Nov 21, 2007

Feedstock and Scaling

The Oregonian wrote a pretty good article on Imperium on Tuesday touching some of the larger questions about biodiesel surrounding scale. The US uses a lot of fuel; biodiesel is better, but damn you have to grow a lot of oil producing crops for it.

Using a recycled product, as we all know, is great for biodiesel production but there is a very limited supply of it. Originally, Imperium was going to lean heavily on palm oil for feedstock, but due to negative publicity, backtracked and now are primarily using Canadian Canola. While I was under the impression that Imperium wasn't going to be using any palm oil, it seems otherwise:
'Tobias says the company will buy only palm oil that is sustainably produced. Imperium is a founding member of an international roundtable that's trying to come up with the appropriate criteria, but has struggled to do so.'
I have no idea what could be considered "sustainable palm"... in fact, I'm pretty sure I have no idea what would be considered "sustainable anything", but that is another discussion entirely.

A little perspective on market scale

'Even Imperium's 100-million-gallon plant will make just a tiny dent in U.S. diesel use, which totaled 64 billion gallons in 2006.'

Running at full capacity and offtake, Imperium's facility will offset 0.64% of the US's diesel use. If using soy exclusively, the crops for Imperium's plant would take up 'an area of 2.5 million acres, or about 68% of the Willamette Valley'. The environmental impact of such a venture would undoubtedly be significant; mono-cultures are never good for the surrounding ecosystem, fertilizer, pesticides, water, etc.

As a comparison, soy produces about 50 gallons of oil per acre, Canola produces about 100 and algae-based biodiesel is projected to create 250 times more gallons of oil per acre than soy [12,500 gallons per acre] according to the dubious

It is obvious that biofuels are better, but is also obvious that if we don't pay attention to where our biofuels come from and how they are produced, we could wind up with a whole new set of issues. It would benefit us all to also support conservation and increased fuel economy: 50% increased fuel economy translates to 50% less fuel used. Reduced fuel consumption will help everything, including increase the percentage of biofuels that are being used.

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