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Lotus Engineering Shows Exige 270E Tri-fuel at Geneva; Researching Synthetic Methanol from CO2 as Future Fuel

The Exige 270E Tri-fuel is intended to give Lotus insight into flex-fuel combustion that may include methanol.

At the Geneva Motor Show, Lotus Engineering unveiled the Lotus Exige 270E Tri-fuel, the most powerful road version yet of the Exige and one that runs on any mixture of gasoline, bioethanol or methanol.

Lotus Engineering also said that it is researching the use of sustainable synthetic alcohols—specifically methanol—as potential future fuels, with technology available from Lotus for introduction in four to five years. The Exige 270E Tri-fuel is part of Lotus’ research to understand the combustion process involved in running on mixtures of alcohol fuels and gasoline.

The research into sustainable alcohols is progressing at Lotus’ Hethel headquarters in Norfolk, UK and involves input from the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Alternative Fuel Symposium Series; the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform, developed by the Technology Strategy Board; and direct discussions with the University of Sheffield.

An alcohol-based fuel derived renewably from atmospheric CO2 would allow society to transfer relatively easily to sustainable, carbon-neutral internal combustion. However, the supply infrastructure investment from governments and fuel companies could take 15 to 20 years, the company notes.

The Lotus Exige 270E Tri-fuel. The Exige 270E Tri-fuel is built to the lightest specification possible without resorting to expensive and rare materials. The performance improvements of using synthetic alcohol have been made through increasing the power of the engine without increasing its weight and therefore the overall weight of the car.

The heart of the Exige 270E Tri-fuel is the Lotus 4-cylinder, 1.8 liter 2ZZ-GE VVTL-i engine equipped with a modified Roots-type supercharger (with a sealed-for-life internal mechanism) and air-to-air intercooler package from the Exige S. The Exige 270E Tri-fuel offers peak power of 270 hp (201 kW) at 8,000 rpm, an increase of 19% (51 hp, 39 kW) over the standard gasoline Exige S and develops torque of 184 lb-ft (260 Nm) at 5,500 rpm, up 14% (25 lb-ft, 45 Nm ). Maximum engine speed is 8,000 rpm (8,500 rpm transient for up to 2 seconds).

Methanol and ethanol give more power when burned in the engine than conventional gasoline fuel. The performance benefits come largely from the high heats of vaporization of methanol and ethanol, which give strong charge-cooling effects, and the increased octane ratings.

There are other secondary thermodynamic effects. Methanol’s higher heat of vaporization leads to a slightly higher performance relative to ethanol. All charge air ducting has been kept as short as possible with large diameter pipes making sure that the bends in these ducts are not too tight, to the benefit of throttle response and efficiency. The Roots-type Eaton M62 supercharger is turned by the crankshaft, and has an integral bypass valve for part load operation.

The 2ZZ VVTL-i engine has two cam profiles—a high speed cam and a low speed cam. The seamless switch point between these two cams is completely variable depending upon driving conditions and engine load. This gives the Lotus Exige 270E Tri-fuel a smooth and linear surge of power from idle speeds all the way to the maximum 8,500rpm. Six fuel injectors have been fitted to increase fuel flow to the engine at normal and higher engine speeds and loads.

Synthetic methanol cycle. Click to enlarge.

Synthetic methanol. Methanol (CH3OH) can be produced synthetically from CO2 and hydrogen. Lotus asserts that ultimately, emerging processes to recover atmospheric CO2 will provide the required carbon that can entirely balance the CO2 emissions at the tailpipe that result from the internal combustion of synthetic methanol, according to Lotus. The result is that a car running on synthetic methanol, such as the Exige 270E Tri-fuel would be environmentally neutral.

Synthetic methanol would use similar engines and fuel systems to those in current cars; and synthetic methanol can be stored, transported and retailed in much the same way as today’s liquid fuels such as gasoline and diesel.

Synthetic methanol also possesses properties better suited to internal combustion than today’s liquid fuels, giving improved performance and thermal efficiencies. And it is ideal for pressure-charging (turbocharging and supercharging) already being introduced by manufacturers to downsize engines in a bid to improve fuel consumption.

At present, the motor industry is seeking a route to reduce CO2 emissions just at the tailpipe; this focus is far too narrow. A sustainable alcohol such as synthetic methanol has the potential to reduce the overall CO2 footprint of internal combustion vehicles towards zero. Produced through CO2 recovered from the atmosphere and given a tax incentive, it immediately becomes a green, cheap and more desirable fuel. For those compelling reasons motorists, legislators and car manufacturers must switch to a sustainable alcohol like synthetic methanol.

