car tuning

25 Mar 2008

Biofuels good bad or ugly?

Biofuel has been hailed by many as the answer to our dependence on oil. A bio fuel is one which can be produced from biological matter. The theory is that the fuel crop grows and absorbs Co2 and then it is processed, turned into fuel and burnt in our engines.

Biodiesel is popular with some people starting to produce their own bio-diesel at home with kits. The nearest you can get to petrol is ethanol which is a form of alcohol but a petrol engine needs extensive modification to reliably use ethanol. The latest thinking is that a small percentage of our petrol can harmlessly contain ethanol and this will reduce oil dependence by 10-20% a year for the average motorist.

The downsides though which are some what ignored.

  1. Damage to engines. Ethanol engines are different to petrol one due in part to the corrosive nature of ethanol within an engine. Even a watered down mix will potentially cause damage to an engine, research is currently being conducted into this assertion but the early indicators are not good. Ethanol is also hydroscopic meaning it absorbs water easily so it will mean the average driver without a permenantly full tank will have fuel and water pumping into his engine.
  2. Ethanol is difficult to produce and requires a great deal of energy for the distillation/filtration and processing. We seem to be robbing Peter to pay Paul.
  3. Ethanol produces less energy per equivalent volume of petrol. This means that our fuel consumption/gas mileage is reduced and we end up burning a greater volume of fuel.
  4. Modern diesel engines are not happy to run on unprocessed vegetable oil and again there is an energy overhead in the conversion/manufacturing process.
  5. Crop space is taken up producing fuel crops instead of food crops. This could impact on farming and food production. Where new land is ploughed and used the trapped Co2 in that virgin land is now released into the enviroment.

We clearly need more research into bio-fuels and their future impact before we start switching over to use them. Bio Fuel can only ever be a partial solution to the problem. Our consumer led lifestyles have more impact on Co2 than even a high mileage drivers car emissions. The UK are potential going to introduce compulsory introduction of bio/mineral fuel blends at all pumps. This has already been a policy in the USA and already lobbyists are calling for a reversal of this misguided attempt to save the environment.

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