MONTES CLAROS, Brazil (Reuters) - A motorcycle that can run solely on sugar cane ethanol, gasoline or a mixture of both has gone on sale in Brazil, where biofuel cars already dominate the roads, burning cheaper home-grown energy.
Named the "Mix", the bike is a modified version of Honda's CG, a small motorcycle popular with couriers and commuters. The original gasoline-only version has been the firm's biggest seller in Brazil, with sales of more than 30,000 each month.
"For motorcycle couriers and motorcycle taxi riders, this can be an economical alternative because depending on the price of ethanol, (the extra cost) can be recovered very quickly the more you ride," said Alfredo Guedes, a spokesman at Honda in Brazil.
Brazil is expanding sugar cane planting rapidly to make ethanol for its fast-growing fleet of flex-fuel cars, which already account for more than 90 percent of new car sales and have helped cut pollution in the country of 190 million.
Flex-fuel cars, marketed in Brazil since 2003, have electronics that detect the type of fuel being burned. An oxygen sensor in the Mix's exhaust determines what fuel is being burned and adjusts the action of the fuel injection unit appropriately.
Ethanol-only cars marketed in Brazil since the 1970s lost popularity because the price of the fuel rose, temporarily erasing any savings, and they were hard to fire up in cold weather. But flex-fuel allows for any mix of gasoline and ethanol and has performance similar to gasoline vehicles.
The biofuel can cost half the price of gasoline depending on the outlet, though the actual volume of ethanol consumed is about 30 percent higher over the same distance because of its lower calorific value of the fuel.
As with flex cars, which all have a small gasoline reserve in the engine bay to start up in cold weather, the Mix requires about 20 percent gasoline in the tank in colder regions to make it easier to start.
"I would switch," said Ricardo Ferreira, sat on his gasoline-powered CG at a motorcycle taxi office where telephone attendants shouted out addresses of fares waiting to be picked up as riders made U-turns through the open-fronted shop.
Ferreira works around 12 hours a day in Montes Claros, a small town in Minas Gerais state, covering around 745 miles a week, filling his 16-liter tank two or three times.
He said with that mileage he would quickly recover the 300 reais ($137) premium for the Mix over the gasoline bike.
"(Fuel) is your biggest expense ... There is also the other aspect that ethanol pollutes less," he said as the rasp of motorcycles riding into the shop boomed off its cement walls.
Brazil's Sugar Cane Industry Association (Unica) says that use of ethanol in flex-fuel cars has sequestered 45 million tonnes of greenhouse gases - the equivalent of planting 144 million trees in 20 years.
But motorcycles are some of the worst polluters on the roads here for certain gases and particles.
Ethanol costs around 1.70 reais a liter in Montes Claros, compared with around 2.63 reais for gasoline -- more than consumers in Sao Paulo city pay for either but the price difference is still big enough to give the Mix appeal.
Brazil is Honda's third-biggest motorcycle market. Droves of "motoboy" couriers move deftly through Sao Paulo's daily rush-hour traffic jams with documents and parcels, often galling motorists with their risky driving.
Flex engines also produce more power running on ethanol than gasoline and that is despite its 7 percent water content.
"You can feel it has stronger acceleration when filled with ethanol," said Honda's Guedes who has ridden the bike.
Editing by Reese Ewing and Lisa Shumaker