—Mike Kimberley, Chief Executive Officer of Group Lotus plc

We believe that, technically, there are a small number of significant but by no means insurmountable hurdles to the adoption of synthetic methanol as the staple future fuel for internal combustion. We are some way into a number of extensive research projects but of course, we understand that further research needs to be undertaken to fully overcome potential challenges that may arise.

—Geraint Castleton-White, Head of Powertrain at Lotus Engineering

Lotus believes that the most likely future pathway for the mass-production of methanol is by using electrochemical techniques to combine oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. Carbon could be sourced from carbon dioxide recovered from the atmosphere using either large scale extraction facilities or biomass. Oxygen would be taken from the atmosphere already contained in the CO2 molecule. Hydrogen would be acquired through the electrolysis of water. Synthetic methanol can also be supplemented by production from biomass sources where properly sustainable.

Techniques for the production of synthetic methanol through the extraction of atmospheric CO2 are well developed and understood but are not being employed on an industrial scale. An early solution, according to Lotus, would be the co-location of a nuclear or hydroelectric powerplant with a conventional power station—the hydrogen generated by hydrolysis of water would be combined with CO2 from either fossil or biomass sources to make liquid methanol. In the future, large volumes of CO2 could be extracted directly from the atmosphere.

Lotus Engineering regards sustainable alcohols as the third step in a process towards carbon neutral driving. The current E85 (85% ethanol and 15% gasoline) based movement represents the first stage in building momentum towards sustainable fuels. The valuable learning from the current bioethanol vehicles on the market means that synthetic methanol would easily be managed technically and within the existing transport, storage and distribution infrastructure. The steps towards a synthetic methanol economy for transportation fuels could be as follows:

  • 1st Generation: there is a handful of current bioethanol models on sale around the world. These cars run on E85 bioethanol, which is produced from valuable arable crops (food). This is unsustainable in the short and medium term as global demand for fuel will outstrip the supply available from farmland to the detriment of food production, but is a necessary step in the evolution of the market.

  • 2nd Generation: the next generation bioethanol fuels will be based on biomass waste, for example crop stubble, waste vegetable-based oils and any biodegradable waste matter. This is thought also to be unsustainable in the medium- to long-term as the required volume of biomass increases beyond that which can be supplied.

  • 3rd Generation: sustainable alcohols such as synthetic methanol can be introduced due to its miscibility with ethanol and gasoline. This fuel can be produced from entirely sustainable, readily available inputs, with an environmentally neutral overall impact.

  • 4th Generation: Direct Methanol Fuel Cells: over the longer term, sustainable alcohols in internal combustion will facilitate the soft introduction of direct methanol fuel cells as a long term sustainable future fuel. This will only be possible with pure methanol pumps on the forecourt which internal combustion engines can bring forward due to their ability to consume a mixture of fuels.

Lotus Engineering strongly believes governments, fuel suppliers and car manufacturers all have a key role to play in the adoption of sustainable alcohols. If car manufacturers were incentivized to produce next generation models for introduction over the next 5 to 10 years as flex-fuel vehicles capable of running on any mix of gasoline and bioethanol, there would be no need for an unfeasible instant global changeover. Late software changes can permit the introduction of methanol and fortunately, E85 bioethanol and subsequently synthetic methanol can be introduced gradually to the marketplace, due to their miscibility.


  • Ohla, G.A., Goeppert, A, and Surya Prakash, G.K. Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy. Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KgaA, Weinheim, Germany. 2006. ISBN 3-527-31275-7.

  • Pearson, R.J., and Turner, J.W.G, Exploitation of energy resources and future automotive fuels. SAE paper number 2007-01-0034, SAE Fuels and Emissions Conference, Cape Town, 23rd - 25th Jan., 2007.

  • Pearson, R.J., and Turner J.W.G., Bio-alcohols and their role in the transition to the use of synthetic alcohols for mobility. I.Mech.E. Seminar: Biofuels or future transport and mobility. Hethel Engineering Centre, Norwich, 20th September 2007.

  • Turner, J.W.G., Pearson, R.J., Holland, B., and Peck, A., Alcohol-based fuels in high-performance engines. SAE paper number 2007-01-0056, SAE Fuels and Emissions Conference, Cape Town, 23rd - 25th Jan., 2007.

