Friday, March 16, 2007

Ethanol sucks - Biodiesel rocks

Many pundits as well as scientists and economists believe that for most countries, ethanol production from grain is NOT energy efficient nor economically efficient. And most current ethanol production comes from grain with the general exception of Brazil, where sugar is the base material. link to Brazil and ethanol

The "holy grail" for ethanol production which would almost certainly change the economics of production and use, is whole biomass conversion via microbiological processes, suitably scaled up via engineering to large scale. While some serious amounts of dollars are now being spent / planned to be spent on this type of technology, this is currently not a viable option - technically or for large scale operations.

In Australia, several recent publications indicate a reasonable proportion of vehicles could never use ethanol above the approximate level of 10%, and even some not at all. With car turnover slow, that situation is unlikely to rapidly change. The report 'Setting a Quality Standard for Fuel Ethanol' dashed hopes of a high ethanol blended fuel in the Australian fleet for the near future and reinforced the current 10% ethanol cap introduced in July 2003, claiming only specially-designed flexible fuel vehicles could use ethanol in higher percentages. The government research also showed that only about 60% of cars currently on Australian roads, some 7.6 million, are compatible with the 10% ethanol blend. Despite the low ethanol blend and the potential unpopularity of the fuel, the Queensland Government still plans to introduce an ethanol mandate by 2010.

This lack of ethanol compatibility may prove a boon for the biodiesel industry whose product can supplement petroleum diesel 100% – but the industry has been struggling against government policy in order to effectively reach the market.

One then has to question why there is such a rush to develop ethanol production. However.............biodiesel, well that is a different situation, except that the federal government is rapidly DECREASING subsidies and assistance to this potential new industry, while INCREASING assistance to ethanol production.

To add to the equation, the recent Scientific American magazine [ March 2007] clearly shows the pathway to clean diesel engines, and with rapid improvements already in place in Europe, and more smaller cars having a newer style clean diesel engine, often turbocharged to give excellent performance, why is Australia ignoring this trend? Australia has also recently mandated low sulfur diesel fuel. As well, the real use of transport fuel is for trucks, small and large in both long distance and surburban delivery / trademan / contractor use - and I am sure their presence is very evident on any day, with the weekend slack being taken up by diesel 4 x 4 or similar vehicles. Other major uses of diesel - and potentially biodiesel - involve electricity generation, diesel electric locomotives, heavy industry and similar industrial uses.

Sure, light vehicles have used and will continue to use petrol or maybe petrol / ethanol blends, not to mention the recent free kick to vehicle LPG use by the federal government. BUT the real sleeper is the very high use of diesel in many trucks, and potentially increasing use in light vehicles too. There are some great diesel powered small cars.

Yet, government assistance is being removed at a time when increasing use of biodiesel is a real opportunity. A new biodiesel production facility has opened in Darwin recently, and even backyard production is relatively easy. And Australia can produce crops such as canola, peanuts, soybean and several other oilseed types, with most of the grain or seed potentially suitable for biodiesel. Esterification of fats, tallow etc can also make biodiesel. And we have available large volumes of crop products such as palm oil, even coconut oil in the region.

One has to seriously question the logic behind govermment decisions that favour ethanol over biodiesel.

So as I started out ........ethanol sucks and biodiesel rocks...........except with government it seems.

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