back to article Are biofuels Europe's sh*ttiest idea ever?

The craze for biofuels* - a part of EU legislation for a decade** now - is costing Europeans a fortune and isn't even environmentally friendly, a new report (PDF) by renowned British thinktank Chatham House argues. In the name of "climate change reduction", the EU passed a mandate requiring 10 per cent of transport energy to …

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to answer the headline question

Mildly shittier than pathetic windmills.

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WTF?

Re: to answer the headline question

No, this article misses the point, and ignores the difficulty of changing human behaviour.

Raising awareness of all alternatives to unsustainable fossil fuels, by kick-starting initiatives and investment to produce sustainable fuels, of which biofuels and wind power are notable examples, is a 'Good Thing'.

Putting the Climate Change debate to one side - Left to market forces there would be no alternatives until the fossil fuels started to run out - and this is another example of the selfish theft from future generations that we, 'post-Industrial Revolution' humans, will be remembered for.

Nice to be able to comment on Andrew's articles for a change :-)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: to answer the headline question

Perhaps when wind turbines reach the end of development you can then sit on your fat lazy arse and nay say?

In the mean time, man who wants to move forward, will continue to develop greener energy.

We also need to be 100% sure that the chemicals added to fuels over the years have not caused any health damage, i.e auto- immune disorders, before claiming Bio is just as bad.

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Re: to answer the headline question

The whole think 'stinks' of corruption to me!

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Re: to answer the headline question

@ dave 93

I got to word seven, paragraph two of your post before shouting BINGO!

Anyone who's been in TPP meetings will know what I mean.

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Re: to answer the headline question

So it's better to cause more people in the world to starve and increase any climate change caused by burning fuels in order to make industry think about not using oil? That's some very stupid logic right there. Are you a Grenpeace member?

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Re: to answer the headline question

"I got to word seven, paragraph two of your post before shouting BINGO!"

Yes, it sounded like a 'Green Energy' trade association press release calling for more swill to be poured into the trough. Normal people do not use phrases like 'raising awareness'.

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Facepalm

Re: to answer the headline question

@dave 93 Left to market forces there would be no alternatives until the fossil fuels started to run out

I think what you mean is this. Left to market forces nobody would waste money and effort on alternatives until the fossil fuels started to run out and the resulting rise in price made the alternative viable.

There isn't going to be one day when the last oil trickles out of the last well and "the market" says "Oops! We should have developed an alternative". The reserves of fossil fuels are actually quite large, but the cost of extraction of much of it means that it's not currently worth it. As more and more expensive-to-extract fossil fuels come into use, so it becomes more worthwhile to develop alternatives.

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Re: to answer the headline question

"Raising awareness "

Ah yes, "Raising awareness ", the phrase used by people who want to LOOK like they're doing something important when they're not actually doing anything.

(Yes, I am that cynical, but how can anyone be over 25 and NOT be cynical?)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: to answer the headline question

".....this is another example of the selfish theft from future generations"

So is you inhaling.

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Re: to answer the headline question

Connecting Biofuels to CO2 reduction is tenuous, at best.

In the USA (where we didn't sign the Kyoto or Copenhagen accords) it was seen as an immediate insulation against volatile world oil prices, more than anything else. USA gasoline is ~10% alcohol in most places and ~85% alcohol in 37 of 50 states. Where it supplants diesel, other non-CO2 pollution is controlled, too.

I know that most readers here are European. Euro-Zeitgeist is that manmade CO2 is heavily involved in global warming. It just isn't nearly as prevalent in the USA. Aggressive ripostes harden established positions, not sway changeable opinions.

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Re: to answer the headline question

In most cases, the production of USA transport ethanol uses significantly MORE fossil fuel (in the farm equipment and added transportation) than it replaces.

I haven't seen european stats but I wouldn't be suprised to see similar figures.

That's in addion to the issues raised in the article.

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bep

Re: to answer the headline question

Actually, 'raising awaremess' is the first requirement for behaviour change. For example, making people aware of what happens to all their garbage after the big truck takes it away is a key step in getting people to recycle what they can of said garbage.