  • Turner, J.W.G., Peck, A., and Pearson, R.J., Flex-Fuel vehicle development to expedite alcohols as the basis of a viable negative-CO2 energy economy. Paper number 07APAC-31. Submitted to 14th Asia Pacific Automotive Conference, Hollywood, CA, USA, August 5th-8th, 2007.


Harvey D

Finally, somebody is openly stating that first generation corn ethanol and second generation cellulosic ethanol-biofuel are not suistainable in the mid and long terms.

Co2 neutral ICE vehicles running on synthetic methanol? Interesting prospect and liquid fuel alternative but will it ever be cost competitive and as environmentally clean as electrified vehicles using electricity from clean sources.

Removing existing excess CO2 from the atmosphere is also an interesting possibilty. This may be the first time that somebody proposes a way to correct the damage we have already done while producing useful fuel.

Synthenic methanol production plants colocated with existing coal fired CO2 producting power plants could be a smart way to reduce CO2 emissions at the sopurce.

Good R & D Lotus. Keep it up.


There is plenty of clean CO2 generated from fermenting ethanol. It is from the plant and as such CO2 neutral. Combine that with H2 from solar thermal hydrogen and you can get all the biomethanol you want. I have long thought that methanol was the liquid fuel of choice, but the ethanol craze sort of blocked all that out.

Rafael Seidl

Methanol has been proposed as a motor fuel before, in spite of its low energy density. As mentioned above, it has high octane and high heat of vaporization, so it can be used in highly boosted engines. Liquid methanol is generally produced from natural gas, which otherwise has to be severely compressed to ensure adequate range as a motor vehicle fuel.

The big problem with methanol isn't that it is toxic - none of the alternatives is good for your health, either - or that it burns with a near-invisible flame - a dye compound could take care of that. It's that methanol is highly corrosive to aluminum, which is what engine block, piston and cylinder head are made from. It's hard to achieve 150,000 mile life expectancy without resorting to expensive special alloys.

As for using hydrogen to scrub CO2 out of the atmosphere, there are better ways to address global warming - e.g. biomethane, algal oil and conservation to leave more fossil fuel in the ground.


I agree with Rafael that a fuel strategy based on methanol is not serious, methanol vapor are seriously toxic and all semiconductor industries have already banned it more than 20 years ago as a solvent.

Extrating CO2 from atmosphere to convert it back to hydrocarbon using H2 made from electrolys is a joke. First of all given the concentration of CO2 in atmosphere you would need enormous collecting area, second H2 from electrolysis is way to expensive. Again better to developp battery and use the electicity directly to run cars. Strategies based on using clean energy to make dirtier energy are not good strategies. Just like burning natural gas to make ethanol is an abberation. America is runing out of natural gas price of natural gas have increased faster than oil prices since 2002.


Finally, someone has the courage to state that hydrogen can only be produced economically from biomass.


"methanol is highly corrosive to aluminum, which is what engine block, piston and cylinder head are made from. It's hard to achieve 150,000 mile life expectancy without resorting to expensive special alloys."

is it not possible to add some kind of anti-corrosion inhibitor to the methanol? also, is compacted graphite iron a cost-effective choice for a methanol-fueled engine?

Rafael Seidl

@ Eric -

it is possible and indeed, common practice, to add corrosion inhibitors to engine oil. These keep water and acids contained in the blow-by in suspension to minimize contact with the metal surfaces. For NASCAR engines, which use methanol because the rules say so, special engine oils are used.

Note that while methanol is especially corrosive to aluminum, cast iron and regular steels are also affected. Only stainless steel is really immune, but it would be prohibitively expensive to build engines out of. Besides, while steel pistons are the norm in very large diesels (stationary, locomotive, marine), their relatively poor thermal conductivity and high weight makes them unattractive for high-speed small engines such as those in cars.

Inhibitors could perhaps be added to the fuel as well, to protect the fuel system components. However, they become ineffective at the high temperatures encountered in combustion. That means the upper rim of the piston crown and the area of the piston liner that comes into periodic contact with the piston rings, where unburnt hydrocarbons accumulate, are particularly vulnerable to methanol-related corrosion.


Even if corrosion is a show stopper for making affordable and very durable ICE that runs on blends of ethanol and methanol this technology seems to be fine for ICE gensets for PHEVs. Assuming the PHEV is build to run for 150000 miles and that electric propulsion will take care of 80% of the driving that would leave 30000 miles for the ICE genset. For example, a 30kW genset that is able to move the PHEV at 60 mph for 500 hours would go 30000 miles. It should be possible to build such a genset at an affordable price ($3000?) and run it on various blends of gasoline and alcohols for just 500 hours before it is allowed to break down.

