I just read an interesting blog post from December 2005 about the environmental impact of bio-fuels. It makes some really good points that should be studied by everyone who is interested in protecting the environment.
However this doesn’t mean that bio-fuels are inherently bad, just that some methods of production are bad.
The blog claims that reusing oil that had been used for frying would cover 1/380 of the fuel used for road transport in the UK. There are some technologies that have been recently invented to process farm and industrial waste into oil, some of which are already in production in the US. The volume of farm waste (and equivalent waste from restaurants) would significantly exceed the frying oil from restaurants and converting waste plastic into fuel would add even more. I’m sure that these sources of fuel from waste would add up to at least 1% of the current transport fuel use.
A better train system has the potential to halve the use of fuel for transport (or better), when living in Europe I never considered owning a car, the trains were so good and the car parking was so bad that it wasn’t worth doing. A combination of less cars and the cars being driven less would significantly reduce fuel use.
Hybrid vehicles and vehicles with smaller and more efficient engines could halve the use of fuel again (or better). Diesel hybrid cars that are currently being tested use as little as 1/4 the fuel of current petrol cars. Add further technological improvements such as the six-stroke engine and we could be looking at something better than four times the current fuel economy of cars.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that a combination of a good public transport infrastructure, fuel efficient vehicles, and government incentives for using both could reduce the transport use of fuel by a factor of 8. This would mean that fuel produced from restaurant, farm, and plastic waste (which I conservatively estimate at four times the volume of used frying oil) could account for more than 8% of the fuel supplies. The EU wants to have 5.75% of fuel oil to come from renewable sources, it seems to me that this is possible without importing any bio-Diesel from developing countries!
Electric cars could of course significantly decrease the use of fuel oil too. A Prius+ (Prius modified to take mains power) would be an ideal vehicle for me. I rarely make long journeys and rarely make multiple journeys in one day so I could use mains power most of the time. I estimate that with a Prius+ I would use no more than two tanks of petrol a year.
Then of course there’s the issue of market protection. It seems that every first-world country has a farming lobby that convinces the government to pay them to produce more crops than they can sell at market rate. Instead of subsidising food that is sold to other countries such government money could go towards subsidising development of bio-fuels. The US subsidy of corn production is a classic example of this, corn syrup can be easily fermented and distilled to make fuel – much better than eating the nasty stuff!