Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Progress towards biofuels

The government has made the first step towards biofuels, announcing that it will work towards a legal requirement for blended fuel. This would involve blending biodiesel (from animal tallow) or ethanol (from whey or biomass) into the fuel supply; currently we can support a 5% blend of biodiesel, but do not produce sufficient ethanol. However, that will change, the government's public commitment to blended fuel will hopefully spur the market to produce what is required.

This is good news. Blended fuel will not only reduce our reliance on imported oil (and hence our balance of payments deficit); it will also reduce our net greenhouse emissions and make it that much easier to reach our Kyoto target. It will also establish the infrastructure and market, and allow us to progressively move towards a greater mix of biofuels as necessary.


It was a long time ago, but didn't Robert Muldoon build a methonol or ethonol plant way back when as part of his grandiose 'Think Big' project? And wasn't that all about reducing the nation's reliance on imported fuel? Does this make Sir Piggy something of a 'man ahead of his time'?

Posted by Anonymous : 8/31/2005 10:05:00 AM

Writeboy: IIRC it was making methanol from natural gas - when it would have been easier just to burn the gas directly to power vehicles.

I should also point out that the government's plan is nothing like "Think Big" - most obviously, because they're not actually building anything. Instead, they're creating a market and letting the business community fill it (a nice example of market culture among our policy makers). The biggest risk here is that investors will decide there's no profit in meeting the demand the government is creating - but we already know that there's someone lined up to produce the biodiesel, and I don't think there will be real problems in meeting the demand for ethanol.

The biggest problem as I see it is that the government has set its sights for bioethanol too low - but that's really due to the prelevance of older Japanese cars (which don't handle blended fuel too well). If we combine this with mandatory labelling on new imports (both for fuel efficiency and biofuel compatibility), we'll be able to use a higher blend of ethanol.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 8/31/2005 10:44:00 AM

I love the idea of biofuels, but I've never been convinced that there are large-scale biofuel solutions that are net-energy positive. At least in the US, the large-scale attempts like corn ethanol are just a sop to agribusiness -- they use far more energy in hydrocarbon inputs (fertilizer plus petroleum used for harvesting/distribution/distillation) than they put out. And biodiesel efforts here are a nifty use of surplus waste oils that would otherwise be discarded, but they're not an actual solution.

Posted by max : 9/01/2005 05:53:00 AM