Donate

Categories

Advert

XHTML

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional

A Bio-fuel Petrol Station

Today I happened to see a bio-fuel petrol station! I decided to check it out (even though I was traveling by tram in a part of town that I don’t normally visit so there was no possibility of any real purchase).

The station is Conservo [1]. Their main products are E10 petrol (10% Ethanol and 90% Petrol), B20 bio-Diesel (20% bio-Diesel and 80% Petroleum based fuel oil), and B100 (100% bio-Diesel). All the fuel that they sell has a biological based component. The prices for the fuel seemed a little lower than is charged by other petrol stations, but it’s difficult to tell as fuel prices can change rapidly.

I spoke to one customer who had just filled up his 4WD with bio-Diesel about his experiences. He said that he sometimes used B20 and sometimes B100. He had found no down-side to using such fuels but had noticed that when under hard acceleration the bio-Diesel fuel seemed to cause less dark smoke (IE less soot).

All the fuels that they sell are produced in Australia. There are issues with imported bio-fuels which are sometimes produced with slash and burn agriculture and often increase the prices for essential food items (such as corn in South America). As the fuel is produced in Australia such issues should not apply. According to a brochure they have facilities to allow people to deposit used vegetable oil which can then be converted to bio-Diesel.

Inside the store they sell a variety of organic foods and drinks, I bought a bottle of carbonated organic apple juice which was quite nice and at $3 was not outside the price range that I expect from a petrol station (which do tend to charge high rates for refreshments). It was not an unreasonably high price for an organic drink.

In the store they sell and promote a range of producthttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_points that are positive for the environment. They have a display about using algae to produce bio-Diesel fuel which has some interesting information but unfortunately didn’t list the productivity of algae fields in terms of the number of tons per hectare per year (or month or other time period).

One really interesting point I read on their web site concerns the flash point [2] of fuel. The flash-point is the temperature which allows enough of the flammable substance to evaporate to produce an ignitable mixture. Petrol is listed as less than -40C, fossil-Diesel fuel is greater than 62C according to Wikipedia (greater than 55C according to Conservo) while Conservo list the flash point of bio-Diesel as greater than 110C. Wikipedia lists the flash point of canola (rape seed) oil as 327C. This is described as being a benefit of bio-Diesel. While it’s obvious that this is a disadvantage for Petrol, I find it difficult to imagine a situation where a fuel tank could reach a temperature greater than 55C but less than 110C.

In their Good for the Environment [3] page they claim that the exhaust from burning bio-Diesel is less harmful to human health than that from burning fossil fuels. My previous post about Vegie Cars [4] is getting some comments suggesting otherwise. So far I haven’t found good references either way, but the discussion has raised some really good issues.

Update: Petrol’s flash-point is less than -40C not +40C.

15 comments to A Bio-fuel Petrol Station

  • Hi Russell, thanks for the comments at Neocarz! I was wondering if you could maybe blog a little bit more about your experience as a debian developer, what you think about the tasks of packaging and development for debian, and how the debian folks view upstream and non-debian developers.

    Thanks again!

  • One neat thing going on over here in Oregon (where 90% of the world’s biofuel is currently produced) is that there’s folks working on how to make biofuels out of waste biomasses such as surplus farm manure and the garbage parts of corn and wheat, so it can be both food AND fuel, using equipment petroleum refineries already have, so there wouldn’t have to be a massive retooling to the world’s energy infrastructure if everyone switched to that process.

    Another thing: Gasoline and diesel are illegal in Oregon, we’re an exclusively biofuel state. The closest you can get to either at gas stations is E10 or B20. Other common grades are E85, B35 and B100.

  • etbe

    Paul: That’s really interesting, do you have a reference for that? I could only find reference to Oregon offering significant tax incentives, not making anything illegal.

  • Check it out on the state’s legislative website, http://www.leg.state.or.us/

  • etbe

    Paul: I checked out that site, the search index is broken so I had to do a Google site: search – which still didn’t turn up anything.

    I think that making non-bio fuels illegal is a bad idea anyway. Offering tax incentives for local bio-fuel production and energy efficiency (both of which are well documented actions of the Oregon government) are the best ways of addressing this problem.

  • Two thumbs up for E10 petrol, thumb up for B20. I’m still sceptical about B100. Surely it can’t be used all the time, but you should be fine if you mix it.

    > He had found no down-side to using such fuels but had noticed
    > that when under hard acceleration the bio-Diesel fuel seemed
    > to cause less dark smoke (IE less soot).