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Meh

Re: to answer the headline question

You mean; "You put all your crap in different coloured boxes, we empty the boxes into a ship and send it to be recycledchucked into a big hole in the third world?".

I think that if more people knew that, they'd probably be less inclined to bother with the coloured boxes.....

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@ TeeCee (recycle)

Maybe it's that way in the UK but in Germany it is a mufti-million Euro business that makes a profit out of recycling. Just goes to show that if one is less negative about the concept, it can work when done properly.

http://articles.latimes.com/2002/aug/11/world/fg-recycle11 albeit from 2002 but still relevant.

or from 2004 with more detail on how it works and why it isn't in the UK....

http://www.letsrecycle.com/news/special-reports/profits-warning-why-germanys-green-dot-is-selling-up

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@dave93 - Re: to answer the headline question

Wrote :- "Raising awareness of all alternatives to unsustainable fossil fuels, by [running around waving your arms like a windmill while tossing money down the drain] is a 'Good Thing'".

Reminds me of the scrap iron scam in Britain in WW2. The authorities went round cutting down iron railings and gates (some of them works of art, and you can still see the stubs if you look around inner cities today) supposedly to build tanks. But after the war they were found piled up in fields in Bedfordshire. The authorities later admitted that it was done to "raise awareness" that there was a war on.

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Re: to answer the headline question

People starve in the world not because there is not enough food, but because that food cannot reach them. Disruptions caused by wars and corruption are the cause of starvation in most countries, accusing biofuel is a far-fetched argument.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: to answer the headline question

No wind power wastes energy. In order for wind power get to the point to replace traditional power plants there would have to be so many the country side would nothing but wind mills. Biofuels production energy input is greater than what is produced and you think that energy input will come from wind power. Both wind and biofuels are dead ends.

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Biodiesel in the UK

Here's the thing I can't understand.

If biodiesel is absolutely as green as you like, totally renewable and ecomentally awesome, how come the UK Government applies tax and excise duty at exact the same rate as normal (non-bio) diesel?

And given the slightly lower power output of biodiesel, am I right in thinking that this makes it the single most heavily taxed form of fuel (on a per watt generated basis) in the entire world?

So all these fuel taxes (which, if you recall, they used to tell us were for "green" reasons) are actually a massive shot in the foot because they're taxing the "good" fuels even more heavily than the "bad" fuels?

Or does it just go to pay for bailing out bankers?

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Re: Biodiesel in the UK

Ask the governments friends - dont blame biodiesel.

Don't look at things in isolation though - think more of biodiesel as a by product of animal food. You can feed almost all of the rape plant that the biodiesel can come from to cattle and pigs etc. If grown here and fed to animals here its pretty close to a win win - you can drive your car on a couple of acres and eat bacon sarnies all day.

But the same fuck ups apply to most things - US beef takes half of the US crop growing and a lot of the amazon jungle and yet produces not much more meat than the bison that wandered around a small area of the mid west without any human intervention.

Blaming biodiesel for taxes and starvation is missing the real culprit - general human fuckwittery - by a long chalk.

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Betteridge's Law says 'No'

Agreed that biofuels are rubbish, but Europe has worse ideas, like Naziism.

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Thumb Up

Re: Betteridge's Law says 'No'

From Betteridge to Godwin, well done

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Mushroom

Re: Betteridge's Law says 'No'

I invoke Godwin's Law and you forfeit your internetz.

Reading the article at all you can see that the Europe in the headline is the EU.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Betteridge's Law says 'No'

Godwin!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Betteridge's Law says 'No'

There are probably more 'Nazi' supporters in the US than in Europe.

Flying the Swastika is illegal in Germany and not illegal in the USA.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Betteridge's Law says 'No'

Mornington Crescent

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Holmes

Re: Betteridge's Law says 'No'

I don't think any country should ban the swastika (even if you put aside its use in Hinduism and Buddhism).

