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How Bio are Biofuels? - A study comparing Biofuels and Fossil Fuels



June 20, 2007 – Comments (3)

The Swiss Government has made a study that compares the different kinds of biofuels with fossil fuels on an ecological and economical basis, to find out, if and which biofuels are in fact beating oil/diesel/natural gas on a combined basis. Note: the Swiss are very ecological sensitive and are not influenced by any oil lobbies, so the study has a lot of weight.

While most biofuels do beat fossil fuels if you only consider the climate gas output (eg CO2), on a total basis most are in fact much inferior. First, the different kinds of biofuels out of biomass (=plant stuff).

-Biogasoline, or ethanol, is being fermented out of corn (USA), sugar cane (Brazil), sugar beet, wheat, potatos, grass (not Cannabis/Hemp, but it is possible. Henry Ford used it, but sadly it has been banned) and wood (=Methanol)

-Biodiesel is being made out of plant oil (like palm oil, soja and canola), used cooking oil and carcass (yes, really!) and waste from slaughterhouses.

-Biogas is also being made by fermentation of grass, plant waste, animal and human waste like garbage and liquid manure.

The results. If the ecobalance for gasoline from oil is 100%, how much is the rest:

-Biofuel from whey                          70%
-Biogas from liquid manure           75%
-Biodiesel from used cooking oil  75%
-Biogas from garbage                     75%
-Biofuel from wood                          80%
-Natural gas                                      80%
-Biofuel from grass                          90%
-Diesel                                               90%
-Gasoline from oil                           100%
-Biofuel from sugar beet                110%
-Biofuel from sugar cane               130%
-Biodiesel from palm oil                 130%
-Biodiesel from canola                   180%
-Biofuel from corn                            250%
-Biofuel from potatos                       480%
-Biofuel from rye                               500%

So, only biofuel from grass, wood and waste have a better ecobalance than fossil fuel. All others have worse and some just a terrible ecobalance, like corn, canola, potatos, in fact all that have to be cultivated. The reason is because you need energy to produce and distribute fertilizer, energy for agriculture machinery and the damages which too much fertilizer and pesticides can cause to arable land. In the case of sugar cane and palm oil there is the deforestation of the rainforest.

Furthermore: all of this biomass is already in use for other things like food (!!!) for humans and farm animals. Wood and biogas is already being used for power or heat generation.

If only the biofuels with a better ecobalance than fossil fuels are being produced, they would cover just 2% (!) of the energy used for transportation in Switzerland, and the Swiss already save fuel.

This study has caused many politicians in Switzerland to question the use of biomass for biofuels, even environmentalists, who were very much in favor before.

The beginning of the end of biofuels?

PS, please excuse my English, I had to summarize and translate it from my newspaper. Here's another article in English on the subject. The study is actually 1 month old, but the conclusions are still valid.

3 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On June 20, 2007 at 11:16 PM, ThinGreenLine (28.30) wrote:

Loved the post. Agree with much of it - biofuels often are evaluated on a single step process that often ignores the rest of a possibly creaky, squeaky, bleaky ladder.

I am curious to hear more of the biodiesel part of your writing. I had read in Discover about a plant out East that can make oil out from animal turkey guts. Is this what you were referring to?

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#2) On June 21, 2007 at 9:52 AM, camistocks (64.34) wrote:

Thanks for your comment. Well, basically biodiesel is made out of fat, eg plant oil or animal fat. So your company might fit into this category. Some additional info from wikipedia.

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#3) On October 02, 2007 at 12:37 PM, camistocks (64.34) wrote:

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