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Old 30-09-2006, 18:40   #31
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Great Ketch

Earthrace is promoting that Biodiesel should become part of our transport energy mix, and commence a transition away from total dependence on fossil fuels. It will never totally replace what we currently consume in energy, but it can still become an integral part of the mix.

Your numbers for the US are pessimistic for several reasons. They are based on soya bean which have low yield per acre relative to other energy crops. Palm oil, jatropha and canola for example are favoured in other countries, and all yield much more. It is just that the US has excess capacity in soya bean so there is a ready supply to utilise. The US also has very high energy consumption per capita. The world average consumption of oil per day is about 1.2 lires. In the US it is about 8 litres (2 gallons). If the world average was the same as the US we'd only have about 6 years of oil left! It will be much harder for the US to ever be energy independent if current consumption patterns continue. But there is lots of ways for you to improve.

You might stop buying Hummers and SUVs. You might start running diesel cars instead of gasoline (generally 25% more efficient because of compression ration). Increased utlisation of public transport. Changing work and leisure habits (like working from home, only having 1 car per family, taking holidays closer to home).

Biodiesel is a great fuel because countries can utlise whatever resources they have available. In Hawaii for example, 1% of their transport fuels comes from waste cooking oils. In NZ we can provide 5% of our total transport energy from waste animal fats that we already produce. Because it won't meet 100% of our needs is no reason to dismiss biodiesel as irrelevant. In Europe now, virtually all diesel purchased has between 3 and 5% biodiesel blended with it, and this is scheduled to gradually increase. Last year the industry was worth a billion dollars there, and this is increasing at 30% pa.

In terms of economics, oil at US$60 results in biodiesel generally being competitive. It depends of course on the feed stock. But $60 is generally considered sufficient. The cheapest diesel fuel in the US right now is biodiesel in Hawaii at $2.50 / ga. Some other advantages with biodiesel are:
1) Less emissions in all categories except for NOx
2) Greenhouse gas neutral (not quite true, see below)
3) Reduced dependence on the middle east
4) Reduced funds going offshore
5) Regional employment is increased

Just a point on CO2 emissions. Biodiesel is often referred to as being greenhouise gas neutral. The CO2 plants trap during growing is balanced by CO2 emissions when the resulting fuel is combusted. But this is not quite true because you do still need some energy to make the fuel, normally in the form of electricity during production, and diesel fuel used in cropping machinery. But for every unit of energy you put in, you get 3.2 out (on average) which is way better than petrodiesel.

My opinion on the future is there will be a variety of technologies and options that will come in and play a role, and biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel will be key players in this. It may only be 20%, based on current energy consumption values, but in the future this will be a larger percentage of our transport energy mix.

Pete Bethune
Skipper - Earthrace

Originally Posted by GreatKetch
At the risk of getting the thread bumped to "off topic" bio diesel has other problems. Here's my engineering analysis (with references to the source data) I did this for my own information to see if this idea makes sense in the real world. My conclusion is that is a cute idea, but will have no impact on the economy or environment.

(Note, The links all worked when I created this about a year ago...)

Soybean yields on the best farms in the world:
45 bushels/acre

Cost of growing soybeans on the most productive farms:

Yield of oil from soybeans:
11 lb oil per bushel

Lets assume that 100% of the oil can be converted to biodiesel (not true, there is a lot of waste) and the oil weighs typically 7.66 lb/gal, do some arithmatic and we get the following:
1.44 gal per bushel
64.6 gal per acre
$4.53 per gallon

Remember, that is just the cost of growing the beans, no profit for the farmer or anyone else!

But there is even worse news...

In the USA in 1996 there were
136,000,000 cars (give or take a few...)

Lets assume that each of those cars gets 35 miles per gallon (I wish!) and the average car is driven 10,000 miles per year....

Each car needs 286 gallons of biodiesel per year, or a dedicated farm of 4.4 acres for each car.

Some more quick arithmatic and we find that we need to plant 601,587,000 acres of soybeans to feed the cars in the US. Currently the US plants soybeans on "only" about 75,100,000 acres.

So we need 526,000,000 more acres or 822,600 square miles more soybean farms....

Guess we need more soybean farms! Alaska would be nice because its big, but its too cold to grow beans...

Let's plow all of Texas--every square inch, without big oil we don't need Houston anyway...
that gets us 261,797 square miles. Hmmm... not close yet.

California is another big place. Biodiesel is a green techology, we can plow under the redwoods in the interest of saving the environment...
that gets us a total of 417,756 square miles...

I think you see where this is going.... to get enough land to feed those cars you need to plow every square inch of the five biggest states in the lower 48, plus a good part of the 6th. Of course there are always the rainforests of Brazil....

It's a clever idea, but it is not going to save the world, or even a tiny piece of it.

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