    True. But I’d fix an engine not to produce soot at all instead. ;-) Or use a particle filter.

    > There are issues with imported bio-fuels which are sometimes
    > produced with slash and burn agriculture and often increase the
    > prices for essential food items (such as corn in South America).
    > As the fuel is produced in Australia such issues should not
    > apply.

    Have you heard the word globalization? Everything has a global effect. Under the WTO rules you can’t ban import of fuel from such countries for political/ecological reasons and there are people that will buy it anywhere in the world, because it’s cheaper.

    > Petrol is listed as less than 40C,

    That would by -40 degrees below water freezing point.

    > Wikipedia lists the flash point of canola (rape seed) oil as 327C.
    > This is described as being a benefit of bio-Diesel. While it’s
    > obvious that this is a disadvantage for Petrol, I find it difficult to
    > imagine a situation where a fuel tank could reach a temperature
    > greater than 55C but less than 110C.

    It is a disadvantage for petrol but for unrelated reasons. The main problem with this number is that when it’s spilled it burns easily. It is also an advantage, because it’s very easy to start a petrol engine in extremely low temperatures. It is hard with petroleum Diesel fuel and impossible with rapeseed oil which has very high flash point temperature.
    When it comes to combustion it is better, but still it’s not a crucial value. The most important factor is the cetane number (CN), somewhat influenced by flash point temperature, as is the ignition delay. Overall B100 as a fuel has properties similar to the petroleum Diesel fuel (high CN). Rapeseed oil has respectable ignition delay, however it has a lower CN [citation needed] which makes it unsuitable for modern engines and leads to unclean burning, higher fuel consumption, more pollutants in exhaust gas, and increased stress to the engine.

    > In their Good for the Environment [3] page they claim that the
    > exhaust from burning bio-Diesel is less harmful to human health
    > than that from burning fossil fuels.

    Oh, it’s very nice, but they fail to provide a single reference. As such it’s nothing but a pamphlet. Of course most of it is true (or obvious), but propaganda without a grain of salt (pun intended) is less believable. Let’s dig deeper. I’m trying hard to find a reliable source of data from my professional curiosity. I look for govt-funded research, because otherwise it’s terribly biased.

    > One neat thing going on over here in Oregon (where 90% of the > world’s biofuel is currently produced) (…)

    Yeah, right. “The world” is more then the land under star-spangled banner, even though you seem to have a “World” Cup in every possible sport.

    In the EU neither E10 nor B5 is considered a biofuel because it’s too common and too much trouble to mention such a slight add-on. Most of the people don’t even recognize the fact of petrol add-ons.

  • Julia

    The fact that the fuel is produced in Australia is having quite a knock on effect: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7289194.stm

    Biofuels are causing food prices to go up, which is hitting the world wide economy as well.

    Good idea in theory, bad implementation.

    J

  • etbe

    Marcin: If fixing Diesel engines to make them not produce soot then why don’t they fix the engines of all the buses and trucks? I don’t recall ever seeing a bus or truck not produce soot when accelerating hard.

    The WTO is a bad idea, they should stop it for other reasons anyway.

    Thanks for noticing the missing minus-sign in the petrol temperature.

    I would have expected that the difference between 30C and 0C ambient temperature would matter little when you have engine pressure increasing the temperature by ~700C. It seems to me that the real problem with bio-Diesel in cold weather is that it’s too viscous – and the VegieCars.com people have an answer for that.

    The “pamphlet” from Conservo is the only reference that has been cited in this discussion, can you cite something better? Even partisan sources can aid the discussion.

    Finally I find it difficult to believe that vegetable oil can be safe for frying food and then when it’s been allowed to cool be immediately more toxic when burned than fossil fuel oil. Or are you claiming that the majority of fried food is very unsafe for human consumption?

  • I recommend Wikipedia articles on the subject as a source of reference material. I cite it here, but they provide further links. I also find the website of the US Department of Energy on alternative fuels [1] worth browsing. Alas it still doesn’t offer an in-depth technical analysis (or I haven’t found it) that I crave.

    I don’t exactly fry my food at 2500 degrees Celsius, which is a common fuel burning temperature of a reasonably recent Diesel engine. I’m no chemist, but at extreme temperatures funny things happen with materials, especially organic materials that are used to more moderate treatment. You might have missed my note in a comment to your previous post where I wrote that if it was safe to reheat the oil (to around 200..250 deg C) thousand times over we would have no need to change it at all. I try to avoid eating fried food other then prepared at home for that reason. [2] As I said before – it’s toxic waste. Really nasty.