If people want to identify themselves as racist, antisemitic, cro-magnon morons, that's entirely up to them.

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Re: Betteridge's Law says 'No'

"Mornington Crescent"

Wait, I though you were in nip ...

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Unhappy

Re: Betteridge's Law says 'No'

"Mornington Crescent"

Oh yeah? Well I just lost The Game. Which means so have you.

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Re:" There are probably more 'Nazi' supporters in the US than in Europe.

Flying the Swastika is illegal in Germany and not illegal in the USA."

Perhaps true for public demonstration of Nazi-ness, but it says nothing about what the people really think.

I even knew a German Jew who was pro-Nazi as a philosophy. He thought that Hitler and his cronies were the best thing that ever happened to Germany as a nation (if you could put aside the ethnic-cleansing excesses).

Just like there are many Russians who think the communist days were better, and South Africans (yes, even some black South Africans) who preferred the safety and stability of the Apartheid era, there are undoubtedly many Germans who still see Nazi-ism as a fine thing.

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Pint

Re: Betteridge's Law says 'No'

I am reminded of comedian Bill Engvall's running gag of "Here's your sign". If racist, antisemitic, cro-magnon morons where properly labeled, you would know to avoid them straight off.

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Are biofuels Europe's sh*ttiest idea ever?

Probably not - the EU has come up with an awful lot of bad and expensive ideas over the years (anyone remember the Euro?)

In this case, it's the classic problem - fundamentally sound principle, which manages to get completely turned around by the time the eurocrats, politicians and vested interests have finished with it.

*IF* biofuels are produced by processing existing agricultural waste (and a lot of interesting research is being done on how the woody leftovers can be efficiently processed), by re-processing food waste(chip fat) or by growing interesting new crops on land that cannot be effectively used for other food production then it's an excellent idea - carbon neutral and using resources which would otherwise be wasted.

Sadly some greedy sods decided that the best use of tasty and nourishing food crops is to make bio-diesel. Where do these people come from?

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Re: Are biofuels Europe's sh*ttiest idea ever?

"by growing interesting new crops on land that cannot be effectively used for other food production"

I think that was what the green groups had in mind in the first place. Trouble is, land that's not fit for growing food crops is generally not fit for growing crops of any sort at a commercial yield.

The reason that they're using palm oil, maize and rape etc for bio stuff is that it's relatively easy to get from plant to fuel. The farming process is already industrialised and once harvested, the route to ethanol or whatever is relatively uncomplicated and again, has few technical hurdles to overcome.

If you want to reprocess waste, generally someone has to sort it and do more work to get it into fuel, and usually at lower conversion efficiencies. This means that the processes would require even more subsidies to get anyone interested in investing it.

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Actually...

That is already done in part. Sludge coming out of sewage treatment plants is already used either agriculturally or burnt to generate heat and electricity.

Also there are plants which process waste into methane. There's not much sorting involved, you just dump your waste into a reactor with a healthy community of bacteria, you stir it a bit and methane comes out. It may not be highly efficient, but it works, and you can still use the left overs as fertilisers.

Of course you must never ever grow fertilised plants just for creating fuel, as you already need to put a lot of energy into making and transporting your fertiliser. So that's really a waste.

One should also note, that the efficiency of plants converting sunlight to fuel is abysmally low. It's far less than a percent. If you just want energy you are by far better of using a simple solar panel.

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Re: Are biofuels Europe's sh*ttiest idea ever?

Now there's an interesting question. I think we have to say no. I think the current clusterfuck that is the Euro has to win this one hands down. It's the policy that has the greatest chance of destroying the EU, and the economies of every member.

But then we have to look at the horrible consequences for third world economies and agriculture of the Common Agriculture Policy. That one's a real doozy. We increase poverty within the EU, by redistributing cash from poor consumers (and rich ones too, to be fair), to relatively rich farmers. Of course there are also some really poor farmers who get help too, but sadly the policy gives most of its cash to the rich ones. To make this work we also slap import tariffs onto poor developing world farmers, so they can't export to us in an area they can compete in. All the while we also increase inefficiency in our own farming. And at one point we were even paying one lot of farmers to over-produce subsidised crops, then paying a bunch of bureaucrats to either store or destroy the surplus. Biofuels isn't working, but I think CAP beats it even in the area of agriculture.

