Green Innovations: Biofuels

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been yet another wake-up call for our need for energy independence. While Europe's reliance on Russian gas was evident, Russia is also one of the largest oil producers, exporting half of its production to Europe before February 2022.

Did you know that the first Diesel engine, in 1892, was designed to run on peanut oil? Or that in the early 20th century, ethanol was added to gasoline to reduce ‘engine knock’ and improve the power? When petroleum came along, biofuels were largely ignored. Perhaps because oil was cheap and abundant? Perhaps because the oil interests helped push the biofuels out of the way?

The fuel of the future is going to come from . . . weeds, sawdust – almost anything.
Henry Ford, 1919

And now, the comeback. Biofuels are already widely used. When you refuel at a gas station, you are probably purchasing a mixture of diesel and biodiesel, or of gasoline and ethanol. Biofuels represent more than 7% of fuel for European road transport, and are likely to reach 20% of fuel consumption within 5 years, according to the IEA.

What can this do for Greenhouse Gas emissions? Look at the carbon intensity chart. Ethanol (made from corn) cuts emissions by 75% relative to diesel – while used cooking oil cuts it by 80%.


Feedstock carbon intensity


Source: Diamond Green Diesel/Group Valero, Copyright © Valero Marketing and Supply Company 2001-2002. All rights reserved.

Doesn’t fuel from corn and soybeans take food from the mouths of babes? Well, potentially. That’s where the second-generation technology comes in – fuel from waste.

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