Electric cars are seen as the way forward by most industry experts, but do biofuels also have a role to play, perhaps in larger vehicles, and which technology is best in terms of sustainability?
There are some apparent arguments for biofuels. The technology driving it has come a long way. Already HVO is a greener diesel alternative and new developments in genetics promise eco-friendly mass-scale production methods. But beneath the surface, there are a couple of fundamental flaws in electric power serving as the holy grail of green energy.
Getting straight into the thick of it, electric power in its current state is not so eco-friendly after all. Most of the electricity we use is still produced using fossil fuels. But, electric power limits the spread of fossil fuels and subsequent pollution.
The spread of pollution is nowhere near as relevant as the compounded total greenhouse gasses generated. There is, therefore, a law of physics that dictates that generating, storing and then transforming that energy into heat and kinetic energy is less efficient than just cutting out the middleman.
Elon Musk has achieved a great deal and continues to inspire with his drives towards environmentally friendly technology. There exists a simple equation that explains efficiencies and irreversible losses.
What this means in practice is that every step in energy conversion suffers a loss. Generating thermal energy by burning fossil fuels is a step; this is then used to create kinetic energy which in turn produces electric power by way of friction.
You don’t need to understand this process to get that this process entails a lot more steps than using fuel to power a vehicle directly. Efficient means less waste which means less of the initial fossil fuel to produce the same amount of power.
It is arguably possible that the developed countries may become all but completely independent of fossil fuels in the next fifty to one hundred years. However, there is almost no possibility of the developing world reaching this goal in the foreseeable future.
But surely that doesn’t mean electric vehicles are a pipedream in terms of eco-friendliness. Indeed if the handful of capable countries are producing sustainable energy and using that to electric power vehicles, they decrease their environmental footprint on an individual scale.
Even upon grasping the problem mentioned above, one could be forgiven for missing why it is more detrimental to the environment than the current status quo. There is a tipping point; a certain degree of market adoption that has to occur before the scales tip in favour of the desired outcome.
Developing countries making up the vast majority of estimated future fossil fuel consumption. The impact of increased demand for electricity to power ever more powerful electric vehicles means that more fossil fuels will yet be burnt on the global stage, even though a handful of countries have made a switch to renewable.
Biofuels lack the publicity enjoyed by the drive for electric power. They also lack the inherent shortcomings as well as the detrimental risks related to market adoption. Where electric vehicles and the future development of the technology will be susceptible to market demand rather than implicit eco-returns, biofuels are inherently green. The production of power circumvents the use of fossil fuels at every stage of the process.