Oh, and I forgot the Common Fisheries Policy. Which even when it sees the need to reduce catastrophic over-fishing, to save the fish stocks that are being systematically destroyed, does it in such a way that it still kills massive numbers of fish that decimate the stocks, but now throws them back, so we can't even eat them as we destroy them. That's probably slightly madder than biofuels too.

The Financial Transactions Tax might come in there too. Although it's hard to know unless they actually do it. But the Commission's own figures say that the 11 countries who try it are expecting to raise a total of €38 billion in tax per year. But it's expected to cost 0.1 - 0.2% GDP growth per year, which will work out to several hundred billion Euro per year. Also, while the money you raise is an annual amount. If you lose a percentage of GDP growth every year, you get compound effects, so each year you get smaller growth from a total smaller than it would otherwise have been. Also they may destroy the market in their own government debt, in the middle of a crisis in confidence in Eurozone government debt. Oh and it may also break the Repo market, i.e. interbank lending, during a crisis in confidence in Eurozone banks. So it's possible it could bring down the Euro, even if they do enough to otherwise save it.

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Re: Are biofuels Europe's sh*ttiest idea ever?

Living in SEA I can tell you that Palm Oil is an absolute blight in this region. It has caused environmental damage, endangered species and displaced thousands who have lived in regions it is grown in. Now driving through Malaysia (although as dangerous as ever) is just a dull voyage through hundreds of square miles of the stuff. It isn't even healthy enough to put in food!

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Boffin

Re: Actually...@Christian Berger

"Sludge coming out of sewage treatment plants is already used either agriculturally or burnt to generate heat and electricity."

Actually, due to daft EU limits on nitrates (no proper underpinning science) it is increasngly difficult to get rid of treated sewage sludge to agricultural land (and that assumes you've not got heavy metals contamination from industry or hospitals). The methane from sludge digestion is used for power generation at larger works, but the sludge itself will only burn autothermically at best, meaning there's no net heat output, and that's because although the sludge contains lignin and related fibres that will burn well, it also contains a lot of clay that absorbs heat but doesn't itself burn, and inhibits effcient burning of the fibres.

The norm is to incinerate sludges using mains gas (possibly with some heat recovery if you use enough gas, although not really renewable), but the incineration is purely in order to reduce the waste to landfill to dry ash, which takes less space, is easier to transport, but crucially incurs lower landfill taxes. The most environmentally friendly disposal route for ttreated sludge is firstly direct to agricultutal land (and sod the EU nitrate limits), followed by dumping at sea (illegal under EU law, of course).

I have seen tech proposals to separate the lignin from sewage sludges, the concept is proven at pilot plant level, and that gives a product very similar to processed wood pellets. It is a very compelling offer because it gives you a saleable biofuel and it reduces the load on the sewage treatment works, but the technical conservatism of the industries involved, DECC's magical ability to over-complicate everything, and a lack of drive amongst those involved other than the current IP holders seem to be leaving it beached.

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Re: Are biofuels Europe's sh*ttiest idea ever?

"*IF* biofuels are produced by processing existing agricultural waste (and a lot of interesting research is being done on how the woody leftovers can be efficiently processed), by re-processing food waste(chip fat) or by growing interesting new crops on land that cannot be effectively used for other food production then it's an excellent idea - carbon neutral and using resources which would otherwise be wasted."

It's only an excellent idea if the fuel produced is significantly more than the fuel used to produce it.

Otherwise you're far better off putting that "waste biomass" back into the ground, as crop fertilizer. Stripping of arable land nutrients is a fast way of making a dust bowl.

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Coat

Re: the efficiency of plants converting sunlight to fuel is abysmally low

Hmm... efficiency not the whole story.

