Popemobile Update: Pope Francis' Renault Runs on Biofuel


Popemobile Biofuel

We’ve talked about Pope Francis’ awesome dismissal of the posh, bullet-proof Mercedes’ of his predecessor with my new favorite Pope-quote: “A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.” What we haven’t talked too much about, however, is the man who gave Pope Francis his “new” Popemobile. That 190,000-mile Renault 4 was donated to the Pope by Father Renzo Zocca. We really should have paid more attention to the man, too … because it appears His Holiness’ new/old Renault is even more awesome than we first thought: it runs on biofuel.

That, and Zocca’s kind of a badass. He’s pushing 70 now, but 25 years ago Zacco felt a calling to minister on the margins of society in one of Verona’s tough, working-class neighborhoods. He rented out a flat and offered Mass in a shed. In his off-time, it’s reported that “Father Renzo (Zocca) fought barehanded against drug dealers who were ruining the lives of the younger members of his flock and sent him death threats … even after being stabbed.” In 1985, the team unexpectedly won the Italian championships, and the club’s vice president gave Zocca a celebratory gift: the Renault 4 (making it probably not a 1989 model, as had been previously reported).

With a car, Zocca had the ability to branch out his ministry. After assessing the needs of Verona’s impoverished suburbs, Zocca founded the social cooperative Àncora in 1985. To this day, Àncora offers assistance and jobs for those in need. When he heard Pope Francis looking for reliable, but humble machine, Zocca – facing retirement – knew what to do. “I wanted to make him a gift,” he told la Famiglia Cristiana. “A gift that would witness my experience. And what better gift than my R4?” Zocca’s passionate plea that Francis accept the car played to the deep significance the Renault held to Zocca’s parish. This isn’t just any car, but a tool that had served countless people on the margins, and spoke to sustaining those people into the future. This is where it was reported that Zocca had driven most of the R4’s 190,000 miles on sustainable biofuel, which Zocca says fits with “Francis’ environmental activism”.

So, Zocca is basically an Italian Batman (dark, flowy clothes + fistfights with petty criminals + taking on disenfranchised youth) with a biofuel Renault that almost perfectly embodies everything we love about cars here at Gas 2. Except, you know, it’s slow. Maybe someone will donate a track-day version next time.


Click to enlarge.

Source | Photos: Famiglia Cristiana, via National Catholic Reporter.

About the Author

I’ve been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.

  • Jason Burroughs

    What is “biofuel”?

    • Marc P.

      Euh… valid question ! When you think about it and technically, the gas I just put into my car at the corner gas station could be called biofuel. After all it came from vegetation… !!

      So, please, tell us what you mean by biofuel !

      Marc P.

      • 1: petroleum and other “fossil” fuels don’t come from vegetation in the way that biofuels do. By that logic, all the matter in the solar system came from stars, so a wood-burning stove is solar-powered. It’s ridiculous, not “clever”.

        2: biofuels refer, in general, to flammable alcohol-like chemicals that are given off as part of natural, biologic precesses, such as fermentation or, in the case of some algae-based fuels, digestion. These fuels tend to to have pros and cons, compared to gasoline/petroleum-based fuels. Some argue that they’re a better source of energy than coal or oil, and others are wrong.

        • Marc P.

          “Modern day scientists have proven that most if not all petroleum fields were created by the remains of small animal and plant life being compressed on the sea bed by billions of tons of silt and sand several million years ago.”

          I though it was pretty clever…

          • OK, OK. I give it a 5 on a 1-10 scale. 🙂

          • Re: modern day scientists … that’s not the point I was making.

    • See reply to Marc, below.

      • Jason Burroughs

        I know what biofuels are. I meant, what kind of biofuel does his car run on? Biodiesel, ethanol, or something else? Such an obvious detail you left out here…

        Biofuels are not all alcohol based. Biodiesel uses a lighter alchohol to replace the glycerol which is heavy. But the alcohol is not considered a fuel. That is in contrast to ethanol, which is an alcohol fuel, as is methanol.

        • Fair point … which is why I wrote “alcohol-like chemicals”. They’re similar in structure and in the way they quickly bond with oxygen.

          That said, I checked all 3 sources in the original Italian, and it just says “biofuel”. That Renault 4 was available as a diesel, however, and (being Europe) I’d bet biodiesel.

          • Jason Burroughs

            I read the original article at http://www.famigliacristiana.it/articolo/la-renault-4-del-papa-300-mila-chilometri-di-carita.aspx and did some translation using the web. It uses “metano” which translates to natural gas (methane).

            It has likely been converted to run on CNG, not any type of biofuel.

            I sincerely ask you to remove the headline “popemobile runs on biofuel”. If not, please offer a credible explanation.

          • AH! That helps. CNG is often “chosen” by translation stuff, but it’s probably LPG, which is very common in Europe, and is available as a bio-option, like this: http://www.aegpl.eu/publications-media/lpg-europe-newsletter/september-2010-/bio-lpg-a-sector-renews-itself.aspx


          • Jason Burroughs

            Sorry, but I can’t agree with you on that. The onus is on you, the journalist, to vet your sources and verify your information. While I would love to think it’s a biofuel, it is almost certainly not “bio-LPG”. In fact, Italy has one of the largest fleets of CNG vehicles in the world.

            i must respectfully request that you do more research on this topic, or else remove the post.


            Oh, wow. That’s funny stuff, Burroughs. I think the onus is definitely on you to get a grip in reality.

            Thanks for the laugh!

          • How is it “funny stuff” to correct something that has obviously not been thoroughly researched? It would appear that Mr. Burroughs has done a far better job researching this than you. I would further add that it does your readers a huge disservice if you proclaim something to be true when it is not. This is worth investigating further, Mr. Borras.

          • Jason Burroughs

            I think what he’s really laughing at is that I accused him of being a journalist.

            When I first started reading blogs, maybe ten years ago, I was really confused about what they were supposed to be. All I saw was a headline, and reference to the news article on some other site. I wondered – what is the point of a random person posting what is essentially a link to a news article – content they did not create, or really add any value to.

            Overtime, when the word “blog” became a household word, it became apparent that great bloggers were aggregating content in subjects of their interest, providing relevant and insightful commentary, and connecting the larger community interested in those topics by fostering a robust and interactive commenting system.

            Blogs like Engadget and TreeHugger come to mind, and Mac Rumors. In contrast, sites like iPhone Hacks are often an hour behind Mac Rumors, but with identical content – and not as much commentary.

            When I first found Gas 2.0 in 2008 or 2009, I was intrigued and impressed. However, over the last couple of years, I see misinformation, poorly researched posts, vague references to “biofuels” with no substance behind them, lots of seemingly ad-based reviews of regular gasoline cars, etc.

            My guess is that the issues stem from the revenue generation model of the parent company, which seems to encourage lots of posts, regardless of quality or relevance. I hope that Important Media will take a look at the alt fuel stuff and seriously consider upping the quality standards.

            Jason Burroughs, DieselGreen Fuels

          • Metano means methane. A large percentage of natural gas is methane, but natural gas and methane are not the same thing.

            Methane is a biofuel which can be produced via anaerobic digestion and other processes. It is also renewable.

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  • Rocky Mtn High

    Mr. Borras. If the vehicle does not run on a Biofuel you should change the name of the article and present it accurately.