Saturday, May 05, 2007

Biodiesel versus Bioethanol, Prius versus Hummer

Eugene is notorious for being very concerned about the environment. We have a new eco-friendly gas station whose company makes their own biodiesel, largely from used cooking oil from a few large local companies.

Biodiesel makes sense. My collegues in the science department at LCC tell me that 5% of thus U.S. gasoline usage could be replaced by biodiesel if all factory and restaurant cooking oil was recycled in that manner. (Five percent might not sound like a lot, but that would be an extremely significant change.)

Bioethanol, on the other hand, is not yet helpful. Ethanol is already used instead of MTBE by most gasoline companies during summer months, when they are legally required to have 10% additive for cleaner burning. Since that demand currently is sufficient to exhaust current U.S. ethanol production, using special bioethanol fuels does not actually reduce how much pollution the country produces overall. Until ethanol can also be efficiently produced from local waste products (instead of from crops grown to be fuel) the energy cost of growing and transporting it prevents it from producing any significant change (see "energy balance" in the previous link's page). This technology may well be developed within the next decade, but it's not yet just around the corner.

I know someone in Eugene, who upon seeing so many bioethanol bumper stickers, remarked, "It's a sign that their heart is in the right place even if their brain is not."

Changing the topic, this is entertaining.

UPDATE: Toyota announced a plan to have all their new cars by hybrids by 2020. The Futurist predicts that by 2020 such a stance will not be notable.