Saturday, April 15, 2006

Ethanol as an oil alternative?

Over the past three decades Brazil has worked to create a viable alternative to gasoline. With its sugarcane-based fuel, the nation may become energy independent this year. Brazil’s ethanol program, which originated in the 1970s in response to the uncertainties of the oil market, has enjoyed intermittent success. Still, many Brazilians are driving “flexible fuel” cars that run on either ethanol or gasoline and allow the consumer to fill up with whichever option is cheaper – often ethanol. Countries with large fuel bills such as India and China are following Brazil’s progress closely.

The US is taking small steps towards the use of ethanol, but its process, relying on corn, is lengthier and more expensive. In addition, countries such as Japan and Sweden are importing ethanol from Brazil to help fulfill their environmental obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. Running cars on carbohydrates instead of fossil fuels may not be a new idea, and ethanol has drawbacks such as high water content can damage engine parts over the long term, and ethanol burns at a higher temp to conventional oil based petrolium therefore creating starting problems in the morning if the temp is cool. The thing is that ethanol offers an attractive alternative as oil prices climb, and it is possible to make the stuff from pretty much anything that you can brew alcohol out of.

New Zealand / USA does not grow sugarcane to my knowledge, therefore the corn option seems to be the best bet although sugarcane based Ethanol is more potent than corn based ethanol. Brazil has got to the point now that they can get about 6000 liters of ethanol from 2.5 acres of land. When they started in 1975 with their project that was at 2500 liters. Brazil is the world leader in this technology. I think that they are going to reap their rewards from now on as the really have everything covered from spending money in their own country to power their vehicles, to excess power generation created by the ethanol plants which in turn sell the power to the local grid..... All very self sufficient.

I think that NZ should take advantage of Brazils knowledge and start producing Ethanol in NZ to subsidise our dependence on international oil. The other option is to do as Sweden and Japan is doing and importing Brazilian Ethanol for the time being until an infastructure can be created. It is not going to be difficult to get flex fuel vehicles produced for the NZ market, and hey.... It is green and good for the environment.

Time that someone within the governement looks into this.

UPDATE: Upon searching NZ and Ethanol, I found out that in NZ bioethanol (petrol ethanol mix) is made as a by-product of the dairy industry. Lactose is fermented in whey with special yeast that converts this sugar into alcohol. The alcohol is then distilled into bioethanol.

In the future bioethanol could be made in New Zealand from waste paper, straw or forestry residues, sugar beets are an option too.


TonyC said...

I'm sure that the engineers, who have figured out very complex means of transforming old smoky, sluggish diesel engines to performance vehicles via expensive, high-pressure injectors and trick electronics, should be able to work on the practical disadvantages of ethanol. Look at dedicated LPG cars from Ford and Holden which have basically taken care of most of the maladies of chop-shop conversions. Besides corn, could there be something we could use instead, like potatoes? Is it the sugar content (there is such a thing as "corn syrup" as you'd know, having lived in Canada), in which case potatoes may not be suitable.

Rob Good said...

I think that anything would be possible as long as you can make alcohol out of it. Thing is that it has to grow fast, and be renewable. They made moonshine out of grain did they not? They made Vodka out of potato's and congac out of grapes. It is all possible but it needs to be practical.

TonyC said...

My line of thinking was that the Swiss, with 3/4 of their territory being unarable land (mountains) and an inhospibable climate, grow potatoes by mixing a part of good soil with several parts of bad soil. That means that if potatoes could be used, then all the land which is uselessly infested with gorse might be made productive.

Rob Good said...

Well anything is possible Tony. If potato's were viable then I'd fully recommend it. I am thinking some sort of genetically modified sugarcane taht will grow in a slightly colder climate...taht might be the key>?

TonyC said...

For fuel, why not? G.E. may be a hot potato (excuse the pun), but as long as we're not going to eat it (like, we don't eat petroleum), perhaps Jeanette Fitzsimmons might be interested in running her car on it.

Rob Good said...

Anything is possible...HA

Anonymous said...

Whilst Sugarcane cannot be grown in NZ, sugar beet can, it will grow anywhere good old Southland swedes do (Sugar beet and sweedes are closley reated i believe).

In addition, it's quite simple to convert existing spart ignition (petrol) engines to run on ethanol.


Rob Good said...

Excellent, well the government (left or right) needs to get onto this.