E85 black box is legal and fuel is just €0.69/litre

Motorists who do sizeable distances could benefit after the government approved the first French ‘black boxes’ to convert petrol-engine cars to run on E85 bioethanol fuel, which sells for an average €0.69 a litre.

With SP95 prices rising and now averaging €1.57 it could mean a big saving, even factoring in the €800-€1,800 price of the conversion kit plus another €300 for updating the carte grise.

Sébastien Le Pollès, of Paris kit firm Flexfuel, greeted approval for the kits which have for a few years operated in a legal grey area. “This is essential for the spread of this technology and 11million vehicles in France can benefit. Official homologation will greatly boost the market.”

Mont­pellier firm Biomotors was the first to get its kit approved and Flexfuel and the smaller ARM Engineering in Tarn are expected to get their approvals in the near future.

E85 makes up 7% of SP95 petrol and kits allow cars with electronic indirect or direct injection to use it in any mix, helping make up for France’s paucity of E85 pumps, just 1,100.

With less calorific value than petrol, cars use up to 20% more but the lower cost balances this out. Drivers average 13,300km a year and Autoplus magazine said an indirect injection petrol car could pay off the €990 fit in 20,000km while a direct injection car would take 28,000km. This falls for higher-consumption town driving.

Diesel is still No1 fuel in France but recent pollution scandals may benefit E85. Mainly made from sugar beet, ethanol is corrosive so is best for Euro 6 cars – Euro 3,4,5 cars need an additive.

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