Lotus has revealed its Trifuel Exige 270E concept car, demonstrating the sportscar maker's belief in the future of methanol as an automotive fuel. ( AC )
The 270E uses the supercharged Toyota engine from the conventional Exige and can run on three different fuels: petrol, ethanol and methanol, or any combination of the three. Sensors measure the proportions of each fuel in the mix and adjust the engine management accordingly, meaning the new Lotus only needs one tank.
Unlike hydrogen, which must be stored at very high pressure, or at temperatures as low as minus 253deg C, methanol is a liquid at room temperature. It can also burn with greater thermal efficiency than diesel, explained James Turner, Lotus's head of powertrain research, and Richard Pearson, a technical specialist on the engine project. It therefore offers a vastly more viable solution than running internal combustion engines on liquid or pressurised hydrogen, and it is also a more convenient energy source for a fuel-cell vehicle.
Most attractively of all, given the current environmental pressures, methanol can be synthesised from a mixture of hydrogen and carbon dioxide - one of the gases that we are told is responsible for global warming. Given that hydrogen can be extracted from water, using nuclear or solar energy, it's easy to imagine how the whole process of manufacturing and burning the methanol could be carbon neutral.
The supercharged Elise also demonstrates the other benefit of methanol: it has a higher octane rating, allowing it to produce more power. With no other modifications the output of the supercharged Toyota engine goes from its standard 237bhp to 266bhp.
Lotus has no plans to sell the 270E, instead it is being used to demonstrate the relative ease with which an internal combustion engine and its fuel systems, whose seals and pumps need to be resistant to the corrosive properties of alcohol-based fuels, can be modified to run on ethanol and methanol. The company reckons the cost would be around ?40 per car and that every new car should have multi-fuel compatibility.