back to article Most biofuels fail green test: study

A Swiss study has reconfirmed a common criticism of the use of biofuels as a replacement for fossil fuels: often, the “green” alternative merely replaces one set of environmental problems with another. The study, by Switzerland’s EMPA – the Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology – confirms results the …

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To say nothing of the fact ...

That most "bio fuel" is corn (maize) based. As a direct result, the price of maize world-wide has skyrocketed, causing issues in countries where corn is a staple (including here in the USofA). People, real honest to gawd/ess human beings, are actually going hungry and in some cases starving to death because of this nonsense ... Remember that, next time you fuel up your vehicle with "bio fuel", greenie.

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Re: To say nothing of the fact ...

Making your hummer more environmentally friendly is more important than starving Africans

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Re: To say nothing of the fact ...

sad problem with that is for 20% reduction in MPG which is end result of corn based and its only 10% cheaper then good old petrol. So really most ppl won't even bother using it. only biofuel that has shown to be competitive in MPG is sugerkane version used in brazil.

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Devil

Re: To say nothing of the fact ...

A very valid point indeed, my former neighbour works as an engineer for a rather large UK bus company who rested their green credentials on the fact the vehicles ran bio diesel

He told me that the vehicles needed to be modified to run bio diesel, at a cost and also these vehicles now consumed 10% more fuel to get the job done as good old fashioned oil based diesel. Sadly the "greenies" seem to overlook this important fact and believe they are doing the planet a favour every time they ride the bio diesel powered bus.

Sure we need alternatives to oil, but committing crop harvests to a fuel source that isn't as efficient as oil is not the answer.

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Re: To say nothing of the fact ...

Brazil also has the infrastructure for small, localized production of biofuels from sugarcane. It's kind of surprising that this is a factor, but in the USA, driving all the biomass to the centers where it can be turned into fuel (to power the vehicles that ship the biomass) actually is a significant barrier to the cost-effectiveness of US biofuels.

There has been recent progress on using lignin for biofuels (inedible stalk parts of plants) which could revolutionise biofuels. In fact, this seems likely. There may come a time in the near future where biofuels are both cheaper and don't compete nearly as much with food supplies. But we're not there yet. Soon, perhaps.

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Re: To say nothing of the fact ...

"Sadly the "greenies" seem to overlook this important fact and believe they are doing the planet a favour every time they ride the bio diesel powered bus."

To be fair, I think it is well settled amongst "greenies" that biofuel in it's current form is a total failure.

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Re: To say nothing of the fact ...

"As a direct result, the price of maize world-wide has skyrocketed, causing issues in countries where corn is a staple (including here in the USofA)"

And the drought and heatwaves don't help

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19213550

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Anonymous Coward

Re: To say nothing of the fact ...

@Mondo: Where I live we have bio fuelled buses, but the fuel is recycled veg oil. The oil has already been used for cooking and processed so that the buses can use it - I believe some work was also needed on the buses engines. The point is that this fuel was produced for something else, it's done that job and instead of being dumped into landfill is being used for something else. Where is the problem in that?

I agree that using food that someone else could eat to use as fuel is not a sensible thing to do, but more often than not this is a high sugar containing crop which is then processed into bio-ethanol, which is then used to dope down petrol, rather than replace Diesel.

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FAIL

Re: To say nothing of the fact ...

The basis of the eco-claims for bio-fuels is that the crops remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It has been perfectly obvious from day 1 that if fuel crops simply replace food crops or forest there is no gain whatsoever.

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Trollface

Re: To say nothing of the fact ...

Is starving Africans normal environmental policy then?

I thought it was more freezing Europaeons.

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WTF?

Wait just one minute!

I thought this whole biofuel and food thing was solved when they found out how to make oil from the poo of pre-bacon?

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Anonymous Coward

Considering it's been known for years that practically every piece of land suitable for agriculture is already being utilised (short of irrigating more desert and cutting down more rainforest) the idea that adding even more pressure by growing crops for biofuels in addition to foods is going to have a negative environmental impact is hardly surprising. Things will continue to get worse before they get better, and things will only have a chance to start to gradually improve after world population peaks and begins to decline, probably in the latter third of the century.

