Category Archives: fuel

Biofuels Index Would Aid Consumers, Market

With all the confusion out there, this could certainly be useful:

The debate over whether biofuels like ethanol are better for the environment than fossil fuels has left many consumers confused and unsure where to fill their gas tanks.

Much of this confusion could be eliminated with a biofuels rating system that would reflect the positive or negative environmental impacts of a particular fuel, according to a group of University of California, Berkeley, researchers.

A ratings system, like the Michelin stars for hotels and restaurants, would take into account all environmental aspects of biofuels processing and production, from the way biofuel crops are tilled and fertilized to the kinds of energy — coal, natural gas or biomass, for example — used to process them.

Such a system would not only help consumers make decisions about where to fuel up but, perhaps more importantly, stimulate competition among fuel producers to market the greenest fuels possible, driving the less-green biofuels out of the marketplace in favor of ones that really serve the planet.


Study: Biodiesel May Increase Greenhouse Emissions

Interesting, but as with all of these studies, the assumptions made by the authors can drastically alter the result. Without more information about their methodology etc it is hard to comment on it, but regardless, this article is definitely worth a read:

Biodiesel could increase rather than reduce greenhouse emissions compared to conventional diesel, says analysts at SRI Consulting, a chemical business research firm. They also cited that “EU legislation to promote the uptake of biodiesel will not make any difference to global warming, and could potentially result in greater emissions of greenhouse gases than from conventional petroleum derived diesel”, in a new study reported in Chemistry & Industry, the magazine of the SCI.

The analysts have compared the emissions of greenhouse gases by the two fuels across their overall life cycles from production to combustion in cars. The results showed that biodiesel derived from rapeseed grown on dedicated farmland emits nearly the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions (defined as CO2 equivalents) per km driven as does conventional diesel.

However, if the land used to grow rapeseed was instead used to grow trees, petroleum diesel would emit only a third of the CO2 equivalent emissions as biodiesel, SRI Consulting said.

Petroleum diesel emits 85% of its greenhouse gases at the final stage, when burnt in the engine. By contrast, two-thirds of the emissions produced by rapeseed derived biodiesel (RME) occur during farming of the crop, when cropland emits nitrous oxide (N2O), otherwise known as laughing gas, that is 200-300x as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2, according to the study.


Biofuels threaten cheap beer in Germany

If rising tortilla prices in Mexico due to ethanol production doesn’t concern you, this might.  As one of my coworkers said, “best reason yet to oppose ethanol”

Brewers say they have no choice but to pass along the higher costs of barley, which has nearly doubled in price in a year. There was a poor harvest last year but many fields have been dedicated to biofuel production this year. Experts say the amount of land for barley is decreasing about five percent. With so much land going to biofuels, the beer makers want the government to stop offering subsidies.


Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil has posted a great four part series of exceprts from the new John Ghazvinian book “Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil.” As with all articles, if you’re not a subscriber you’ll need to view a short ad first, but it’s definitely worth it. From what Salon has posted, the book seems full of really important information about oil production in Africa that many of us are unfamiliar with – we’ve already ordered a copy off of Amazon

Some excerpts from Part 1, “Does Africa Live Up to the Hype?”:

Although Africa has long been known to be rich in oil, extracting it hadn’t seemed worth the effort and risk until recently. But with the price of Middle Eastern crude skyrocketing, and advancing technology making reserves easier to tap, the region has become the scene of a competition between major powers that recalls the 19th-century scramble for colonization. Already, the United States imports more of its oil from Africa than from Saudi Arabia, and China, too, looks to the continent for its energy security.

…one of the more attractive attributes of Africa’s oil boom is the quality of the oil itself. The variety of crude found in the Gulf of Guinea is known in industry parlance as “light” and “sweet,” meaning it is viscous and low in sulfur, and therefore easier and cheaper to refine than, say, Middle Eastern crude, which tends to be lacking in lower hydrocarbons and is therefore very “sticky.”

Then there is the geographic accident of Africa’s being almost entirely surrounded by water, which significantly cuts transport-related costs and risks. The Gulf of Guinea, in particular, is well positioned to allow speedy transport to the major trading ports of Europe and North America. Existing sea-lanes can be used for quick, cheap delivery, so there is no need to worry about the Suez Canal, for instance, or to build expensive pipelines through unpredictable countries.

A third advantage, from the perspective of the oil companies, is that Africa offers a tremendously favorable contractual environment. Unlike in, say, Saudi Arabia, where the state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco has a monopoly on the exploration, production, and distribution of the country’s crude oil, most sub-Saharan African countries operate on the basis of so-called production-sharing agreements, or PSAs. In these arrangements, a foreign oil company is awarded a license to look for petroleum on the condition that it assume the up-front costs of exploration and production. If oil is discovered in that block, the oil company will share the revenues with the host government, but only after its initial costs have been recouped. PSAs are generally offered to impoverished countries that would never be able to amass either the technical expertise or the billions in capital investment required to drill for oil themselves. For the oil company, a relatively small up-front investment can quickly turn into untold billions in profits.

