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Rumours: Biofuels

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September 15, 2011

02:03

With controversial expansion of tar sands pipelines like the Keystone XL, consumers must be yearning for alternatives. We can only suck on the dirty oil teat for so long, right?

So what are the alternatives? Wind farms are becoming a popular idea, as are new solar technologies. But retrofitting every internal combustion engine is not a trivial task. Enter biofuels - a clean, green way to replace fossil fuels so we can all ride in our SUVs from the drive-thru ATM to the Starbucks window. They will solve all the world's energy problems, right?

Don't be so sure. Not all that's green is gold…Science in Seconds investigates.


Host: Rheanna Sand

Photo Credits: Paul Nicklen; Wikimedia uses BrokenSphere, Steve Jurvetson, Freestyle nl, Nevit Dilmen

References:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091210162222.htm

http://blogs.nature.com/climatefeedback/categories/topics/energy/

YOUR COMMENTS

Chris Buzon on May 11, 2010
CO2 is only one evil of hydrocarbon combustion - incomplete combustion also causes Carbon and Carbon Monoxide. Then we move onto the sulphur and other compounds we release...it's uglyI think we need to find more sources of energy with *much* lower impact (solar, wind, etc). We can't afford to burn food to power machinery, we need to power machinery to make more food (and do it far more efficiently).
kevin on May 11, 2010
quick correction:Biodiesel is NOT alcohol (ethanol or iso-butanol). Technically, it is made up of methyl esters of fatty acids. Basically, biodiesel is made by breaking up oils (from olives, soybeans, corn, even used fry oil) into smaller molecules. (This is kind of similar to the "cracking" of crude oil into gasoline, kerosene, etc.) These smaller ester molecules can then be burned in a diesel engine (NOT a gasoline engine). In fact, emissions from an engine running on biodiesel contain much less NOx and particulate matter than exhaust from "dino-diesel".On a side note: used waste vegetable oil, after being simply filtered, can even go from deep fryer directly into the gas tank of a modified diesel engine.
Rheanna Sand May 12, 2010
Thanks for that clarification, Kevin! You are absolutely correct - while biodiesels are considered first-generation biofuels in that they are produced by conventional methods, the energy released during combustion comes from the oxidation of long chain alkyl esters of fatty acids, and not ethanol or isobutanol, as I implied in the video.

Ethanol-based biofuels are most widely available around the world, but there are many types of first-generation biofuels that do not necessarily contain alcohols: vegetable oil, biogas, syngas, bioethers, green diesel, and solid fuels are the major ones but I am sure there are others.

I agree with Chris that it is time to move beyond combustion. When are we going to emerge from our soot-covered, oily cocoons?
DreamTheEndless on May 27, 2010
I was going to offer a correction regarding biodiesel, but I see that has already been covered... Instead, all I have left to offer is: go nuke!

I'm new to science in seconds, but I've just watched several informative videos. Are there any either for or against nuclear power? Personally, I'm very much in favor as it seems like the best short term solution to our problems, but I know it has its own issues.

- thanks.
Rheanna Sand May 27, 2010
@DreamTheEndless: thanks for watching!! We do have a video on the use of nuclear fusion for generating power (called, surprisingly, "Fusion") but don't have anything in the way of debate on the use of fission in existing power plants. if you have views on the subject, the Fusion video might be the place to post.
Evan Chrapko on July 05, 2010
Great site--lots of straight-shooting content! Just discovered SinS via Mom who forwarded a Univ. of Alberta Alumni "eTrail" article...

Re: this piece on bioFuels, we have a made in Edmonton, Alberta (home of Science in Seconds!) waste-to-energy tech: www.Highmark.ca

My only comment is that wind & solar are good, yes, but getting to a more reliable end point (i.e. base load electricity vs. intermittent electricity) while ALSO solving noxious waste & potent GHG problems is even better :)

Thanks again for all these reports.
Rheanna Sand July 08, 2010
Thanks Evan! That local company you mentioned, I hadn't heard of it before but I'm glad to see there are efforts being made to extract energy from waste materials rather than food crops. And I agree, ultimately we will need something that can sustain our massive base load and reduce harmful emissions. Not an easy goal. Maybe fusion can provide a solution?
Dave on September 18, 2011
Fossil fuels vs. Biofuels....a great example of marketing. I practically picture Biofuels with little smiles on each and every molecule.
EawAnu on August 06, 2013
The positive news with the setirolcc economy/cheap fuel environment is that corn-based ethanol producers are struggling. Vera Sun Energy filed for bankruptcy last year, recently filed, and Panda Ethanol - what's suppose to be the biggest ethanol plant in the U.S. - .In other news, Brazil, an efficient, self-reliant producer of sugar cane-based ethanol - and a rising oil superpower - has been nudging the U.S. to . There's also been some positive developments with (this link is listed in a previous comment on a prior post).BTW - anybody paying close attention to Brazil's oil developments should eye . Angola has sub-salt formations very similar to Brazil's, and South America's rising star is taking notice, and is taking interest is assisting Angola with exploration. The uncertain question is: "Could Angola become the next Brazil, or another Nigeria (which it pretty much is already)?"All-in-all, corn-based ethanol is nothing more than a Frankenstein creation propped up on life support of the U.S. government. The process of making it is inefficient, yielding little net-energy gain; it requires extensive land, gluttonous amounts of water plus petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. It needs to buried in the compost pile.
Anna on August 06, 2013
Most of the increase in food pirces is due to the high price of oil - which directly impacts the pirces of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides - all of which have a petrochemical component - as well as the cost of fuel to transport the food to market. Farmers have increased their crops in direct proportion to how much is being used for fuel, and could increase it a lot more - there has been NO REDUCTION in the amount of grain going toward food production. The reduced mileage using E-85 fuel was already predicted, (Ethanol reduces mileage quite a bit) the "jump" of 1.5 million more gallons of gas (now is that just gasoline, or E-85, and an increase of what per cent?) in 6 years for an organization the size of the USPS is probably not that significant - there would have to be much more information here for anyone to attribute that increase strictly to Ethanol use.

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