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Anonymous Coward

all the land is in use?

I beg to differ, well, at least in the UK

massive chunks of land was removed from farming duties thanks to the good old EU, or more specifically because of the French ;)

said land was "set aside" and farmers even get paid to NOT use it, in the coming years much of this land was sold and turned in to massive housing estates. So we have a situation where a country that was super farming nation, who could have sold goods to folk who need it, cant because we were not aloud to make too much because other EU countries would have been at a disadvantage. It doesn't matter that the world is going to run out of food to support the population long before we run out of oil, what matters is that we don't defy those EU directives.

anyhow, its academic now, huge chunks of the land we used to use for food has been built on. I don't know if the that's the same in the rest of the world, presumably other places have more common sense, like Canada and the USA with its immense food producing lands... I dunno but lets hope so!

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Meh

Re: all the land is in use?

Interesting opinion.

I think you'll find if it's "set aside" it has to remain *available* for use and if the land was sold off off then the set aside bill would have *shrunk* over time.

Do you have any actual *references* to back your opinion?

BTW Thank you for demonstrating why spell checking without proof reading is a *bad* idea.

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FAIL

Re: all the land is in use?

" said land was "set aside" and farmers even get paid to NOT use it, in the coming years much of this land was sold and turned in to massive housing estates. "

So fields are set aside, farmers paid to do so, and yet these paid-for set-asides turn into housing estates? This sounds more like the greed of farmers (housing probably paid more) than a flaw in the EU policy or "something the French did".

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Headmaster

Re: all the land is in use?

> BTW Thank you for demonstrating why spell checking without proof reading is a *bad* idea.

Meeeoooow!

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Re: all the land is in use?

"This sounds more like the greed of farmers (housing probably paid more)"

Did it occur to you that:

1. People enjoy living in houses rather than caves.

2. The houses have to be built somewhere.

3. Farmers own much of the available land for housing.

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Devil

So where does dual fuel - Ethanol + Oil production stand here

My french is very rusty, but if I understand it right the study assumes that oil/ethanol is a mutually exclusive choice. This is not so. Nearly all oil producing plants also have a significant plant mass byproduct. This can be converted to ethanol.

Example - sunflower = oil from the seeds, ethanol from the rather hefty plant mass.

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Anonymous Coward

What ever happened ....

... to the process that I think UMIST, or somewhere like that, demoed that broke down food waste into oil - not ethanol but something that was more like oil which suggested it could be burned for power production? Did it get replaced with bio-digesters which produce methane (which round here seems to be burned off)

Or maybe I was dreaming it all

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Re: What ever happened ....

Other things from history...

a) Oil, diesel, petrol substitutes from coal (no more environmental by does away with funding islamic militants via a rich sheik

b) The Americans who made petrol in the dessert using solar power which didn't need any bio to produce environmental fuel from atmospheric CO2

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Unhappy

All so that Americans can drive around in five-litre 4x4 SUV

There is something a little absurd about turning crops into Ethanol to water-down petrol, just for it to be belched out of the back of a huge car that makes a WWII Sherman tank look like an eco-vehicle.

The solution is very simple, America need to start taxing fuel and encouraging people to buy smaller cars.

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"five-litre 4x4 SUV "

The people who can afford to drive five-litre 4x4 SUV's can afford any tax that will be levied on gasoline. Those five-litre 4x4 SUV's need to be outlawed.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "five-litre 4x4 SUV "

It is not the 5l SUV which is the problem. It is the EPA legislation which effectively mandates it.

It is not that USA does not want to have fuel efficient cars - it actually cannot. An Euro Cat 5 diesel which is so clean that you can breathe the output is EPA illegal in the USA and that is very intentional. At one point the petrol and car lobbies ensured that they cannot be sold and USA continues to buy more and more petrol as well as monstrosities which are geared to the local market and produced locally to consume it.

