• Sep 15, 2010
Apparently, the National Biodiesel Board has signed up 28 college students in the U.S. to defend the biodiesel industry. In a profile of one of these biofuel saviors, Mikkel Leslie at Oregon State University, DJC Oregon writes about her work to convince people about biodiesel's benefits. Leslie takes trips to state fairs and campuses to spread the word, and the overall message is that finding a solution rests on the shoulders of the young.
What's more interesting, from a macro perspective, though, is this:
The biofuels industry is struggling, according to Ian Hill, CEO of Sequential Biofuels in Eugene. Manufacturers are focused more on creating vehicles that run on electricity than on diesel, and concerns remain that insufficient feedstock will be available to support a full-scale biodiesel industry.
We're of mixed emotions here. On the one hand, we're all for competition and believe that if biodiesel can't compete in an auto industry that's seen the light on plug-in vehicles, then it should fall aside. On the other hand, biodiesel offers a lot of benefits – especially if it can be effectively made from algae – and shouldn't be discarded because it's not the gasoline alternative du jour. There will come a time when we want a biodiesel range extender in our plug-in hybrid, right? So, the point here is we wish Leslie well, but understand she's got a seriously uphill battle to fight.

[Source: DJC Oregon | Image: jsbarrie – C.C. License 2.0]


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  • 53 Comments
      • 20 Hours Ago
      These guys fret over nothing. There is an enormous demand for biofuels that will not be significantly hurt by the expansion of EVs. The large portion of PHEVs will require liquid fuel until batteries achieve economical AERange. Add to this that the vast fleet of heavy duty tranport vehicles will continue to need liquid fuels well after the light duty vehicles are electrified.

      Not to mention the ginormous market for jet fuel!! Focus on air transport and heavy vehicles if you are worried about biodiesel demand. It is a HUGE opportunity!!
      • 20 Hours Ago
      How much does an electric truck capable of hauling a 40ft container and travel 50 miles costs today? In 5 years? In 10 years? In 20 years?

      Can truck business be sustainable if the electric truck can only make one run each day and has to stay overnight to charge up?

      Then how much does it cost to built more railway stops and operate a train that has to stop every 50 miles because there is a small town with an electric truck waiting to pick up ONE container load of goods because the truck can't travel more than 50 miles.

      It's not going to happen soon.
        • 20 Hours Ago
        >FastAlan, how much will your diesel truck cost if diesel is $7.50 a gallon?.. <

        Insignificant, because the truck is able to tow 40 ft containers of goods.

        Any significant costs will be passed onto consumer, it's call fuel surcharge.

        By the way, the cost of the truck is fixed.
        • 20 Hours Ago
        FastAlan, how much will your diesel truck cost if diesel is $7.50 a gallon?.. It can VERY easily happen.. how will your electric truck compete against those trucks when they cant get to the train station?

        There are fast charge batteries, lithium-titanate used by Altair-Nano and Toshiba can do 10 minute recharges routinely.. A123 LiFePO4 can do about 15 minutes also routinely.. and you can be sure this will be improving.

        In any case a switch will not happen soon, there are a lot of diesel trucks and they have a looong life.

        Keep an eye on steam powered trucks also.
      • 20 Hours Ago
      then how about making a hybrid bio-diesel generator singe train powered car already for the US market?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Biofuels consume phospates, which is in limited supply in concentrated, minable amounts.
      It is essential for all organisms, including people and plants.
      I'd sooner walk to the shops to buy food than drive there to discover they have not got any, as they used the phosphates to grow biofuel not food crops.
        • 20 Hours Ago
        Can you be more specific about how that works?
        • 20 Hours Ago
        Hi Joe - good to see you here! It's been a while.
        Here is the problem:
        http://phosphorusfutures.net/

        Now it can be argued that some of the sources of biofuel do not use phosphate additives, such as forestry waste etc., but since a high demand for biofuels would lead to still more demand on the soil, then the easy way would be to grow fast-maturing crops, and put additives in the soil.
        Once it is out of the smokestack presumably it is distributed far and wide, to deserts and oceans, and more phosphates must be mined to grow more biomass.
        Since we are so dumb that we don't even recycle urine, which is easy to do, but prefer to dump it in the sea causing algae blooms, then it seems doubtful that we will be very clever about it.
        Some schemes such as this:
        http://www.greencarcongress.com/2010/09/bal-20100915.html#more

        may offer potential to avoid the pitfalls, but I am profoundly sceptical, although I do not have a close handle on the debate.
        I have an unpleasant vision of land, water, and phosphorus resources being wasted to provide fuel for a military to hold down starving peasants whilst the peasants starve in increasing numbers.

        I don't want to give the impression of greater knowledge than I have on the subject, but have not seen persuasive data on good courses of action on this, and a lot of tropical forest destruction etc risked to import biomass for street cred.

