From John Shannon who writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics. Email him at john[AT]borderstan.com
As many of you know, the gasoline sold in North America has a biofuel component of between 5 and 10 percent. Newer cars and trucks are E85 compatible which means they can operate with up to 85 percent ethanol blended into the gasoline.
Boeing Aircraft has successfully tested biofuel with its aircraft. In 2010, Boeing tested passenger jets and a U.S. Navy F/A 18E Super Hornet with a 50/50 blend of (petroleum-based) aviation fuel and (crop-based) camelina biofuel with excellent results.
Boeing’s Sustainable Biofuels Research & Technology Program (SBRTP) reported up to 80 percent reductions in CO2 emissions for camelina-based biofuel – compared to petroleum-based jet fuel.
An excerpt from the SBRTP summary states:
“The Bio-SPK fuel blends used in the test ﬂights have all either met or exceeded the performance speciﬁcations for jet fuel. For example, the Bio-SPK fuel blends demonstrated higher energy density per unit mass than typical jet fuel, enabling airplanes to travel farther using less fuel. For all of the test ﬂights, the blended biofuel displayed no adverse effects on any of the aircraft systems.”
Although biofuels offer an exciting new transportation fuel source the biofuel industry does have some detractors. For biofuel farmers and producers, making the right crop choice is imperative from the sustainability standpoint.
First generation biofuel crops, such as corn and sugar cane, require constant water, fertilizers and land management. Without subsidies in place these crops can’t compete in the real world. These biofuel crops do displace millions of hectares of food crops.
Second generation biofuels, such as millettia and jatropha, are tolerant of poor soils and usually do not require additional irrigation.
The great thing about second generation biofuel crops is they are often grown in third-world nations where the plantations require hundreds of manual labourers to tend the crops throughout the year and thousands of labourers during harvest times. This will provide much needed income to poverty-stricken families in arid regions where jobs are otherwise quite scarce.
Third generation biofuels, such as algae or enzyme-assisted conversion, require large amounts of water as part of the process but then release much of that water at the end of the process. In fact, trace minerals must be re-added to that water for normal taste and pH balance purposes.
While biofuels by themselves will not replace existing transportation fuels, they can act as a feedstock to enhance conventional petroleum supplies, dramatically lower CO2 and other pollutants and provide jobs for impoverished third-world citizens.
Not to mention greening vast swathes of previously barren land – which in the case of second and third generation biofuels – is merely a different term to describe natural carbon dioxide capture and storage by plants.
I call that a win for biofuels!