Yet another strategic benefit, particularly from the perspective of American politicians, is that, until recently, with the exception of Nigeria, none of the oil-producing countries of sub-Saharan Africa had belonged to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)…The more non-OPEC oil that comes onto the global market, the more difficult it becomes for OPEC countries to sell their crude at high prices, and the lower the overall price of oil. Put more simply, if new reserves are discovered in Venezuela, they have very little effect on the price of oil because Venezuela’s OPEC commitments will not allow it to increase its output very much. But if new reserves are discovered in Gabon, it means more cheap oil for everybody.

But probably the most attractive of all the attributes of Africa’s oil boom, for Western governments and oil companies alike, is that virtually all the big discoveries of recent years have been made offshore, in deepwater reserves that are often many miles from populated land. This means that even if a civil war or violent insurrection breaks out onshore (always a concern in Africa), the oil companies can continue to pump out oil with little likelihood of sabotage, banditry, or nationalist fervor getting in the way. Given the hundreds of thousands of barrels of Nigerian crude that are lost every year as a result of fighting, community protests, and organized crime, this is something the industry gets rather excited about.

All these factors add up to a convincing value proposition: African oil is cheaper, safer, and more accessible than its competitors, and there seems to be more of it every day.

Part I: Does Africa Live up to the Hype?

Part II: Yes, We Have No Bananas

Part II: Will Oil Change São Tomé and Príncipe?

Part IV: When ExxonMobil came to Chad

Oil at $15 a barrel? Well, it’s not exaclty “oil”

Garry Anselmo is completely serious when he says that his company, Silverado Green Fuel, can produce a liquid fuel for industrial boilers that will cost about the same as oil, if oil sold for $15 a barrel

For cars, he says the company’s processes can be used to produce barrels of “oil” for car fuel that will cost about half of what conventional oil costs today, which is around $50. What’s the secret? Coal, a word that makes most people’s flesh crawl. Silverado takes low-grade coal, pulverizes it and cooks it under pressure with water until it develops a waxy coating. The waxy coal particles are then reunited with carbon-infused water removed at an earlier part of the process to make a liquid fuel. So think of it as a coal latte.

One barrel of GreenFuel costs about $6, but it takes about 2.5 barrels to provide the same energy equivalent as a barrel of oil. Hence, the $15 a barrel figure.

More at the links below:



“If we want to save the planet, we need a five-year freeze on biofuels”

George Monbiot, author of HEAT, has penned a new piece in the UK paper The Guardian, advocating a 5 year freeze on biofuel production:

It used to be a matter of good intentions gone awry. Now it is plain fraud. The governments using biofuel to tackle global warming know that it causes more harm than good. But they plough on regardless. In theory, fuels made from plants can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by cars and trucks. Plants absorb carbon as they grow – it is released again when the fuel is burned. By encouraging oil companies to switch from fossil plants to living ones, governments on both sides of the Atlantic claim to be “decarbonising” our transport networks.

First and foremost, Monibot warns, that biofuels will set up a “competition for food between cars and people. The people would necessarily lose.” Royal Dutch Shell agrees with such sentiments. An executive of theirs recently stated at a conference, “We think morally it is inappropriate because what we are doing here is using food and turning it into fuel. If you look at Africa, there are still countries that have a lack of food, people are starving, and because we are more wealthy, we use food and turn it into fuel. This is not what we would like to see.” Monbiot points to the recent events in Mexico as proof that such fears are indeed well founded:

Since the beginning of last year, the price of maize has doubled. The price of wheat has also reached a 10-year high, while global stockpiles of both grains have reached 25-year lows. Already there have been food riots in Mexico and reports that the poor are feeling the strain all over the world. The US department of agriculture warns that “if we have a drought or a very poor harvest, we could see the sort of volatility we saw in the 1970s, and if it does not happen this year, we are also forecasting lower stockpiles next year”. According to the UN food and agriculture organisation, the main reason is the demand for ethanol

Monbiot also rails against biodiesel, specifically from palm oil:

But it gets worse. As the forests are burned, both the trees and the peat they sit on are turned into carbon dioxide. A report by the Dutch consultancy Delft Hydraulics shows that every tonne of palm oil results in 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, or 10 times as much as petroleum produces. I feel I need to say that again. Biodiesel from palm oil causes 10 times as much climate change as ordinary diesel.