      • 20 Hours Ago
      biofuel doesn't have to be cost competitive. but I'd like assurance that no fossil energy is used in the production. that's key. if they use as much fossil fuel as they produce biofuel then no way hose..
      so that's what they should talk about.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Biofuels consume phospates, which is in limited supply in concentrated, minable amounts.
      It is essential for all organisms, including people and plants.
      I'd sooner walk to the shops to buy food than drive there to discover they have not got any, as they used the phosphates to grow biofuel not food crops.
        • 20 Hours Ago
        @MiddleWay:
        The production of fuel from algae in quantity is hugely difficult technically, and for years the preserve of scam-merchants.

        There are basically two ways to go about it.
        The first is to grow the algae in the open, in ponds or even in the sea.
        In that case you still want to optimise fuel production by breeding the algae or genetically modifying it. In that case you have problems of both wild strains contaminating the ponds, and conversely modified strains getting loose and perhaps multiplying uncontrollably.
        If you are using ponds evaporation in the hot areas most suitable for algae production is considerable, and hence water usage.
        The alternative is to grow the algae in some sort of glasshouse or retort. you than have the considerable cost of the equipment to pay for, and issues of fouling, and you still risk cross-contamination.

        In both types you often have to provide feed, often sugar waste, phosphates etc - and you have a very large energy use in drying the algae, extracting the fuel, and so on.

        With the Government incentives there is the danger of being stuck with another ethanol, an expensive way to loose more energy than you make, or at least marginal.

        The efficiencies of photosynthesis are also not very large - you can do much better with a solar panel - that is why we stopped using wood to power our industry in around the 15th century, when energy demands were considerably less than today.

        For the moment I see this more as an expensive and energy inefficient way of providing the military with emergency fuel independent of oil, but perhaps I am misjudging the technology.
        • 20 Hours Ago
        Yeah, actually I can see either Solar or Wind in Mexico as they could do either. But Ontario pushing big time on Solar?
        And it really struck me as funny because the two articles were right next to each other on RenewableEnergyWorld.com Ontario to do solar and Mexico to do wind LOL
        • 20 Hours Ago
        For the Ontario project, nothing. Unless you count that little of the power will be available in the winter, when it is most needed. Or the cost, which using a 5% discount rate, amortising it over 20 years, a $5k kw cost and an 11% capacity factor (Germany average 8%) you come out to a cost of around 44 cents/kwh:
        http://www.nrel.gov/analysis/lcoe/lcoe.html

        At least the Mexican project is in a good place, although 20% of the damage to wind turbines is caused by the top 2% of wind speeds, so either maintenance may be high or downtimes higher than you would expect.
        Integration into the grid at a high penetration rate is a very sophisticated process, which pushes the grid technicians in Denmark and Germany.
        Fortunately there are very few criminals in Mexico, as the widely distributed and valuable transmission cables are impossible to guard againt theft.
        • 20 Hours Ago
        Hey David,
        I know this is a little off topic, but seeing as how mis-using alternative energy solutions is one of your pet peeves, I thought you'd find these two articles interesting.

        Now for 5 points, and the win, can someone tell me what is wrong with this picture:

        Ontario Could Exceed 3 GW of Solar by 2015 But Uncertainty Remains: ( http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2010/09/ontario-could-exceed-3-gw-of-solar-by-2015-but-uncertainty-remains?cmpid=WNL-Wednesday-September15-2010)

        Mexico's Push To Install 3,000 MW of Wind by 2014: ( http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2010/09/mexicos-push-to-install-3000-mw-of-wind-by-2014?cmpid=WNL-Wednesday-September15-2010)

        • 20 Hours Ago
        I am surprised that jatropha and algae fuel production have not really taken off yet.

        These two things were pumped up to provide great promise, now we suddenly don't hear anything about them.

        Maybe when gas is $4-5/gal again. Sigh!
        • 20 Hours Ago
        Algae grows fine using existing organic phosphorus excreted from organisms. Waste water has more organic phosphorus than any algae farm needs. Cycle the water from a fish farm through an algae pond and you also have more organic phosphorus than you ever need.

        Switchgrass grows just fine in it's native soil without any additional phosphorus.

        The food vs fuel argument is complete BS, unless you're talking about using inappropriate biomass crops like corn and soybeans.
        • 20 Hours Ago
        "biomass use in practise so far has not been as benign a process as you describe."

        That's completely true since everything has focused on existing agriculture crops not biomass optimized crops.

        But you should take some time to learn how completely dependent current food production is on petrochemicals. The cost of a barrel of oil has more impact on the cost of food than phosphates ever will. Phosphorus is the 11th most common element in the earths crust, we're not going to run out of it anytime soon. And even if we happen to, organisms are pumping out organic phosphorus all the time. I don't doubt that we'll run out of the easily mineable tracts currently used, but they're only in use because it's currently the cheapest method of production.

        Alternative phosphate production for fertilizer may raise the cost of food production, but it won't be anything near the scale of the impact peak oil will have.

