What about biofuels?

Biofuels have existed since the inception of the Diesel engine, the first Diesel engine ran on peanut oil and the engine was designed to run on vegetable oils which were thought to be the oils most abundant in the future. So why do we continue to run on fossil fuels if we are aware of the possibilities of alternatives? And with investment been provided since World War 2 for studies into alternative fuels why has nothing been seen on a grand scale?

Now that electric and battery power is recieving notice from governments, who want to incentifise its introduction, could this be the end of the road for biofuels? Just recently in Ireland Maxol announced it was withdrawing the sale of E85, a bio petrol alternative, from its forecourts in January 2011.

They blame the governments withdrawl of tax incentives on ethanol, this was set to make the price of a litre of E85 more expensive than petrol to the tune of 53 cent. In contrast, around the same time they announced the fitting of electric charging bays in 2 of its garages.

Why would the Irish government take away tax incentives on a product which was good for the environment? Countries including Sweden, Norway, the US and Brazil are using these fuels in blend form and have reduced their fossil fuel usage quite considerably. In Sweden for example not only are there tax incentives on the price of the fuel there are also tax reductions on the price of the car, discounted road taxes, lower insurance costs and even free parking spaces in major cities.

Downsides

This all sounds like good stuff, right? Well not according to some, a study by Iowa State University has said…

It’s time to end the $0.45 per gallon ethanol subsidy, which cost taxpayers nearly $6 billion in 2010. The real cost per gallon of that subsidy is actually much higher: If you account for the fact that ethanol contains just two-thirds the energy of gasoline, and that two-thirds of ethanol’s energy consists of embedded fossil-fuel energy that was required to grow the corn and make the ethanol, the real cost of the $0.45 per gallon ethanol subsidy comes to over $2 per gallon of gasoline net energy equivalence. That is $2 per gallon that we taxpayers pay for ethanol even before we buy it at the gas pump.

….and interestingly

for every gallon of ethanol made from corn, two gallons of soil are lost to erosion.

They also cite the fact that in the US bioethanol is not used efficiently as the vehicles it is used in are averaging 20.4 mpg. They point out that if each of these vehicles improved their efficiency by 1 mpg there would be no need to produce the current amount of bioethanol.

The downsides get even worse if you read some of the studies on what growing crops for fuel may do to our food supply and the rise in prices of everyday items. Not to mention the extra people who will go hungry. In a study conducted by http://www.actionaid.org.uk they said,

If all global biofuel targets are met, it is predicted that food prices could rise by up to an additional 76% by 2020. An estimated 600 million extra people may be hungry because of industrial biofuels by this date

Conclusion

More than likely what’s in your tank at the moment is at least a 5% bio mix and according to an EU directive this percentage will rise further by 2020 to comply with their renewable energy action plan. However biofuels may not impact as much on our food supply by then, currently tests are being preformed on the use of Algae as a natural oil source, it is hoped the main benefit will be the higher yield of oil per acre and less of an impact on food crops. First test results are still a couple of years away.


The use of WVO or PPO is also unlikely to become mainstream because of high priced vehicle conversions and supply would only suffice a small number of vehicles.

Secretly I had hoped that Biofuels would come out on top in my research, I like engines, and I’m a really big fan of the Diesel engine in particular. Many years ago I ran a Peugeot 205 van for a week on a gift of home brew biodiesel, I liked the idea of it, it would be cheaper than going to the pumps and it seemed to perform without missing a beat. But I can’t deny evidence that in the future it looks like biofuels will only replace fossil fuels as the next big problem. It seems far easier to just plug in.