I am getting more and more convinced that the days of the pure ICE or even ordinary hybrid cars are numbered. BYD say they can do a PHEV with a 20kWh battery for about $6000 more than a comparable ICE vehicle (in another announcement they said 5000 euro =$7500). For many European customers such a car premium is paid back in less than 3 years because gasoline is at $7 per gallon. For US customers the payback time is about 6 years at $3.2 per gallon (see calculations below). For this reason I also expect EVs and PHEVs to be sold most successfully in Europe and Japan where the economic gains are bigger than in the US under the current conditions. They will also sell well in China because gasoline often is not available or rationed because of price controls. Chinese are fed up with having cars and no gasoline/diesel and a PHEV is therefore a very attractive alternative.


Case 1: Fuel cost one year for ICE car running 10000 miles per year at 20 mpg at $7 per gallon: $3500 per year.

Case 2: Fuel cost one year for ICE car running 10000 miles per year at 20 mpg at $3.2 per gallon: $1600 per year.

Case 3: Fuel cost one year for PHEV. To simplify assume the PHEV is running 100% on electricity and that it uses 30kWh to go 100 miles. Furthermore, assume a kWh price of $0.15 kWh and 10000 miles per year. Consumption is therefore 3000 kWh per year or $450 per year.

John Taylor

@ Henrik ... You have the right idea for most of your numbers ...

But if electric power (220v 100 amp 3 phase)to recharge BEVs ( Battery Electric vehicles ) was available in every major shopping plaza and tourist destination parking lot, then the PHEV would never ever need to use it's liquid fuel source recharging on the go system, and manufactures could ditch the penalty weight to sell a simple electric car BEV.
Also, power stations can and should be cleaned up, a lot, and soon.

Lotus and other manufactures are still hoping to keep the ICE in their cars, but need to do a more radical rethink than just switching to another liquid fuel, even a semi-green one.


If H2 is produced thermochemically out of next-generation nuclear power, it could be produced at very high scale, with very high efficiency.
A normal nuclear powerplant has at best an efficiency of 50%, while H2 production efficiency could be much higher.
The high purity of the synthetic hydrocarbons would make it very suitable for fuel cells.
The losses in the production, transportation and transformation in the fuel cell are important, but losses in electricity transportation and battery charging and uncharging are also important. Since a 60% higher conversion efficiency in the production of H2 compared to electricity are realistic, it could well compensate for the higher efficiency in electric cars.
The most important limitation of batteries is the limited range. (especially for planes and boats).
synthetic hydrocarbons could be a very good alternative or range extender.
Untill then, let's hopen it's not an excuse to keep on wasting crude in ICU's.

Alex Kovnat

I would like to join the chorus of those who are not too enthusiastic about synthesizing methanol from atmospheric CO2 and hydrogen.

First, where do we get the hydrogen? The only economic source of hydrogen at this time is natural gas, and natural gas is a fossil fuel (albeit better than coal). You could get all the CO2 you want from a coal-burning power station or from an ethanol fermentation facility, but that still begs the question of where you're going to get your hydrogen.

Years ago, methanol was considered the alternative fuel of the future for spark-ignited engines. I think the reason for this enthusiasm was that methanol could be synthesized from anything you could gasify to get a hydrogen-carbon monoxide mixture. One can synthesize methanol with a high yield and degree of specificity using catalysts developed during the last few decades. Today, billions of gallons of CH3OH are produced at giant facilities like the one in Trinidad.

For the past few weeks I have subscribed (and, contributed a few posts to) the General Motors-sponsored website www. GMNext. com. A major development that GM is now investing in, is a process whereby anything gasifiable (notably, any form of biomass that will burn if ignited) is used as raw material to produce CO + H2. The Coskata process uses microbes to synthesize ethanol (rather than methanol) from said synthesis gas.

GM no doubt loves this process because the output product - ethanol - is less obnoxious regarding corrosion than methanol. In addition, ethanol has a higher energy content than methanol, both volumetrically and gravimetrically.

We should all hope the Coskata process is no flash in the pan.

richard schumacher

The hydrogen will come from water, of course, either electrolytically (which favors Solar or wind as the energy source) or thermally (which favors nuclear). I suspect that within a few decades we will have to take CO2 directly from the air, because agriculture or aquaculture methods would require too much surface area to supply the amounts of fuel required. Again the energy source for this would be anything carbon-neutral (nuclear, wind, Solar).

