Biofuels are meant to clean up flying’s carbon crisis – they won’t

Posted: February 12, 2020 by oldbrew in Critique, Emissions, Energy, Travel
Tags: , , ,

Image credit: United Airlines

More wreck-o than eco? Here we find that ‘biodiesel from food crops emits an average of 1.8 times as much CO2 as fossil fuels which increases to three times more in case of biodiesel from palm oil.’ Looks like another non-solution to the claimed problem.

The UK’s aviation industry is touting biofuels as a way to make plane transport greener. But some biofuels can end up doing more harm than good, says Wired.

In the next 30 years, the number of flights is expected to increase by 70 per cent.

Unless things change, by 2050 the aviation industry will have used up more than a quarter of all the carbon dioxide we can safely emit while keeping global warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But the aviation industry says it has a way out.

Sustainable Aviation, a UK coalition of airlines, airports and manufacturers announced earlier this month that the sector plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Its plan? Biofuels.

The group claims that switching to biofuels will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide planes put into the atmosphere by at least 30 per cent in 2050. But they might not be the carbon solution the aviation industry is in need of.

Unless they’re used in the right way, biofuels could be a bigger source of carbon than expected, and won’t help reduce emissions at all.

Biofuel is an umbrella term for any fuel manufactured from organic material – an alternative to fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal which are formed by geological processes over long periods of time. They can be made from crops, wood or waste material which is turned into biodiesel and bioethanol.

Although burning biofuels releases carbon into the atmosphere – the same as burning any fuel – the supposed benefit of biofuels comes from the fact that that carbon released was absorbed by the organic matter as it grew.

In theory, this means that carbon simply cycles between plants and the atmosphere, rather than being released into the atmosphere after staying locked deep underground for millions of years.

At the moment Bergen, Brisbane, Los Angeles, Oslo and Stockholm airports provide a 50/50 mix of biofuel and jet fuel. Conventional fuels make the seal in the engines of older planes swell slightly which prevents leakage, so this mix is the minimum amount of fossil fuel that can be safely handled by all planes.

Representatives from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) say that manufacturers are starting to use a synthetic rubber substitute in the engines of new planes that isn’t affected by biofuels, so over time they expect the percentage of biofuel used in the mix to go up.

But just because biofuels are made from plants, it doesn’t mean they’re carbon neutral.

Although direct emissions from biofuel are lower than fossil fuels – burning enough biofuel to generate one megajoule of energy gives off the equivalent of 39g of CO2, whereas for fossil fuels that figure is 75.1g. But when you add in the carbon cost of growing and transporting biofuels, things become a lot more complicated.

“You can’t just say this is a biofuel, therefore it is five times better or tens times better,” says Chris Chuck, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Bath. “But they know that that consumers want to hear that.”

It all depends on how far you delve into the carbon cost of biofuel: how it is made and transported, and where the materials used come from. When this is taken into account, biodiesel from food crops emits an average of 1.8 times as much CO2 as fossil fuels which increases to three times more in case of biodiesel from palm oil.

In 2017, a group of 177 Dutch scientists signed an open letter to the government to stop biofuels made from food crops being included in the EU’s sustainable development agenda, calling it a “false solution”.

And growing crops for biofuels adds another problem to the mix: it requires vast tracts of land.

Full article here.

  1. Gamecock says:

    ‘The group claims that switching to biofuels will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide planes put into the atmosphere by at least 30 per cent in 2050.’

    What part of ‘zero’ do they not understand?

  2. Phoenix44 says:

    Once again politicians and Greens have been utterly dishonest. I suspect that most politicians have simply decided to believe whatever they need to believe, but the moderate Greens have spun lies about the need for drastic changes to our economies and societies if we commit to these insane targets. They know full well that we would reject such changes outright, so instead they persuade politicians to put the targets into treaties and legislation that can then be enforced by the courts when we object.

    This is all going to end very, very badly.

  3. oldbrew says:

    Climate contagion spreading…no known antidote…

    The bulk of Brits say renewables need more government support
    Wednesday 12 February 2020

    Despite more of the UK’s power being generated from renewable sources than from fossil fuels in 2019, people want to see even bolder clean energy policies
    – – –
    BP pledges to reach net zero by 2050
    Wednesday 12 February 2020

    The energy giant has pledged to invest more in low carbon technologies and less in oil and gas after acknowledging ‘the world’s carbon budget is finite and running out fast’

  4. cognog2 says:

    Armchair musings: OK-: for a round trip from London to Sydney you would need a field of say 4 acres to produce enough biomass to be processed into the fuel; so the following day you would need another 4 acres as the first field has already been stripped. And so on. Now it will take at least a year before the first field can be harvested again so you will need at the very least 365*4 = 1469 acres. With fingers crossed that harvests will be good , just to service one aircraft on one route on a daily basis. The mind boggles. Could go on but need to keep my sanity.

  5. ivan says:

    Snipped from the oldbrew’s post re BP CEO Bernard Looney said: “We need a rapid transition to net zero. It would appear that BP has the right CEO because he id demonstrating just how looney he is. When will these idiots wakeup and realise they have been taken for suckers just like all the MPs.

    The UN and all its offshoots needs disbanding as soon as possible for the good of the world’s people – follow the money.

  6. Jim says:

    Much of my concern follows this line of thought. Gleaning of the crop, and tillage. Appropriate use of field crops, feed people and animals. Reduction of tillage means higher food costs thru applications needed to restore the ground to a usable condition. So, biofuels is bad for wildlife. Bad for the ground.

  7. Patrick Healy says:

    As a BP pensioner I am embarrassed by the present leadership.
    Ok his name really is Looney, but then he comes from Kerry, and the rest of us Irish would probably say “that figures”.

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