Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘ethanol

Study: ‘It’s hard to beat gasoline’ on Air Quality

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I saw this on Planetizen and couldn’t resist the video

Now, we don’t have much ethanol around here, and the electricity we use is mostly  from existing hydro. So some of these results from the US don’t exactly translate here. So if you can afford a Tesla, go right ahead and don’t worry about those “electric cars are not so green” articles. The only time we use dirty, coal fired electricity is when our generating capacity is stretched at peak periods. Charge up your car overnight with a clear conscience.

The ethanol they refer to is E85 (85% of the fuel is ethanol): the most we use is 5 to 10%. At one time this was only true of so called premium fuels. Now it is not unusual to see ethanol in regular fuel and you may have to buy premium to avoid it. Most cars, of course, do not need premium fuel.

While hybrid cars do cut fuel consumption, this gets negated pretty quickly if you drive with a lead foot, or use a vehicle much bigger than you need. A smart car is going to use less gas than a giant SUV or truck, even if they are hybrids. And simple precautions like checking your tire pressures and not hauling a load of junk in your trunk will also cut your fuel consumption. Walking, cycling and transit (even if it is a diesel bus) are all better for the environment – and your own health.

Published on 15 Dec 2014

Life cycle air quality impacts of conventional and alternative light-duty transportation in the United States

Authors: Christopher W. Tessum, Jason D. Hill, and Julian D. Marshall

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A.

Full text is openly available at:­3111


Compost bug offers hope for biofuel industry

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The Guardian

A detritus-loving bug found in garden compost heaps has been genetically ‘turbo-charged’ to help it break down tough plant matter at speed, a process that could be about to transform the way the world makes biofuels

The problem with “second generation ” biofuels is that it is not easy to break down cellulose. So biofuel at present is made from material that has a better use – food. This British development will at first just make that process more efficient. Which in itself is not a bad thing, since the invetsment has already been made in the ethanol plants and they will continue to produce for some years until that investment is paid off. They use tremendous amounts of energy too, so just cutting back on that bill is also a good thing.

But you cannot please some people

Some environmental campaigners remain unconvinced, however. A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth, which campaigns against biofuels, says that so-called second generation technologies are not the answer.

“Sustainable second generation biofuels are a PR promise, not a commercial reality – and are a distraction from real green transport solutions, like more fuel efficient cars, better public transport and safer routes for walking and cycling,” she said.

Well yes, but why do we let the best become the enemy of the good? Certainly I would argue for an end to subsidies and mandates for grain based ethanol. And the quite daft marketing of minivans in BC with a “flex fuel vehicle” badge when E85 is not sold here. After all it had to be adapted to meet Canadian standards – so why is that badge still there? But, the present fleet of internal combustion cars and trucks is going to be around for a while, so getting cleaner fuel for them is still necessary. Corn based ethanol fails to meet that criteria because it is not carbon neutral – yet. “A distraction” possibly – but not enough of one to be a plausible alternative to all the other good things, and anyway we should be doing all of those even if the planet wasn’t heating up. “More fuel efficient cars, better public transport and safer routes for walking and cycling” are all Good Things in and of themselves, and consequent reduction in GHGs simply a bonus!

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2008 at 9:07 am

Canada’s biofuel mandate

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Bill C-33 would allow the government to ensure all gasoline produced for domestic consumption has an average renewable fuel content of five per cent by 2010 and that diesel and heating oil have an average renewable fuel content of two per cent by 2012. The motion, carried by a vote of 173 to 64, must be debated in the Senate before passing into law.

It’s the size of the majority that bothers me. And the Senate is unlikely to do be much different.

There are 20 biofuel plants in operation or under construction in Canada, which will use more than a million tonnes of wheat and nearly 2.5 million tonnes of corn annually.

And, of course, the people who are most pleased about this are not even mentioned. Canada’s farmers. Rural votes have always been much more valuable than urban votes, and though farmers are doing well now that is a bit of a change form previous years. And there is the continuing power of myth – that Canada is mostly rural and agricultural.

On the other hand we also know what the US ethanol mandate has done to distort grain prices, and controversial role it has been playing in its contribution to world hunger and high food prices. The obscenity of fat Americans filling their gargantuan SUVs while poor little kids go hungry has a “made for tv” quality about it that the ethanol lobby spin doctors have not been able to erase.

Mostly, for me, it is the dubious science. There is little doubt in my mind that in the full cycle analysis which includes the impact of fertilisers and the use of fuel to farm, transport and process the crop that the claimed savings in ghg emissions are at best overstated, and at worse the reverse of the truth.

I would like to blame the Conservatives but obviously I can’t. The lobbyists have worked both sides of the house successfully. Renewables would be a good idea if we had a source that was based on what is otherwise a waste product – which can be the case for both ethanol and biodiesel but at present, isn’t. Corn and wheat are food crops. There is plenty of woodwaste and straw – and land that could grow switch grass that would not support food crops. But there are no industrial sized plants producing cellulosic ethanol. It would be nice to think that Mr Harper might hold off on the implementation of this Bill until there is, but it seems extremely unlikely.

UPDATE May 30 Another UN report

Written by Stephen Rees

May 29, 2008 at 10:18 am

Ethanol to get green light

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Conservatives, Liberals say they’re not concerned about food-based biofuel

“We have energy security and we have the environment and they’re both important priorities,” said Environment Minister John Baird in an interview. “We obviously cannot continue to depend on foreign oil (when) you look at the prices.”

But as Environment Minister you are not supposed to be concerned about those things – that falls to other departments. And this is the same government that was, in the last few days, beating its chest in Washington about the size of our oil reserves. “Second only to Saudi Arabia” said Mr Harper.

If we “depend on foreign oil” it is very silly to import it at higher costs than we can produce it ourselves – isn’t it? Or is it that the shameful environmental record of the tar sands has some resonance in your Ministry? No – that seems unlikely to me.

Note as well the reuse of the current buzz word “simplistic”. There is a shortage of food. Grain prices are at record highs. The US has an increasing requirement of corn for ethanol to the extent that corn for food use is declining in supply, and at the same time farmers are switching away from soy beans and other crops. Yes there are other factors – the greed of speculators being a large influence – but the driving force is the US appetite for motor fuel, and the increasing number of vehicle miles and the huge size of the vehicles they use to drive themselves around. And the way that ethanol is promoted by self interest groups as “green”.

I have no doubt at all that I will start seeing petition and letter writing requests in my inbox within hours.

UPDATE Friday May 2 – two more significant stories to day in the Sun – including this gem

Almost $3 billion in federal and provincial grants, subsidies and incentives is providing the fertilizer.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 1, 2008 at 10:24 am

Posted in energy

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

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| Gristmill: The environmental news blog | Grist

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