When solar panels have renewably sustained 99.9999999% of life on Earth (excluding hydrothermal vents) for a billion or so years AND while doing so laid down as much fossil fuel - get back to us.

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Trollface

Famine-causing?

No, no!

It can't be. Biofuels are GOOD! The MUST be GOOD!

It must be EVIL SPECULATORS! That's it. The speculators did it. Kill the poor from Wall Street. Yeah. They are trading in FUTURES. That must be BAD.

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Flame

Owners of classic cars and motorcycles have been concerned about this for some time, especially the move to 10% ethanol as it has a corrosive effect on many components in the fuel system.

The Department for Transport commissioned an independent report in to the effects of E10 on existing vehicles, the report

http://assets.dft.gov.uk/publications/qinetiq-10-02471-assessing-fuel-system-compatability-with-bio-ethanol-and-risk-of-carburettor-icing/bioethanolstudyreport.pdf

recommended the following:

* Vehicles ten years old or older, carburettored vehicles (including powered two wheelers) and first generation direct injection spark ignition vehicles should not be fuelled on E10 unless the manufacturer can state the vehicles are compatible with E10.

* The automotive industry should produce a comprehensive list of vehicles compatible with E10. While it is acknowledged that some lists do already exist if in doubt the vehicle operator should seek clarification from the vehicle manufacturer.

* E5 should not be phased out in 2013, its widespread availability should continue for the foreseeable future.

* Consideration should be given to maintaining a specification for E0 fuel for historic and vintage vehicles.

I own a 1994 Kawasaki motorcycle, Kawasaki are still considering the effects and currently do not recommend using E10. I am now looking at the distinct possibility that this bike is going to become worthless or impractical to use due to the problems of finding E5 out in the sticks where I live.

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Anonymous Coward

I own a 1980s Kawasaki and I'm actually looking forward to fitting an electric motor and enjoying the freedom of motorcycling more so, with a quieter engine, rollercoster exhilaration these modded vehicles offer and possibly free charge cycles from the sun.

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Worries me too

When lead was removed from petrol there was supposed to be some kind of similar proviso for older engines which couldn't cope with unleaded fuel. Using the availability of that as an indicator I think I can see what will happen here too.

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Re: Worries me too

Moving to unleaded fuel meant fitting hardened valves/valve seats in older vehicles or the engines would clap out.

Moving to E10 is likely to result in vehicle fires. It's hell on rubber components.

Biodiesel users face the same issue but diesel tends not to burn at room temperature unless given a lot of provokation.

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Re: Worries me too

At least with unleaded fuel you could add a lead substitute to the fuel: it is a bit harder to remove the ethanol from the alcoholic ones.

I'm not sure what was in the substitute, come to think of it: surely it wasn't lead, but it had to be quite similar. I remember the A35 was quite happy to run with it.

Not knowing much about these things, I wonder if it would be possible to use something to precipitate out the ethanol without affecting the rest of the fuel, and whether it would be affordable and practical to do so.

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Paris Hilton

6f or 6n? That is the question.

Whether it is nobler to be owner and user of a fast fairing job or should one aim for the rugged, raw, nakedness of a naked bike?

Is the struggle of nakedness in this wind torn land - and piloting rider were too many peas beaned or improbable tensing of one and all sphincters - or manage airflow with a bit more smoothness as the revolutions per minute increase gastronomically?

(For the uninitiated:

Kawasaki ER 6f

Kawasaki ER 6n

the f is usually taken for fairing and n for naked)

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Flame

Who voted these buffoons in?

It 'wasn't me.

Europe (including the UK) must have the worst politicians ever. Not one of them exists in the real world.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Who voted these buffoons in?

Vote UKIP!

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Re: Who voted these buffoons in?

If you are of voting age then we all did, through European Parliament elections and national elections.

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Happy

Re: Who voted these buffoons in?

Most of the elected are drawn from party lists and the general public, usually, don't get a say in the ordering of those lists.

The system is rigged so party politicians always win.

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