Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Biofuel: Is it a greenhouse gas, gas, gas?

with 8 comments

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In think I have said this before, but I will repeat it anyway. It all depends where the biofuel comes from.  You can make biodiesel from spent frying oil – or even rendered animal tallow. Since these are waste products, utilising them should not increase greenhouse gas emissions, except to the extent that processing and transporting these fuels uses energy too. The net effect ought to be beneficial. If you grow crops without resorting to artificial fertilizers (nitrogen) or if you use crop waste, then you may also reduce ghg. But it has been known for a long time that the US ethanol boondoggle was just a way for presidential candidates to get votes from constituencies that happen to be important in the early rounds of the primaries (see “The West Wing” passim). And it is no surprise either that rape seed (we call it canola) biodiesel is another Euro sop to the farm lobby. The wine lake should make some good ethanol though.

I have been around the alt.fuels business for long enough to recognize that nearly every one that has been brought to market to date has had some or many drawbacks. There is a reason that petrol retains its market share and it is not just the cabal of big oil.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 26, 2007 at 3:06 pm

8 Responses

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  1. The problem with making biodeisel from fryer fat and tallow is that there’s just not enough of it to make any real dent in our fossil fuel consumption. Don’t get me wrong…we should be making use of these waste products and biofuel is a good way to go with them, but you can’t run your whole economy on that.

    Andrew E

    September 26, 2007 at 5:19 pm

  2. Not the entire economy, of course, but it could make a difference, and we have known about it for a while. We just have not done anything about it yet. I suspect that when you add all the various small measures together, you could have quite an impact. There certainly is no technological “magic bullet” solution.

    Stephen Rees

    September 26, 2007 at 5:28 pm

  3. No suprises about the canola/euro sop to farmers, although some smaller railway companies are buying local biodiesel to run trains which is a good idea. On the other hand I read recently that Biodiesel is making the price of corn go up worldwide thus causing food price increases for the worlds poor.

    I see what you mean about the wine lake as ethanol, but I think I’ll keep quiet about it as I’m in a wine growing region…

    Andy in Germany

    September 26, 2007 at 10:35 pm

  4. Hi Stephen,

    The one thing that no-one talks about is fuel efficiency. Biofuels are very expensive, compared to their alternate use as food and it seems wasteful to me to burn them in single use process in inefficient vehicles. That simply keeps expensive oil in the ground a little longer…


    September 27, 2007 at 4:51 am

  5. […] Jordan wrote an interesting post today on Biofuel: Is it a greenhouse gas, gas, gas?Here’s a quick […]

  6. Andy – it is not biodiesel that is making corn prices go up, it is the US demand for ethanol. Partly this is seen as a way to reduce reliance on oil – much of which has to come from the Middle East, Venezuela and Nigeria. US car makers are producing more flex fuel cars that can run on any percentage blend of ethanol and gasoline, and ethanol is also more widely used as an octane enhancer, since MTBE (formerly a fuel additive used widely in premium fuels) has be shown to have great health risks from leaks into ground water. Ethanol also reduces common air contaminants which many areas have to reduce to meet federally legislated requirements.

    Simon – you are right. An increase in the CAFE standards is long overdue. Poor fuel efficiency is one of the reasons why the big three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) are losing market share to Toyota (and others).

    Stephen Rees

    September 27, 2007 at 7:54 am

  7. […] Canola-based biodiesel production is still a developing industry, and subject to most of the same criticisms as corn-based biodiesel production. Namely, that an increase in any kind of crop production will […]

  8. […] Canola-based biodiesel production is still a developing industry, and subject to most of the same criticisms as corn-based biofuel production. Namely, that an increase in any kind of crop production will […]

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