Lotus focuses on methanol because it can be used in fuel cells, but any hydrocarbon can be manufactured from H2 and CO. Aircraft will certainly need kerosene for the foreseeable future, and barring substantial advances in batteries or superconductors trucks and cars will need a liquid fuel. It is good that people are realizing that these can be made entirely fossil-free. Of course they will be moderately more expensive than fuels made from petroleum; for multiple reasons the age of superficially cheap fossil energy is just about over.


Methanol is one of the easier liquid fuels to synthesize from biomass gasification. You get both CO and H2 in the synthesis gas, so the yield per ton is fairly high.

You could just vaporize the methanol and put it in an SOFC stack with output turbine and get 70% efficiency. That might eliminate a lot of the materials problems. In and SOFC, both the CO and H2 are fuel.


Methanol is one of the easier liquid fuels to synthesize from biomass gasification. You get both CO and H2 in the synthesis gas, so the yield per ton is fairly high.

You could just vaporize the methanol and put it in an SOFC stack with an output turbine and get 70% efficiency. That might eliminate a lot of the materials problems. In and SOFC, both the CO and H2 are fuel.


Did not mean to double post, it was a glitch. The one thing about using methanol in an SOFC is that there is no sulfur. I read that methanol becomes synthesis gas under moderate temperatures and since the SOFC runs at over 1000f, it reforms it nicely in the stack.

Clayton B. Cornell

Wow, that is really interesting. Some people, like the author of 'Energy Victory' think that flex-fuel vehicles running any combination of gasoline, ethanol, and methanol, are the future - but also the most feasible near-term petroleum substitute.

But then you've got auto companies saying no way can we do that (I asked a GM exec about methanol and he was not impressed).... as usual.


"E85 bioethanol and subsequently synthetic methanol can be introduced gradually to the marketplace, due to their miscibility."

The process that produced mixed alcohols from gasification and catalytic reactions was a good one. 105 gallons per ton of biomass, just put it in the tank.

John Taylor

Craig Venter has an interesting talk on TED Talks about bio-engineering a algae to become more efficient at turning CO2 and water into usable fuels.

If successful, (and it looks very likely to become reality soon ) then each fossil fuel power plant will have a way to turn it's smokestack into a greenhouse fuel factory, and market a much greener version of transportation fuel.

I am all for reducing stack emmisions. However, the problem with turning stack emissions into a transportable fuel is that you are only rusing the CO2 1 additional time. in other words, you are still evenutally releasing burried CO2.
So while the re-use of stack emissions will hlep slow the growth in atmospheric CO2, it will not reverse it.

perhaps that is not a bad thing as using a CO2 molecule twice is better than once, and if other conservation initiatives work, we might be better off. maybe.

but a better solution would be a closed CO2 loop, even if that loop is big and indirect. for example, pulling C02 directly out of the atmosphere would work but it is very expensive. but biomass pulls millions of tons of C02 out of the atmosphere daily, so perhaps future developments on the algea or other biomass fronts can help create an inexpensive and renewable source of CO and CO2 to feed a synthetic methanol process.

do it with "stranded" green energy (like wind int he trade winds) and you might have a sustainable industry that can truly re-uses a CO2 molecule.


I think that plants are great CO2 collectors. I can not see creating a device to try and do what they do already. Plants take water and nutrients, but if you grow crops for food now, why not just use the stalks for fuel. From what I have read the corn cobs are waste, they really can not be used for much else. Now you will pay a farmer $40 per ton for them, haul them away for free and make fuel out of them. Sounds like a win win to me.

Folk Engineer

I'm not so sure I'm a big believer in the reconstitution of CO2 into fuels as the numbers I've seen on the subject seem to suggest that its quite inefficient compared to electric and other storage mediums for energy.

That being said, I have to say that the idea of one of these algae systems that Venter is working on being shrank into a single car catalyst sized device is intriguing. Not only would the CO2 molecule be reused multiple times, but it would be a remarkably simple modification to an otherwise-conventional ICE auto (solar collector plus the device in/around the catalyst, or maybe the microbes could use the waste heat instead of solar, I don't know)and you could "re-perculate" fuel right back into the tank. At least looking at it from a consumer perspective, that sounds quite attractive.

Folk Engineer

Actually, scratch that, I forgot about where you would get the hydrogen. Hey, maybe algae/microbial catalysts could become far more efficient in the future? Never mind, I'll be quiet.

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