Preliminary data show that, at the price of a liter of gasoline, a driver covers nearly twice the distance, using VNG; the team will also test biomethane in the vehicle


A group of researchers of the FAPESP Shell Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI) is testing vehicular natural gas (VNG) and biomethane in a hybrid vehicle powered by gasoline and electricity (the hybrids have an internal combustion motor, as well as an electric motor). Members of the Centre’s Project 29 installed two 7.5 cubic meter natural gas tanks in the vehicle – a Toyota Prius – and will do more robust testing with the automobile at the beginning of December.

“We have already compared the hybrid vehicle powered by gasoline with a conventional vehicle. A conventional car gets 10 or 11 kilometers per liter of gasoline. The hybrid gets 20 to 25 kilometers per liter. Now, we want to compare the hybrid vehicle powered by natural gas with a gasoline-powered hybrid on urban streets. We have already performed a few preliminary tests with VNG,” said engineer Renato Romio, head of the vehicle motor laboratory of the Mauá Institute of Technology and one of those responsible for the project at the RCGI.

According to the preliminary tests on urban streets, the automobile got 22 kilometers with one liter of gasoline, and about 28 kilometers with one cubic meter of VNG. “The Prius already consumes gasoline at a low rate, and the consumption of VNG is even lower,” confirmed Professor Julio Meneghini, Scientific Director of the RCGI and also one of the project coordinators.

Data from the National Petroleum, Natural Gas, and Biofuels Agency (ANP) established the current average price of gasoline in the city of São Paulo at R$ 4.15 per liter (measured between November 10 and 16, 2019). The price of VNG, for the same period, was R$ 2.86 per cubic meter. That is: if the car, modified by the engineers, is filled with gasoline, it is possible to go 22 kilometers for R$ 4.15. If it is filled with VNG, the driver could go as far as 40 kilometers for the same R$ 4.15 – nearly double the distance.

“But that is in the city, where it is most efficient, compared to a conventional vehicle. We have not tested it on the highway, yet, but we know that much is demanded of the internal combustion motor under those conditions, and the hybrid car ends up with an output very similar to that of a conventional motor,” Romio pointed out, reminding that the car still has not been tested with biomethane.

“A hybrid vehicle already has a generally better efficiency level than a conventional one,” the engineer adds. He explains that every time you apply the brakes on a conventional car, when going down a hill, for example, that energy is wasted. In the hybrid car, it is possible to recover that energy for use at another time.

Romio states that, with the use of VNG, compared to gasoline, the gain is doubled. “First, due to the efficiency of the hybrid vehicle; and second, because less CO2 is emitted with the use of VNG. That is because methane, when burned, emits 15% less CO2 than gasoline does.” Methane is the main component of natural gas.

Professor Meneghini calls attention to the fact of the autonomy of the “modified” vehicle on urban streets. “When the two VNG tanks are filled, plus the gasoline tank, which holds about 40 liters, it is possible to have an autonomy of over 1,100 kilometers in the city,” he stated.

The next tests will involve more robust trials of the measurement of fuel consumption, as well as measurement of the CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases, and of pollutants. “I believe that the preliminary data that we have regarding fuel consumption will be maintained,” Romio says.

The participants in the project will also test the use of biomethane in gas tanks, and of ethanol in the place of gasoline. “Ethanol emits 6% less greenhouse gases than gasoline, for the same power being generated. Toyota recently launched a hybrid flex Corolla. I would dare say that this model, if filled with ethanol, is the ‘cleanest car in the world’, at the present time, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions,” he says, considering its life cycle.

The project’s team also includes Professors Guenther C. Krieger Filho and Celma de Oliveira Ribeiro, both of the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo (Poli/USP); Suani Coelho, of the Institute for Energy and the Environment of the University of São Paulo (IEE-USP), and, indirectly, researchers from the staff of the Professor Urbano Ernesto Stumpf Engineering Research Center, headquartered in the Mauá Institute of Technology, associate with Poli/USP and the Aeronautics Technological Institute (ITA). This center is also backed by FAPESP and was founded to develop research on the use of biofuels.