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Bangkok Post (Thailand): Getting cosy with gasohol

ALFRED THA HLA,
Published: May 25, 2007

The Shell Company of Thailand and the Bangkok Post are within five minutes walking distance from each other, which is why both companies can lay claim to the city’s most delicious duck noodle shop just around the corner of Na Ranong Road.

Folks, having a panoramic view of a fuel depot isn’t high on my wish list. But such proximity allowed yours truly to walk back to his office in the drizzle in order to “refuel” with alkaline batteries for the S9500 digital camera, writing pad and pens before running back to make it in time for this exclusive with Chaovalit Mahatumaratana, Senior Technical Advisor Asia Envelope for Shell.

The man oversees Shell operations on fuel quality assurance in countries such as India and Indonesia, both of which recently opened their fuel markets to Shell.

Shifting back to the gist of this one-on-one – actually, Chaovalit had Weera Buranasajja sit in as well because the latter is filling in as the new Mekhong fuels technical manager, previous position of the former – as Chaovalit made an earnest attempt to purge the impurities and negative stereotypes of gasohol.

But before reading any further, first understand the difference between benzine and benzene as Chaovalit explained to Motoring.

Benzine is the expensive stuff made from a mixture of petrochemicals – used to cost as high as B30 per litre when you-know-who was running state affairs, dipped temporarily but recently climbed back over B30 – and goes into your fuel tank.

Benzene is a single molecule chemical made up of hydrocarbon atoms that is hazardous and is used for industrial purposes.

That said, gasohol as we all know is 90% benzine (or petrol as we commonly call) with 10% alcohol.

The government has yet to phase out benzine octane 95 from the market as planned, but how the Thai motorist actually reacts is a different story.

“Hard to say. We can’t guess now, but the consumer isn’t confident about gasohol. The automobile companies have no problems with gasohol. It all comes down to personal confidence and a small group of technicians in the automotive industry.

“It’s like a doctor treating a patient. Once the effects of gasohol are diagnosed, the doctor asks why did the patient use gasohol and concurred that it had negative effects without proof.”

And what about high performance cars?

Chaovalit offered three options: engine modification, octane booster for benzine 91 or import a special lot with specifications waive from the government.

Asked to comment whether a potential black market for benzine 95 will emerge, he said: “Hard to guess. Some might blend a special fuel, but it’s the same as smuggling.”

Whether the consumer is being educated on gasohol’s corrosive effects is a touchy subject, but Chaovalit noted that the consumer simply “doesn’t know gasohol”.

He explained: “Some know its negative effects which have been posted on certain websites, but benzine ULG 95 could phase out by itself because the refineries might not produce it anymore.

“The corrosive quality of gasohol depends on the quality of the ethanol. If the ethanol meets the standards of the Department of Energy Business (Ministry of Energy) then there’s no problem.”

The corrosiveness of gasohol is attributed to the impurities such as acids, but Shell admits that there are minimal effects on zinc and aluminum while genuine rubber (OEM) components are compatible with gasohol.

“Even the New Zealand market had problems when they switched to unleaded from leaded. The fuel pipe broke,” recalled Chaovalit.

“Shell is the first company to offer free repair work on any engine damage caused by gasohol. Others (Bangchak and Caltex) followed suit. Zero cases of damage were reported.”

Gasohol aside, the Thai motorist will be facing higher fuel costs in the near future as Chaovalit summed up the picture and agreed that the current price is obviously better than the previous high of B30 per litre (at the time of this interview).

“There are not too many negative factors like natural disasters destroying refineries, no politics involved but the long term will definitely see an inevitable price increase due to the running out of crude and increased cost of exploration,” as he later said, “I used to pay B1.70 per litre about 40 years. It’s clear that every country needs an alternative energy source.”

On fuel consumption, one of the many parameters that is used as a reference is the make of the car, its age and condition. There is the driving style, weather conditions and road conditions.

On acceleration, Chavalit says that gasohol actually helps in this area because it is a light-end type of fuel. Distillation temperature has lower boiling temperature and it contains more oxygen for better combustion.

Asked to comment on claims of poor acceleration, he said: “It depends on the filter block of the vehicle. I admit I have heard a lot of complaints such as miss-firing and loss of power.”

About the alleged sludge and dirt, Chaovalit explained:

“The solvency of ethanol is very high which is why you will have to change the filter after the first tank of gasohol. It has nothing to do with the plastic components eroded by the alcohol, but it cleans the engine parts which is why there is a lot of sludge.”

Shell claims that it can cover the current demand of gasohol 95 with an in-house production capacity of two million litres per day, with room for expansion.

The current gasohol market has the Petroleum Authority of Thailand Plc (PTT) with the largest market followed by Shell and Bangchak Plc.

The latter initially had the lead in the market, but gradually dropped off to third.

Precautions for first-time gasohol users is that silicone, natural rubber and certain teflon rubber hoses cannot be used. Also check for cleanliness of the fuel tank before filling up with gasohol.

On an ending note, Chaovalit said the future of gasohol will play a pivotal role once gasoline prices reach high levels.

“The raw materials used in the production of gasohol are raw materials sourced locally which means that revenue is generated in the Thai economy instead of importing MTBE, but we still have to think about gasoline and other options.”

The http://www.shell.co.th/gasohol/95 website lists vehicle models that can use gasohol. If any motorist believes that gasohol is the culprit, please call Shell at 02-262-6276.

10 questions for CHAOVALIT

– You are in charge of Thailand’s automotive policy for one day. What do you do?

Make cars with the lowest emissions to improve quality of the environment.

– Greatest achievement?

It would have to be when we became the first in the world to develop GTL (Gas to Liquid) called Puradiesel in 2003.

– Greatest love?

My family.

– Favourite car all-time?

Ferrari.

– Favourite destination?

Switzerland.

– Favourite electronic gadget?

Mobile phone…it’s like the fifth basic necessity in our society.

– Favourite food?

Thai food.

– Favourite movie?

West Side Story (1961 film).

– Favourite pastime?

Gardening.

– Your car runs out of fuel in front of a competitor, what do you do?

First, I always fill up when the fuel indicator is at half level. In my position it is of the utmost importance for the image of the corporation. I am always aware of this and use nothing else but Shell.

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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