Not all fuel additives are evil
The Man from Encana was sharing his thoughts yesterday on the scourge known as alternative fuels. In his column he make some accurate, if not unique, observations about the silliness of flattening rain forests to make way for palm oil plantations. And then turning that palm oil into a fuel additive such as ethanol:
The real potential for ethanol depends on the success of research aimed at its production from waste materials, including switch grass, straw and corn stalks. When this technology might become viable is hard to say. Meanwhile, mounting evidence that current biofuel production methods are doing more harm than good hasn’t stopped those greenwashing TV ads. But I did note that, in response to yet another damning study, a spokesman for Canada’s ethanol lobby asserted that it will all get better when cellulosic ethanol becomes feasible. This begs the question of why governments continue to mandate the use of biofuels that damage the environment instead of supporting research into biofuels that would protect it.
But there is another way. The technology is already here, and it doesn’t involve raising the spectre of the food vs. fuel discussion. Wellington Financial Fund III portfolio company Biox is already making biodiesel out of animal fat and the gunk that settles at the bottom of a fast food frying machine. Last Fall, my colleague did a short primer on the made-in-Canada technology (see prior post “Biodiesel – How burning fat is good for the environment“, November 14-07):
First off, the feedstock / input undergoes a chemical reaction before it is pumped into tanks for use as a transportation fuel rather than being used directly.
Biodiesel can be made from virtually any fat or vegetable oil. These two substances are primarily made of “triglycerides”, an organic compound that combines glycerol with free fatty acid chains. Through a process called “transesterification”, in the presence of methanol, the fatty acid chains are broken away leaving a glycerol molecule (the basis of glycerin – a sugar alcohol) and ethyl esters of fatty acids (the basis of biodiesel). The reaction can be sped up in the presence of a catalyst.
I agree that deforesting the world so that we can have cleaner air is ludicrous, given that trees are a crucial part of our oxygen ecosystem. And if the planet runs out of fuel, oxygen will still be pretty important. But let’s not ignore the science that University of Toronto researchers helped develop — there’s already a 67 million litre biodiesel plant in Hamilton that proves there are other ways to create fuel, without destroying the planet along the way.