Decarbonization of transportation: Advanced biofuels vs E- Mobility

The number of electric cars in the world could reach 150 million by 2040, which could effectively cut CO2 emissions to almost 60%. Biofuels offer a more immediate solution where it presents the potential to replace gasoline currently used for vehicles. In fact, EPA credits biodiesel with the ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 57% – 86%.

Which One Is Better: Batteries or Biofuels?

Policymakers, automobile manufactures and the public love to debate on this one. Even as we read through, several oil and energy companies are working towards how the world’s transportation can be upgraded at a sustainable level. Are electric cars the sure-shot answer?

How to solve the chicken and egg issue of e-mobility infrastructure vs EVs? Is there more intense research needed to explore existing biofuels? Or do we rely on technology to brew brand-new fuels?

It is important to note that the first generation of electric cars is being replaced by a second wave of better battery technology equipped with electric cars. There are commercial fleets of electric vehicles being used by big and small businesses. And though electric vehicles are not 100% green, they produce only a fraction of the greenhouse gases and waste that an ordinary combustion engine car, including those running on biofuels. 

Can we go as far to say that EVs are the only option for the decarbonization of Europe’s transport sector? Probably not, according to European energy experts. They believe that the future of mobility requires the help of all available sustainable solutions. For instance, the shipping industry. It single-handedly accounts for 2.2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions and it can’t run on electricity because of its scale, weight and operability distance. Biofuels are the best immediate alternative currently available.

There are 308.3 million passenger vehicles in Europe currently, and 99% of those are diesel/petrol. In order to decarbonize this sector, ethanol and other biofuels seem to be the answer, according to Valérie Corre, director of regulatory affairs Alcohol/Ethanol EU.  “The electric vehicle is not the future, it’s part of the future, just like bioethanol, hydrogen,” said Corre. 

A recent UN climate talk, a consortium of 20 countries took part to launch Biofuture, a platform designed to encourage the use of low-carbon biofuels. There was a focused move on producing the second generation of sugarcane cellulose-based biofuel.

Here is a quick graphic comparison overview.

EV vs Advanced Biofuels


Biofuels: Generations, Dependability and Expansion

Biofuels or second-generation biofuels are proving to be a successful alternative. They are garnering mass appeal as a low-carbon fuel alternative. And is increasingly generating interest and investments.

There are two generations of biofuel.

  1. The first generation- This type depends on sugars, starches and some vegetable oil. Experts deem it inefficient, as it can cause a disruption in the food supply. 
  2. Second-generation – They loosely classify biofuels that subscribe to ‘advanced’ technology processes that convert feedstocks, non-food crops, biomass and wastes into ‘standard’ biofuels. Obviously, there is considerable confusion between second-generation feedstocks and second-generation biofuel processing technologies. They are also known as advanced biofuels

The development of second-generation biofuels includes HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) and is more sustainable as it addresses the food vs. fuel dilemma. The biofuel and food price debate, though, is still a wide-ranging moot point that courts controversy.

Though both these types of biofuels add carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it is much less than fossil fuels. Some studies vouch for biofuels producing almost 80% less CO2 than fossil fuels.

Expanding the use of biofuels though is what is causing problems. 

Germany, a potential consumer for biofuels from Brazil, is concerned whether sugarcane cultivation needed for the biofuel process would lead to deforestation in the Amazon. A small-scale example happened with the farmers in Africa.

A comparison of environmental effects between both Electric Vehicles and biofuels needs to be based on a life cycle perspective. A recent study in Germany noted that a diesel car fuelled by RME (rape-seed oil trans-esterified with methanol) has considerably lower climate effects than a comparable battery electric vehicle charged with average electricity use from German grids. The study noted though that biofuels such as palm oil and biomass residues offered more reduction potentials. Probably one of the reasons why Germany’s car industry has evaded a sole focus on e-cars till date.

Algae, though, have given a whole new to biofuels. Considerably cheaper to make, and more sustainable than the other options, algae biofuels are seeing a lot of traction. Only disadvantage stopping it from taking over the biofuel world is eutrophication

Even as more people debate on whether the future of mobility is plug or plant, many experts believe coexistence is the answer. Neither technologies are a silver bullet as it comes with its own set of challenges and unique dependencies. To explore the whole gamut of possibilities of advanced biofuels, you need to sign up for Prospero’s trademark virtual conference on Advanced Biofuels” on 28th and 29th October. Our unique peer-to-peer virtual conference gives you the chance to network with the movers and shakers of this industry. Don’t miss out! Register today to avail of early bird offers. 

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