So before outlawing the 5l SUV you have to fix the law which outlaws your average ~40+ MPG 2.2 - 2.5 l turbo-diesel which you will find on the average big EU or Japanese car, truck, van or 4x4.

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Re: All so that Americans can drive around in five-litre 4x4 SUV

ww2 Shermans were quite good as I recollect for population reduction purposes - get in, drive a bit, get cooked, don't consume any more CO2 ever :)

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Stop

Methane from Cellulose

We already know how to get methane from cellulose, but no one seems to want more methane. After all, it is only the second-most clean burning fuel available to us. The absolutely cleanest fuel availabel to us is uranium and thorium, but there are numerous green Luddites who do not want nuclear power . I have concluded that they would still gripe if you offered to hang them with a brand new hemp rope.

There is a large segment of our society who thinks we should return to the per capita energy consumption we had during the seventeenth or eighteenth century. The nineteenth century would be entirely too advanced for them. Life in the seventeenth and ealry eighteenth centuries was not what you would call idyllic, unless you happen to be a masochist. All ordinary people were obliged to travel by foot if they traveled at all.

Before you advocate returning to this level of energy consumption, just try walking everywhere you want to go for a month. Limit your diet to whatever is in season and can be found within a day's walk of your home. Oh, and no refrigeration allowed! Not even air condtioning. Live without cooled or heated air for a month as well. Oh, and no filtered or distilled water, and no preservatves at all and no...

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Re: Methane from Cellulose

Before you advocate returning to this level of energy consumption, just try walking everywhere you want to go for a month. Limit your diet to whatever is in season and can be found within a day's walk of your home. Oh, and no refrigeration allowed! Not even air condtioning. Live without cooled or heated air for a month as well. Oh, and no filtered or distilled water, and no preservatves at all and no..."

That is EXACTLY what the Luddites want. After all, that's how every other animal in the world does it. They want us to be completely self-sufficient or at worst local-sufficient. They will have an answer to every contention you raise. Who needs to travel great distances when everything you need is right at home? After all, transportation, both of people and goods, are taking up a lot of the fuel expenses. Seasonal goods? That's why they encourage farming and crop rotation, so that you have things available in different parts of the year. The right home design can actually help regulate the internal temperature. Think solid stone or mud walls and thich thatch roofs, both of which retard heat transfer, and open windows combined with a central fireplace that encourage airflow via chimney action. We had ways of preserving foods well before the modern refrigerator: root cellars, jerking, salting, etc. As for the water issue, we already knew two ways to clean the water: you can either boil it or switch to drinking ale, which was that many people drank in those days for reasons of health (the water in ale is boiled and it has microbe-killing alcohol in it).

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@Charles 9

From your post, I don't know which side of this argument you are actually on, but the things that you have ignored in the proposed Luddite way of the world is that you would have to actually have a much smaller population, people would have to leave the cities and return to the land (including working it), and that there is insufficient energy in many environments to even boil the water for ale or safe drinking and would generate pollution. Open fires are significantly more polluting per joule of usable energy than anything we do for power at the moment.

On food, preserving with salt assumes you have a local source of salt, something that was not the case in most of Europe before transport. Jerking and smoking assumes that you have heat sources (I know that you can use waste heat from your inefficient open fires), or good sunlight. And people actually knew more about the effects of food poisoning from first hand experience in those days. Whether this was a good or bad thing, the bulk of the population were poorly nourished much of the time. Life expectancy was worse with no good medical services and medicines.

I'm sure it would be possible to design a way of working that was sustainable and local, but I would expect that it would degenerate to the way people actually lived in the middle-ages without some form of non-local engineering and manufacturing capability.

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Re: Methane from Cellulose

Methane used to be used to run taxis - neatly connected from the sewer

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Orv
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Re: Methane from Cellulose

I suspect the reason we're not trying to make methane from cellulose is natural gas is still cheap and plentiful, especially with the advent of "fracking" techniques. I doubt any process for making methane can compete, unless the input material is free and the usage point is nearby -- e.g., dairy farms will sometimes use methane from decomposing manure to generate power.