Monbiot fails, however, to address biodiesel from other feedstocks, which are far more sustainable, such as agricultural crops like soy and canola. By only speaking to what is widely known as the most unsustainable form of biodiesel production, one must wonder whether Monbiot is really trying to provide a balanced and objective assessment of biofuels. In fact, a recent study by the USDA and DOE shows that biodiesel production is quite better than fossil fuels, “Biodiesel yields around 3.2 units of fuel product for every unit of fossil energy consumed in the lifecycle. By contrast, petroleum diesel’s life cycle yields only 0.83 units of fuel product per unit of fossil energy consumed.” (DOE/USDA “Biodiesel Lifecycle Inventory Study”)

He goes on to address deforestation in Brazil. But again, he fails to state why policies cannot be enacted to ensure sustainable biofuels production, instead arguing for the most extreme option. Moreover, as carbon trading schemes continue to emerge, forests may be worth credits (as they consume CO2), creating economic incentives to combat deforestation.

Suffice it to say, we’re not convinced a moratorium is needed. Sorry George.
Read the article for yourself:


-BiofuelsWatch (UK)

BP’s Bet on Butanol

Most people know ethanol is far from perfect.  It can’t be transported in pipelines and it delivers far less energy than gasoline on a gallon-for-gallon basis.

Ethanol is a good start. But ethanol was not designed to be a fuel. No one sat down and said, “Let’s create a biomolecule that will operate in engines.” What happened was, people said ethanol can work in engines. As a lot of people are becoming aware, it’s good, but it has some drawbacks. Butanol is, we think, an innovation that overcomes many of the drawbacks.

You shouldn’t view butanol as being a competitor to ethanol. An ethanol plant can evolve into a butanol plant. And you can mix ethanol and butanol together, and it can actually help you use more ethanol.

BP thinks it has the answer: butanol.  Like ethanol, the fuel can be made from corn starch, sugar cane, or sugar beets, but it can be shipped in pipelines and has a higher energy content than its better known biofuel counterpart.  Butanol made its way into headlines last year after BP and DUPont announced a partnership to develop new technology to bring the fuel to market.  Last month, BP also announced a new 10-year, $500 million project with UC Berkely on biofuels like bio-butanol.

The key way is higher energy density. Whereas ethanol is around about two-thirds the energy density [of gasoline], with butanol we’re in the high eighties [in terms of percent].

It’s less volatile [than ethanol]. It isn’t as corrosive, so we don’t have issues with it at higher concentrations beginning to eat at aluminum or polymer components in fuel systems and dispensing systems. And it’s not as hydroscopic–it doesn’t pick up water, which is what ethanol can do if you put it in relatively low concentrations. So we can put it through pipelines.


Related: Biobutanol – the overlooked biofuel

Seven Questions: The Ethanol Effect

Foreign Policy, one of the magazines we subscribe to here at mnp, has posted an interesting interview with Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute on its website:

FOREIGN POLICY: You’ve written a lot in the past about what would happen if the United States converted to an ethanol-based fuel system for cars. Have your predictions come true?

Lester Brown: Most people know ethanol production in this country is growing, but they don’t know how fast. About a year and a half ago, right after Katrina, a trend that had been near horizontal became almost vertical. The capacity of plants now under construction is equal to the capacity of all the plants built in the last 26 years. If the pace of new starts continues from now to the end of June, roughly 140 million tons of corn will be going into ethanol. That’s over a third of the U.S. grain harvest, so it’s not trivial. And just to give you a sense of how big the U.S. corn harvest is, the corn harvest of Iowa exceeds the entire grain harvest of Canada.

FP: What are the implications of so much corn being used for fuel?

LB: The ethanol advocates like to say “we don’t eat much corn,” which is true. But in Mexico and some Central American countries, it is the food staple. It’s even more important as a source of feed. Our refrigerators are stuffed with corn: milk, eggs, cheese, chicken, pork, beef, yogurt, ice cream—these are all corn products. The risk is that by converting so much of our grain into fuel for cars, we will drive up the price of grain and create chaos in the world grain markets. This could mean urban food riots in scores of low- and middle-income countries around the world. We’re already seeing this in Mexico with the tortilla demonstrations…

For more, follow the link below:


Refining 101: Summer Gasoline

“Just what is summer gasoline? Twice a year, in the fall and in the spring, you hear about the seasonal gasoline transition. However, most people probably don’t understand what this actually means.” 

The Oil Drum explains, with a look at how summer temperatures, Reid vapor pressure (RVP), and ethanol affect fuel prices.  Interestingly, they note the blending of ethanol into the gasoline pool has been controversial because (among other things) it increases the vapor pressure of gasoline blends. This has resulted in the need for a 1 psi waiver in the Clean Air Act for ethanol-containing fuels. This of course means that ethanol will exacerbate smog at certain times of the year, and has resulted in a campaign by Senator Diane Feinstein to limit ethanol blending in California.