Monday, May 31, 2004

Potential of Biofuels

Tom from DC/VA pointed me out to this comparison of Biodiesel and Hydrogen. Tom also correctly pointed out that the comparion needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Such a comparison is unfair in my opinion because of the following reasons:
* Diesels are going to have to do a lot of hard work before they can become a preferred choice in the U.S. market.
* While biodiesels can solve the particulates problem, emissions of NOx are actually worse. Remember that with current Diesels, the problem is NOx, and not the particulates.
* Even if these problems are overcome, to think that Biodiesel can displace entire petroleum consumption is wishful thinking. Biodiesel can be used in existing diesel engines, but that does not eliminate the "chicken and egg" dilemma of who is going to invest in the mammoth biodiesel production capacity, and why?
* Recently, IEA brought out a report on Biofuels in transport (I don't think that they consider the algae based option). They say:
A 5% displacement of gasoline in the EU requires about 5% of
available cropland to produce ethanol, while in the US 8% is required. A 5%
displacement of diesel requires 13% of US cropland, 15% in the EU. Land
requirements for biodiesel are greater primarily because average yields (litres
of final fuel per hectare of cropland) are considerably lower than for ethanol.
Land requirements to achieve 5% displacement of both gasoline and diesel
would require the combined land total, or 21% in the US and 20% in the EU.
These estimates could be lower if, for example, vehicles experience an
efficiency boost running on low-level biofuels blends and thus require less
biofuel per kilometre of travel.

The IEA is very careful as to not exaggerate the benefits of biofuels.

* Some of the numbers on the UNH page hide information. For example see the Overall energy balance or tank capacity numbers. I immediately doubt the information which has clearly been massaged to make their option look better.

* Biofuels indeed have a potential to displace petroleum based fuels in the short term, and we should look at them seriously. At the same time, anybody who is looking at Hydrogen seriously is not thinking of it as a short term option. Honestly, in the long run (30 to 50 years), there does not seem to be another option. Hydrogen has it's own problems, but we need to take it seriously.


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