You're correct that it's never drawn that much interest as a motor fuel. There are a few reasons for this; the main ones are it's difficult to store in a compact way (has to be highly compressed, which means cylindrical takes that eat up passenger space) and it's still more expensive than gasoline per BTU. It also has distribution issues -- it can only be distributed economically to fueling stations that happen to be in areas that have natural gas pipelines.

It mainly sees use for powering captive fleets, especially ones in areas where pollution is a major concern. I pretty routinely see it used to run taxicabs, for example.

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Re: @Charles 9

I'm not on either side of the argument, but am simply saying that many of the criticisms you cite (such as population) are in fact THE VERY THINGS the Luddites endorse. Population reduction being close to the top of the list (since not one with the exception of China has given serious thought it seems to the "O" word).

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Holmes

Re: Methane from Cellulose

http://www.theregister.co.uk/Design/graphics/icons/comment/holmes_32.png Have you ever talked to a stonemason to see what he charges per stone or a bricklayer per thousand brick? Quarrying stone is energy intensive, so is the brick making process and both products are very difficult to ship without modern conveyances. Again, I will point out that all of their proposed solutions are unworkable unless you happen to have a rather masochistic streak. Then, you will be able to actually enjoy slaving away at all the fiddly little details of living back in those days.

On the off hand that this should happen, meaning the Greens get their way, we will see a precipitous drop in human populations world wide. I seriously doubt that they will convince any person living in today's third world that life without a high per-capita energy consumption is a worthy choice. Most of them will insist on having their homes cooled post haste. The Greens will then find it necessary to force those third world populations to reduce their numbers. However, their more immediate targets are all of us comfortable fat boys living the good life in our industrial societies. I can remember the days when being fat was a sign of good health. Nowadays, it is considered a sure sign of self-indulgent consumption.

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Re: Methane from Cellulose

Actually, there several processes by which methane can be converted to gasoline and other liquid fuels. None of them are spectacurly efficient, but all of them are better than wasting energy and running rthe risks of compressing natural gas until it is LNG. As you point out, LNG is far less energy dense as well as being considerably more volatile than a liquid fuel such as deisel. All we need to is to make nice with the large oil companies and I am sure that they would leap with joy and build the necessary plants. Silly me! I forgot that Big Oil is EVIL.

As an alternative, we will continue ot fiddle about with one Rube Goldberg contaption after another while continuing to stuff millions upon millions of dollars into the pockets of radical islamists. The islamists, I am sure, will happily spend our money on weaponry and use those weapons to work woe until we see things their way. Right?

Notice that I have yet to say anything about Global Warming or The Environment? That's because I see the energy problem as being a national security problem and not an envrironmental problem. Can you imagine what our streets would look like were we to revert to horse or mule drawn vehicles? You think deisel stinks? Try your local barnyard and then tell me you do not like the smell of deisel.

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Re: @Charles 9

The things the Luddites are very careful to ignore is that all of the industrialized nations have falling populations. Japan and Italy are both in a crisis because of their dropping fertility rates. The population of the United States would be falling were it not for the constant inmigration through Mexico. Nowadays, very few of the immigrants are actually Mexican. They are from countires south of Mexico.

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Re: @Charles 9

Actually, they DO know...and counter that it's not falling FAST ENOUGH. Their view is that most countries are overpopulated by a factor of three or so.

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Re: @Charles 9 Luddites Ignore Population Drops in Industrialized Societies

RE: "Actually, they DO know...and counter that it's not falling FAST ENOUGH. Their view is that most countries are overpopulated by a factor of three or so."

So I say, Shame on them! What are they going to do? Hold guns on the heads of women and insist that they take their birth control pills? Whatever happened to the notion of privacy? You watch what happens as China and India continue to industrialize. Their populations will begin falling at a steady rate. If it is not fast enough to suit the Luddites, then so be it. The truth is that world wide industrialization is the best means of limiting human population growth and for that reason alone, industrialization makes good envirnonmental sense.

