I attended a breakfast briefing on biofuels in Brussels on Tuesday morning, January 27th. I was fascinated by a presentation from the pony-tailed Dr. Chris Malins of the International Institute for Clean Transportation – a lobby group. He clearly knows a lot about bio-fuels. He presented statistics showing that if you make ethanol from maize, using typical yield figures, the emissions over the whole process are substantially higher than with regular petrol.
However if you make a series of heroic assumptions – like improved yields; reduced demand in other areas; use of marginal land, and so on, it comes down below 50% of the emissions of fossil fuels. My take-away message from his presentation was that you can only justify bio-fuels in emissions terms with an extraordinary amount of dodging and weaving. And it’s difficult to justify them in economic terms at all.
We then heard a different view on biofuels from Johan Peeters of ABB. He was the alternative opinion. Arguing that biofuels were hugely inefficient, he made the case instead for electric vehicles. He said an eight-hour overnight charge at home on domestic AC would give a range of 100 km, and that the range could be extended to 300 km (say 200 miles) with a couple of half-hour DC “fast charges” in the course of a journey. Batteries were getting cheaper. In ten years we should all be driving electric vehicles.
I have a few thoughts and questions for Mr. Peeters.
That overnight charge: where will the electricity come from? Solar power, perhaps?
Suppose I really don’t want to stop for two half-hour recharging sessions on my 200 mile journey? And where do I find re-charging points (he says there are several at the Brussels Midi train station – but I don’t drive there very often – or ever). I was interested to learn that there are at least four different types of plug – French, German, Japanese, American. Confusion reigns. And 200 miles is not too bad, but what if I want to use air-con and wind-screen-wipers and headlights?
Finally, where is all this extra electricity going to come from? And how “clean” will it be? You say we’re all going to be driving electric cars in ten years’ time. But the only CO2-free baseload power comes from nuclear, and it takes fifteen years to build a nuclear power station.
Back to the drawing-board, Mr. Peeters. Of course electric vehicles will come eventually, but not until we have very much better battery technology than is available today.