VE Series II Commodore that would accept another fuel, that of E85 Bio-Ethanol.
Ethanol is now part of Australian motoring, with most bowsers including a ten percent mix of Ethanol to 90 percent unleaded fuel. The 85 percent ethanol mix was aimed at showing how a sustainable fuel could be a substitute, in the long term, for fossil fuels.
Currently, using E85 is only possible if you run a Holden Commodore VE Series II that conforms to Holden’s ecoline technology. There are benefits and disadvantages of using E85, and these relate to the octane rating, which in turn affects the fuel economy and performance available.
When compared to a litre of unleaded fuel, a litre of E85 contains less energy but has a higher octane rating. This means that, although your cruising range will decrease, the performance available from the engine will increase. So, while your fuel economy will suffer, you will notice an increase in performance. This factor has not been overlooked by the V8 supercar race teams, which all run competitively on ethanol. When fuel economy isn’t the driving factor, the fuel choice all comes down to the maximum gain available in performance.
Although, currently, only Holden has offered a car in Australia capable of running on E85, this fuel could well become more common in use in the relatively near future. Bio-Ethanol is a man-made fuel, not a fossil-based fuel, and its use can reduce CO2 emissions by 20-40 percent, compared with a petrol engine. Future production processes could potentially reduce the CO2 emissions levels by up to 90 percent, compared to petrol.
Technology is currently in development that will allow E85 to be created from everyday materials, including household waste. Currently, it’s made from sorghum and the by-products of the industrial production of wheat (starch) and sugar (molasses).
But, while your engine might be developed to run on E85, the problem within Australia is that of supply. Although fuel supplier, Caltex, has undertaken to supply E85 to a limited number of fuel outlets, there’s no suggestion that it’s either easy to find or, as yet, a practical alternative.
Delivery magazine’s sister publication, ECOcar, has been busy evaluating the two different LPG injection systems to determine whether the advantages of running on LPG continue to make an attractive option. For Delivery readers, the choice comes down to whether they want to run LPG versions of either the Falcon or Commodore ute, and just what benefits they might expect in service.
Ford offers its liquid phase LPG injection in the Xl, R6 and XR6 ute variants, in both cab-chassis and Styleside box configurations.
The new EcoLPi engine develops 198 kW of power at 5000 rpm and 409 Nm of torque at 3250 rpm, which is identical to the petrol I6 engine when operating on higher octane 95 RON unleaded fuel (versus regular 91 RON unleaded).
For EcoLPi, that represents a 27 percent improvement in maximum power and a 10 percent improvement in peak torque compared to the previous generation E-Gas LPG engine, which produced 156 kW and 371 Nm. Despite the significant increases in power and torque, fuel efficiency has also improved, along with a corresponding reduction in CO2 emissions. Further gains have been achieved by swapping from a four-speed auto to the six-speed ZF automatic.
Official ADR 81/02 fuel consumption certification testing on EcoLPi has returned combined cycle results of 12.5 l/100 km on Falcon XT and 12.6 l/100 km on XR6 models, which represent improvements of 16.1 percent and 15.4 percent respectively.
Similar reductions have also been achieved on CO2 emissions, with Falcon XT coming in at 203 g/km and XR6 models at 204 g/km – down from 240 g/km on the previous E-Gas system – representing improvements of 15.4 percent and 15 per-cent respectively.
The latest V6 petrol Commodore Omega ute petrol engine is the 3.0-litre SIDI direct-injection unit, which offers maximum power of 190 kW while matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. Move up to the petrol-fuelled 3.6-litre SIDI direct-injection petrol V6, offered in the SV6, and the power output increases to 210 kW with the option of either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.
The latest LPG-fuelled Omega gets the earlier version of the 3.6-litre V6 that drops maximum power output to 180 kW at 6,000 rpm, up from the previous LPG engine conversion that produced 174 kW. Peak torque is now 320 Nm and it’s teamed with the new six-speed automatic, replacing the previous four-speed automatic transmission.
When it comes to comparing torque outputs of alternative Holden engines, the 210 kW petrol V6 in the SV6 puts out 350 Nm at 2,900 rpm, while the 3.0-litre, 190 kW V6 in the normal sedan is rated at 290 Nm, again at 2,900 rpm.
As we reported in our last issue, the dedicated LPG engine is actually the previous 3.6-litre unit, and it runs with hardened valves and valve seats in order to provide the right degree of engine longevity.
It’s a double overhead camshaft design with four valves per cylinder and it’s been optimised to run on LPG only. The entire LPG fuel system has seen significant development, with new fuel injectors, fuel rail and LPG fuel filter, and it includes a new design of piston to cope with an increased compression ratio of 12.2:1 that takes full advantage of the higher octane rating of LPG. .
Specific fuel injectors have been developed to optimise fuel delivery – giving better performance, lower CO2 emissions and improved drivability and durability. The fuel control system has also been optimised in the areas of fuelling, spark advance and cam positioning.
Holden quotes the Omega LPG fuel consumption as 11.8 l/100 km for the auto version, and this compares to 10.9 l/100 km available from the 3.0-litre SIDI petrol-fuelled engine, and 10.1 l/100 km from the SV6 petrol 3.6-litre SIDI auto. In terms of emissions, the Omega ute LPG version emits 189 g/km of CO2, down from the 229 g/km figure of the 3.0-litre SIDI petrol motor and 236 g/km for the SV6 petrol-fuelled 3.6-litre SIDI engine.
Delivery’s test team found fuel economy and performance for the Ford system to now equal the results of using the latest petrol-fuelled alternative of the Falcon, at around 11.0 l/100 km. The figures for fuel economy available from the Commodore LPG system were not, however, identical, coming in at a regular 15 l/100 km equivalent.
These were actual on-road consumption figures and did not match the official Holden consumption figures. Driving styles for both vehicles were the same, as were the type of routes travelled, so the difference in fuel consumption results tends to quantify the improved efficiency of the liquid phase injection system used by Ford over the modified gas version retained by Holden.
What doesn’t change, fortunately, are the safety inclusions. Both utes retain five-star crash protection rating and come with four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake distribution, electronic brake assist and traction control as part of the electronic stability control package. Dual front driver and passenger airbags are standard, aided by side impact airbags, side curtain airbags, and automatic pre-tensioners on the three point seat belts.
The future of LPG and its greater adoption in utes and cars will depend solely on its cost competitiveness. As the federal government reduces the rebate for fitment and increases the tax on LPG, it totally changes the argument for its use, leaving the new breed of small capacity diesel engines firmly positioned as the better option.