Bio-fuels: What we need while we wait for electric?
Electric car technology has come a long way in a short amount of time. The problem is that it is not quite ready yet to take over completely.
With air quality suffering and global warming reaching a tipping point, it seems we might not have the time to wait. Is bio-fuel the short term answer for the meantime, or is it actually bad for the environment?
Bio-fuel types and uses
There are a few types of bio-fuels so they are not all created equally. Just like there is petrol and there is diesel, there are different types for different uses.
Ethanol is popular in the US as an additive to petrol that makes the fuel more efficient by adding more oxygen while also slightly reducing air pollution.
For diesel, there is HVO fuel which is made from 100% renewable raw materials.
Bio-diesel, as it is also called, is made from vegetable oil, animal fat and even used cooking oil.
Then there is bio-methane which is the gas collected from landfills and livestock farms. It works much the same way natural gas does and produces no carbon dioxide in its emissions.
Better than oil?
There is no question that bio-fuels are better than using petroleum-based oils. That said, however, bio-fuels are not as environmentally friendly as we would like them to be.
For one thing, there is a lot of land required to produce the maize (corn) and other crops. This land used to produce food and now is needed to produce fuel. The domino effect is that more forests then need to be cleared. This, at a time when we need more trees than ever.
As an example, right now Britain produces about 55,000 tonnes of bio-ethanol per year, mainly made from sugar beets. For diesel, it produces roughly 75,000 tonnes made mainly from rapeseed oil and tallow.
To meet the goal of requiring all fuel to have five percent bio-fuels added, Britain will need to produce two million tonnes. As you can see, that will require a lot more land than is currently being used.
Then the growing, harvesting and processing of these crops are resource-intensive. There is no easy answer it seems.
Perhaps the best way forward is to introduce other measures alongside the promotion of bio-fuels to have an immediate impact.
Evidently, bio-fuels do currently have a place, but a long term solution will be needed. That long term solution could very well be a move to electric cars, but that day seems to be too far away to not change anything while we wait.
For now, it seems prudent to explore what bio-fuels have to offer so we can enjoy some clean air while we are patiently waiting. After all, there is no magic bullet. There will have to be multi-pronged solutions to fix this mess.