How Does the US Compare to Europe with Biofuels?

Given the high gas pump prices that have prevailed for years in Europe, have the Europeans gone significantly further than the US in producing alternative fuels (including methanol from coal)? If not, why not? Michael C, New York, NY

We have seen growth in ethanol and biofuels globally and it is certainly not limited to the U.S. Brazil introduced a program to produce ethanol for use in automobiles in order to reduce oil imports. Brazilian ethanol is made mainly from sugar cane. Pure ethanol (100% ethanol) is used in approximately 40 percent of the cars in Brazil. The remaining vehicles use blends of 24 percent ethanol with 76 percent gasoline. Brazil consumes nearly 4 billion gallons of ethanol annually. In addition to consumption, Brazil also exports ethanol to other countries. “The Forbidden Fuel” published in 1985 by Bernton, Kovarik and myself documents the early Brazil ethanol program as well as the early German and South African liquid fuels from coal programs. The Far East has become extremely interested in ethanol with fuel grade facilities going up in places like China and Thailand. The Philippines have begun to use ethanol and India, which had been using fuel ethanol in previous years, is also rebounding due to adjustments in the world’s sugar market. India is initiating the use of ethanol as an automotive fuel or as an oxygenate in gasoline with upto a 15 percent ethanol blend with diesel are being considered for use in vehicles in at least one state. The European Union has begun large scale use of ethanol and the drivers behind all of these programs generally are a mix of environmental and energy needs. Douglas Durante, Executive Director of the Clean Fuels Development Coalition in Washington, DC states, “Europe faces unique challenges due to the many different countries and the need to work within existing trade policies.” He elaborates further, Looking at Europe specifically, bioethanol fuel production went up by a factor of 9 in the 25 countries in the European Union (EU) during the decade of 1993 to 2004. By the end of 2006 that is anticipated to increase by another 33 percent. Production facilities have sprung up in Spain, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, and Finland to name a few. EU countries have agreed to a non-binding target of 2 percent biofuel market penetration, increasing to 5.75% by 2010, Plus they have a great interest in biodiesel and they are looking at both biodiesel and ethanol diesel blends.” According to Rob Vierhout, Secretary General of the European Bioethanol Fuel Association, member states have caught the biofuels fever. Ethanol from cereals and sugar beet for blending with conventional fuel, makes up 40 percent of French biofuel production. The rest comes from biodiesel, mainly derived from crops like rapeseed. Spain still is Europe’s biggest ethanol producer with annual output of 200,000 tonnes. France occupies the number two spot with output of 100,000 tonnes a year. “France will catch Spain up and possibly go beyond it by 2008,” Alain Jeanroy, France’s ethanol industry coordinator told Reuters this past January. , adding that industry growth in Spain would be hampered by the country’s position as a net grain importer. Using the sugar beet,France will likely produce 880,000 tonnes of ethanol by 2008 and two million tonnes by 2015 Canadian provinces promote ethanol use as a fuel by offering subsidies of up to 45 cents per gallon of ethanol. Sweden has used ethanol in chemical production for many years. As a result, Sweden’s crude oil consumption has been cut in half since 1980. Ethanol-blended gasoline and ethanol-blended diesel are being seriously promoted as viable alternatives to further lower emission levels. This past January, German carmaker Volkswagen, Shell and Iogen Corp. are joining forces to conduct a study to assess the economic feasibility of producing cellulose ethanol in Germany. This biofuel, produced by Iogen, could be used in current automobiles and light trucks – cutting CO2 emissions by 90% compared with conventional fuels, said Volkswagen Chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder. All automotive manufacturers currently allow the use cellulose ethanol fuel blends, noted Volkswagen’s Pischetsrieder — 10% (E10) in North America and 5% (E5) in Europe. In 2003, the European Union issued a biofuel directive in response to anticipated shortages and rising costs of fossil fuels, with a target of 5.75% biofuel use by 2010. Not to be outdone by VW, in July of 2005, Ford introduced its new generation Focus Flexi-Fuel, plus a Flexi-Fuel version of the Ford Focus C-MAX in Sweden and remains the leading manufacturer of ethanol-powered vehicles in Europe. Offering up to a 70 per cent reduction in overall CO 2 (carbon dioxide) emissions, the new Focus and Focus C-MAX Flexi-Fuel vehicles play a key role in Ford’s broad portfolio approach and wide-ranging efforts towards sustainable mobility. “There is a lot to be proud of with this vehicle, from demonstrating Ford’s commitment to lead the industry in affordable bio-ethanol technologies to showing what can be achieved when government and business and private enterprise work together,” said Wolfgang Schneider, Vice President, Governmental and Environmental Affairs, Ford of Europe. “We consider these technologies to be of critical importance and that is why Ford will continue to explore and support other bio-ethanol initiatives across Europe .” Working closely with the Swedish Flexi-Fuel Buyers’ Consortium, a conglomeration of public organizations, commercial enterprises and private individuals, Ford was the first manufacturer to offer bio-ethanol powered vehicles in a European market. Since its introduction in 2001, Ford has sold over 15,000 Focus Flexi-Fuels in Sweden. In 2003 and 2004, more than 80 per cent of environmentally friendly cars sold in Sweden were Focus Flexi-Fuels. Europe’s gasoline costs are high (they laugh at our $2 – $3 per gallon woes) because these governments tax gasoline similar to our high taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. So while the price incentives are there, the innovations in farming using surpluses or new crops have lagged behind the US experience till lately. But it is clear, Europe and Asia will follow Brazil and US and become major players in biofuels in this decade. — Scott
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Scott, founder and president of The Stella Group, Ltd., in Washington, DC, is the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition and serves on the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and The Solar Foundation. The Stella Group, Ltd., a strategic marketing and policy firm for clean distributed energy users and companies using renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage. Sklar is an Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University teaching two unique interdisciplinary courses on sustainable energy, and is an Affiliated Professor of CATIE, the graduate university based in Costa Rica. . On June 19, 2014, Scott Sklar was awarded the prestigious The Charles Greely Abbot Award by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and on April 26, 2014 was awarded the Green Patriot Award by George Mason University in Virginia.

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