        The entire phosphate discussion is yet another manufactured argument sponsored by the the oil industry.
        • 20 Hours Ago
        EJ,
        See my reply to Joe outlining my concerns. No-one has got algae farming going at any scale as yet, although that may be changing.
        If the demands on water, land and phosphorus are not excessive, then fine - I have no objection in principle, but biomass use in practise so far has not been as benign a process as you describe.
      • 20 Hours Ago
      I don't know what the conflict between biodiesel and plug-ins are. Seems like they can coexist. It seems this is more of an extension of diesel vs hybrids, where Americans still prefer hybrids over diesels. Until diesels can make a bigger impact then biodiesel will be limited.

      The bigger issue for biodiesel is availability. Electricity is available everywhere, which is why plug-ins work for everyone. The same is not true of biodiesel. It is very limited so very hard for people to find and adopt.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Plug-in hybrids and bio fuels are NOT mutually exclusive technologies, so the bio fuel industry should concentrate on creating a cost competitive alternative to foreign oil.
      • 20 Hours Ago
      Biodiesels with little or no positive EROI will die as soon as the subsidy goes.

      If an when algae based bio-diesel becomes a commercial reality I'll be happy to support it. Currently - just like hydrogen - it is always 10 years in the future. Not surprising - given all the problems with it.

      Bio-diesels are a viable local small scale product in some situations. It just can't be scaled up in any sustainable way.
        • 20 Hours Ago
        The subsidy has been gone for nearly a year now. Also, what biodiesel has 0 EROI? is it the biodiesel with 3.5 EROI or 4.5 EROI?

        • 20 Hours Ago
        ALSO: "If an when algae based bio-diesel becomes a commercial reality I'll be happy to support it. Currently - just like hydrogen - it is always 10 years in the future. Not surprising - given all the problems with it."

        That's like someone saying that "as soon as all EVs that are powered by solar or wind then I'll support it."

        That's more than 10 years away.
        • 20 Hours Ago
        What is the EROEI of petroleum?
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm all for renewable energy sources, but wouldn't it be more efficient to generate electricity with biofuels than burning it in a car/truck engine. It's been a few years since I worked for an electric utility, but even then power plants of 60% efficiency were considered reasonable, even ordinary. ICEs on the other hand are lucky to reach even 20% efficiency. Even with T&D losses, there should be no way burning any fuel in an ICE is more efficient.

      I'm convinced that BEVs will win in the long run. The technology may not be there yet for many users, but if you graph battery capacity and cost over time, it is clear that there will be a day when batteries will cheaper, have longer range and shorter refuel times compared with ICEs. They use electrons which are tiny and weigh almost nothing. We just need to get better at storing them. Look at other electron technology. Batteries will benefit from many technological leaps.
        • 20 Hours Ago
        "I wonder if the Capstone would run on biodiesel."

        Yes, it will.

        http://www.bnl.gov/isd/documents/35423.pdf


        As for this, "They use electrons which are tiny and weigh almost nothing." Thanks for the laugh. I was under the assumption that electrons had to be carried around in, IDK, wheelbarrows or ox carts. LOL on stating the obvious.
        bajohn3
        • 20 Hours Ago
        You are correct, studies have shown that burning biomass to generate electricity for EV's is more efficient than processing it into liquid fuel and burning it in an ICE.
        • 20 Hours Ago
        Interesting idea, a co generation mini turbine? The turbine produces heat and electricity. It might be a great solution for remote northern climates now running on fuel oil. I wonder if the Capstone would run on biodiesel.
      • 20 Hours Ago
      Why doesn't the auto manufacturers produce Flex vehicles comprised of B100 with a Plug-in option ???????!!!!!
      • 20 Hours Ago
      It also seems to me that Biofuels should view plug in Hybrids as a perfect opportunity to marry up with the transportation solution that should last until such time as 500 mile electric only driving ranges are possible (along with quick charging).
        • 20 Hours Ago
        David Martin...

        That still sounds crazy to me. And i don't know how they're pulling off that price point either.
        • 20 Hours Ago
        @MiddleWay:
        Peugeot is doing just fine building a hybrid diesel, and it has a lot better range and performance than any EV - see how long you can cruise at 100 in one of those!:
        http://green.autoblog.com/2010/08/23/peugeot-launches-3008-hybrid4-worlds-first-production-diesel-t/

        They stick to around 25kw for the electric motor, and use it to provide 4wd and extra power as well as EV drive for short distances.

        The premium is supposed to be 2-3k Euros over the regular 2.0 HDi

        A plug-in is to follow in 2012.
        • 20 Hours Ago
        Such a car will never sell. ~70mpg would be great and all, but at the price of an electric car, you might as well get an electric car :)

        Also, diesel and EV are a weird match. Diesel motors have tons of torque down low, but so do electric motors. Gasoline motors tend to produce more torque higher in the power band. So, the electric motor compliments a gas motor very well, leading to a pretty smooth acceleration at all speeds, but diesel motors + electric motors = all torque and no horsepower.. so you'd need oversized powertrains on both sides.

        On top of that, i'm not sure if you can run a diesel motor in atkinson cycle. That's where hybrids get a lot of their efficiency gain.
        • 20 Hours Ago
        The problem is, automakers charge a price premium for both clean diesels and hybrids. Put both in one car, and that's two price premiums for consumers to swallow at once.
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