Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Fossil fuels appear to be entering its last phase if the current pace of its exploitation continues unabated to satisfy the energy needs of wealthy countries as well emerging economies. With no satisfactory alternate options available to replace non-renewable resources of energy so far, world is heading for an uncertain future. Of course there are many renewable sources being tried out including solar, wave, windmill, geothermal etc  with none of them coming any where near the petroleum fuels in terms of cost and performance. The Biofuels with so much promise till recently, might not be a solution as most sources from which they are derived also happen to be food resources consumed by millions of people and large diversion of these food materials tend to distort the food situation adversely affecting food security in the world. One of the food materials now being used as biodiesel, especially in Europe is based on spent vegetable oils coming from industry engaged in frying of foods. If recent reports are to be believed the demand for used palm oil is so high, the price commanded by this product is higher than that of virgin oil! What a paradox! Here is a expose on this ironical situation that is prevalent in countries like the UK.    

"But research carried out for Chatham House says that reaching the 5% level means that UK motorists will have to pay an extra £460m a year because of the higher cost of fuel at the pump and from filling up more often as biofuels have a lower energy content.The report say that if the UK is to meet its obligations to EU energy targets the cost to motorists is likely to rise to £1.3bn per annum by 2020. "It is hard to find any good news," Rob Bailey, senior research fellow at Chatham House, told BBC News. "Biofuels increase costs and they are a very expensive way to reduce carbon emissions," he said. The EU biofuel mandates are also having hugely distorting effects in the marketplace. Because used cooking oil is regarded as one of the most sustainable types of biodiesel, the price for it has risen rapidly. Rob Bailey says that towards the end of 2012 it was more expensive than refined palm oil. "It creates a financial incentive to buy refined palm oil, cook a chip in it to turn it into used cooking oil and then sell it at profit," "It is crazy but the incentives are there." 

What a ridiculous situation where biofuels are becoming more expensive than fossil fuels! Whatever advantage biofuels have, the ground reality does not give any optimism that they will become an effective substitute to the fossil fuels in future. Another worrying factor is whether use of biofuels will have any impact on the carbon emission which is being blamed for global warming. Probably world will realize sooner than later that biofuels from plant sources may never be feasible and man will have to fall back on microrganisms for production of fuels of future with low cost and practically no adverse effect on the food front. Research has already achieved adequate breakthrough in this area and it is a question of time before giant vertical bioreactors start producing single cell biomass from which fuel oil can be extracted using known processes.       


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