Editor’s Note: Will Biofuel Replace Crude Oil?
There is a lot of discussion these days about biofuel, and there should be. Biofuel is an excellent fuel – it burns cleaner than petroleum-based fuels and is easier on the internal combustion engine. Moreover, we can grow biofuel, which means it is totally renewable. But can biofuel completely replace crude oil?
The answer, at least for now, is absolutely not. As the table below shows, even if a fairly high-yielding biofuel crop were planted all over the world, yielding 1,000 barrels of oil per year per square mile, and even if this biofuel were grown on every available scrap of farmland on earth, we would only replace 20% of the energy we’re currently getting from crude oil. The algebra is immutable – about 10% of the world’s land area consists of arable farmland, about 5.7 million square miles. If 100% of that land was planted with biofuel crops yielding 1,000 barrels of oil per square mile, each year that would produce 5.7 billion barrels of biofuel. But world consumption of crude oil currently stands at 85 million barrels per day, which equates to 31 billion barrels per year. Biofuel will greatly supplement crude oil supplies, and is an important part of future energy solutions, but that’s as far as it goes.
|CAN BIOFUEL REPLACE CRUDE OIL?|
|Growing biofuel on 100% of the world’s farmland would only provide
about 20% of the energy produced each year from crude oil
This certainly doesn’t mean we should stop developing biofuels. Much biofuel is grown on land that is too marginal to support food crops. Moreover, biodiesel and bioethanol, both refined from biomass, are renewable, clean-burning fuels; biodiesel fuel has lubricity that actually extends the life of diesel engines. And unlike hydrogen, biofuels can be stored and distributed using existing infrastructure.
Moreover, biofuel crops are basically converting sunlight into energy. As such, in future years it’s possible biofuel crops may be developed that can more efficiently convert sunlight into biomass, creating potentially far higher yields. An excellent website for learning more about biofuel is www.JourneytoForever.org; it includes tables showing the yields of all well-known biofuel crops, as well as information on how to refine biofuel. – Ed Ring
Countless articles have been written on alternative fuels and hybrids, all have major technological and economic hurdles to overcome – especially hydrogen fuel cell cars, but also the popular new hybrids.
Hybrids require heavy batteries that are limited in where they can be placed in the vehicle, which can cause weight distribution problems, and the additional weight of batteries might be better used to strengthen the passenger structure. Batteries also take up valuable space. If one compares the standard 2006 Honda Civic to the hybrid version, the hybrid version has 14% less cargo space than the non-hybrid version. The current average hybrid battery replacement cost: $3,000. Hybrid cars, and, for that matter, 100% battery powered cars, have great potential. But they are not the only answer.
|FOOD OR FUEL?|
|Corn is a major source of biofuel in North America|
Whether or not hybrids or battery-powered cars will ever become part of clean, renewable, economical automotive solutions, clean diesel-powered cars are already available worldwide. The USA has been slow to adopt diesels because of the low grade/high sulfur diesel sold here (500 ppm). This will change in the 2nd half of 2006. Beginning on October 15, 2006, low sulfur diesel (15 ppm or less) will be required to be sold at retail outlets throughout the United States.
The diesel engine today is a far cry from the black smoke belching dirty diesel engines of the early and mid-20th century. And in addition to the vast mechanical advances already made to the current clean diesel engines, and the new technologies like particulate filters that will be coming out as standard equipment over the next couple of years, the use of Bio-Diesel fuel substantially improves the reduction of emissions. Diesels now approach the emission standards achieved by ultra-low emission vehicles. They are clean.
It doesn’t end there. Diesels typically last 400,000+ miles before needing any major engine work. That’s over twice as long as a typical gasoline engine. This, along with high fuel efficiency, gives diesels higher resale values than any other type of vehicle.
|BARRELS OIL PER SQUARE
MILE PER BIOFUEL CROP
|There are vast differences
in the yield per acre from one
biofuel to the next
Bio-Diesel fuel has many advantages over traditional fuel:
is VERY clean, environmentally safe, and non-toxic.
has a high flash point making it the SAFEST fuel to handle, distribute, and in crashes!!!
is inherently an excellent lubricant, making the already durable diesel engine last far past the typical 400,000+ miles.
can be entirely manufactured in the USA and greatly reduce dependence on a foreign supply of vehicle fuel.
can be made from many things, including wood chips, used restaurant grease, coal waste (which cleans up existing environmental pollution), seeds, grains, Jatropha, etc., and even from algae (ref: Motor Trend, Jan 2006, page 42)!
creates thousands more US jobs
Jatropha is especially interesting in that not only can it be used for producing Bio-Diesel, it has the additional benefit of restoring previously degraded and unfertile land.
A common criticism of biofuel is that large-scale production of biofuel crops will displace commercial food crops. But like many bio-fuel crops, growing Jatropha will not use land currently being used to grow food – it grows on marginal lands that won’t support food crops.
We already have the infrastructure to distribute and dispense Bio-Diesel. No expensive infrastructure to build from scratch, such as would have to happen with hydrogen. The requirements of hydrogen, which must be either frozen into a liquid or pressurized to at least 5,000 PSI in order to be stored in meaningful quantities, have never been fully acknowleged by hydrogen advocates. The costs of building a hydrogen storage and distribution infrastructure are staggering.
Bio-Diesel is gaining popularity: New diesel Jeeps are being shipped from the factory with a 5% Bio-Diesel blend. (Chrysler Group Touts Benefits of Modern Clean Diesel)
Minnesota requires a minimum of a 2% Bio-Diesel blend in diesel that is sold in the state, which started September 29, 2005. Minnesota also has three Bio-Diesel production facilities producing 63 Million gallons of Bio-Diesel a year. (Minnesota’s 2% Biodiesel (B2) Program)
According to Edmunds.com, diesels will outsell hybrids 2-to-1 in the US by 2012, with hybrids having a limited future. (Compared to Hybrids, Diesels Show Remarkable Potential)
Brazil is requiring a 2% Bio-Diesel blend for the entire country, and the government is investing $34.5 Million in a Bio-Diesel Production plant. In addition, Petrobras (a Brazilian company) is investing $167.8 Million in additional Bio-Diesel production. (Brazil to Invest in Biodiesel Plant)
India is also heavily investing in Bio-Diesel production. (Bio Diesel – The Next Generation Sustainable Fuel [India])
Some additional sites:
Hawaii’s Proven Alternative Fuel
ADM and Volkswagen Celebrate National Ag Day With Landmark Biodiesel Announcement
Northwest Biodiesel Network – Why Biodiesel
D1 Oils plc (UK based)
Bio-Diesel links in German:
Biodiesel, Schont unsere Umwelt
Arbeitsgemeinschaft Qualitaetsmanagement Biodiesel e.V.
Biodiesel GmbH & Co. KG
Lurgi realisiert in Sachsen-Anhalt weltgrosstes Biodieselprojekt
There are also many articles on Bio-Diesel in Spanish, Portugues, and French.
Bio-Diesel is growing in popularity worldwide as the most viable alternative to gasoline currently available.
Bio-Diesel is made from renewable sources, offers high performance, and is the safest of any alternative fuel.