Sunday, 22 April 2007

Bioethanol conference at Imperial - a PS

Three more points from the seminar at Imperial.

Everyone I spoke to who had an opinion on the subject thought that the 18% fuel consumption penalty we recorded for running on bioethanol in the Saab BioPower was a bit on the low side. A man from Ford put the likely figure at 30% although I continue to hear suggestions - I'm not sure how well-founded they are - that this penalty can be smaller when cruising than in stop-start traffic, and that it may be lower in Saabs rather than in Ford's E85-capable models. Given that our test was in a Saab and didn't involve any town driving (it was a mix of motorways and twisty A roads but didn't really cover any town driving), perhaps our result wasn't too far out of line after all. Of course, our test was a simple brim to brim affair but at the seminar I met the man who used to do the AA's incredibly rigorous fuel consumption tests and now does similar work on an independent basis. He told me he was in the middle of carrying out one of his highly detailed tests on the BioPower. I will be interested to see what he comes up with, which I suspect will be the closest thing we get to an authoritative answer for the time being.

The second point concerns the possible damage to the Brazilian rain forest that may arise from increased demand for biofuels. Apparently this is a red herring because the rain forest isn't really very close to the best latitudes for growing sugar cane. What may do for the rain forest, so it is said, is the growing demand for protein and therefore soya. More generally, though, cultivation for ethanol is certainly in competition with cultivation for food, which could prove to be highly problematical in the long run.

The third thing to mention is that Britain is due shortly to get its first bioethanol plant using British sugar beet as a feedstock. It belongs to British Sugar and it's located in Norfolk.

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