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Re: @Charles 9 Luddites Ignore Population Drops in Industrialized Societies

Piracy ends when people started intruding on each other. Eventually, you get so crowded that there's no longer such a thing as personal space. As for worldwide industrialization, the counterargument is that while fewer people get born, the difference is made by by using more per person. Africa has a high population but low utilization per person while the US has a declining population but no argument as to who's the more energy-intensive. The Luddites contend that unless you can produce energy in the yottawatt range without leaving increasing tracts of the planet an inhospitable dump, we're in big trouble anyway. They basically say, "either find some way to control yourself, or your very nature will provide the solution THE HARD WAY--with increasing resource wars that could end up being a no-winner scenario.

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Re: @Charles 9 Luddites Ignore Population Drops in Industrialized Societies

RE: "we're in big trouble anyway. They basically say, "either find some way to control yourself, or your very nature will provide the solution THE HARD WAY--with increasing resource wars that could end up being a no-winner scenario."

Ultimately, the Universe will undergo one form or another of heat death. So long as our sun is lit, we will be able to survive, but only if we take advantage of the technology we have now and continue learning about how to manipulate energy to our advantage. It is necessary to point this out, because so few people realize that all of the energy we use to day is derived from nuclear energy. Coal? Fossilized sunlight. Crude oil? Same thing. Natural gas or methane? Same thing. Nuclear? Nucleosythesis from dead stars. Solar? Fusion in the star nearest to us. Geothermal? Fission which is basically derived from the materials synthesized by dead stars.

Everything, and I do mean every last little bitty thing, comes from nuclear reactions of one kind or another. There are no exceptons. So the Luddites can just go d battle with the raging sea. Theirs is an exercise in futility. We only have the one choice. Flow with the entropy or disappear.

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Re: @Charles 9 Luddites Ignore Population Drops in Industrialized Societies

So here's the billion-dollar question: how do you cram a baker's dozen in an egg carton only built for 12 without breaking an egg? At some point, physics gets in the way. And we're nowhere near entering the Kardashev scale. You'd need some level of planetary cooperation for that to happen, which given current attitutdes probably won't happen soon (I mean, you still have people who would rather destroy the world that see it happen).

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Whatever happened to the "deriving fuel from algae grown in vats" schemes? Weren't they made to save the world without using up all the arable land?

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Energy from algae.

That is an ongoing field of research, but the thermodynamics are not particularly favorable.

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Boffin

Y'know...

... you can use fuel and energy more efficiently *without* needing to put on a hair shirt and walk or cycle everywhere...

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Trollface

Re: Y'know...

Yes, but that's just being a capitalist pig! It's not being "Green."

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Go

Sure it might not be as "green"

But it is not going to run out any time soon, and you can simply grow more crops to increase production. Dinosaur juice WILL run out one day.

*Disclaimer It would be nice if you could grow the necessary corn, sugar, whatever in a nice and friendly manner but I am sure it will come one day.

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Pirate

Remember the old adage

If you are cold and starving shut up and eat your Greens

Cannibalism rules OK?

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Anonymous Coward

Try as I might...

...I can't make the case for turning over a couple of acres to canola for fuel.

The Scottish Agricultural College did a big piece of work on it in the mid 2000's and calculated the economies of scale to quite a good degree, from farm to regional scale - http://www.highland.gov.uk/yourenvironment/agriculturefisheriesandforestry/agriculture/biodiesel-production-from-oilseed-rape.htm

For me, at a farm scale it will make sense when fuel prices rises just a little more. I'm an infrastructure PM and a crofter for self-sufficiency so my break-even point is supermarket pricing rather than producing a surplus for sale at profit. My labour is worth over £400 a day so any day spent labouring had better be fun or have a high return.

Duty free heating oil is an attraction though.

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Orv

Heating fuel

That reminds me that about ten years ago corn was so cheap in the US, thanks to subsidies, that people were burning dried corn as heating fuel in specially-designed stoves.

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