    > If fixing Diesel engines to make them not produce soot then why
    > don’t they fix the engines of all the buses and trucks?

    The reason is simple – liberal law and money. All modern Diesel engines have to be equipped with a particle filter or it will fail e.g. the current Euro IV emissions standard. It’s a very simple and elegant solution to this problem, but the latest standards are not applicable to old vehicles (liberal law) and it’s quite expensive outside mass-production stage (money).

    BTW, AFAIK only EU, Japan and California has a sensible automotive emissions law.

    > I would have expected that the difference between 30C and 0C
    > ambient temperature would matter little when you have engine
    > pressure increasing the temperature by ~700C. It seems to me
    > that the real problem with bio-Diesel in cold weather is that it’s
    > too viscous – and the VegieCars.com people have an answer for that.

    I’m not considering Australian cold, but European cold. Where I live the morning temperature is freezing for 3..4 months a year with 2..4 weeks each year when the top daily temperature is freezing.

    What you’re saying is not entirely true. As a part of my Masters thesis I was recreating thermodynamic calculations of a modern turbocharged Diesel engine. The temperature you are referring to is correct, however it’s a number for a stable work state at maximum power output. The problem is that to reach temperatures this high (or any warm temperature at all) you first have to start the engine. The glowplugs cannot provide enough heat to cause even a single dose of such fuel to burn at freezing temperatures. Even if it reaches the injector in the first place. Mind than heating fuel alone is not enough as the ignition (with no spark plug!) of a miniscule dose of fuel is expected in freezing air in a place surrounded by pounds freezed metal. It’s difficult enough with winter Diesel fuel and hard with regular (summer) Diesel fuel and B20. With B100 it’s feasible to some extent but I wouldn’t recommend it for a regular use to anyone outside the tropical zone because it’s gelling in low temperatures. [3] VO is a jelly at freezing temperatures and it’s very hard to light it by holding a match next to it, let alone in a frozen fuel system.

    I also found references for our American friend above [4]:

    > Global biodiesel production reached 3.8 million tons in 2005.
    > Approximately 85% of biodiesel production came from the
    > European Union.

    As for ethanol fuels [5]:

    > The top five ethanol producers in 2006 were the United States
    > (4.855 billion US gallons per year (bgy)), Brazil (4.491 bgy),
    > China, India and France. Brazil and the United States
    > accounted for 90 percent of all ethanol production.

    [1] http://www.eere.energy.gov/afdc/
    [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep-frying#Oil_deterioration
    [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiesel#Gelling
    [4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiesel#Availability_and_prices
    [5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol_fuel#Use_by_country

  • etbe

    http://www.eere.energy.gov/afdc/fuels/biodiesel_laws.html
    http://www.eere.energy.gov/afdc/progs/ind_state_laws.php/OR/BIOD
    Paul: The above web page has the information on Oregon laws (and the top page has links for all of the US), apparently when production meets certain criteria all fuel sold must be at least 10% Ethanol or 2% bio-Diesel. While 10% is noteworthy (it’s enough to counter certain FUD from the car industry) 2% is nothing. Thanks to Marcin for the energy.gov link.

    http://etbe.coker.com.au/2008/04/15/fried-food/
    Marcin: My understanding of the way the fast-food industry operates is that oil changes are based on what impacts the flavour of the food. I would hope that flavour is related to health to some degree, so when harmful chemicals are in the oil it would not make tasty food (I’ve written a blog post about fried food at the above URL which will go live tomorrow). But I’m not convinced that chemicals in oil that make it unsuitable to eat will remain through the Diesel combustion process (although Acrylamide does have higher flash-point and autoignition temperatures than fossil-Diesel fuel).

    http://www.eere.energy.gov/afdc/fuels/biodiesel_benefits.html
    The above URL shows that in general there are less emissions (apart from nitrogen oxides) when using bio-Diesel. So it’s not enough to show that emissions from using bio-Diesel are more toxic (which doesn’t seem clear to me) but also that the emissions are more toxic to a degree that exceeds the smaller quantity of emissions.

    http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs%40.nsf/ProductsbyReleaseDate/06010F4E7D145276CA257394000EC89A?OpenDocument
    The average age of vehicles on Australian roads is around 10 years for passenger vehicles and almost 16 years for trucks. So I guess that about 20 years after the introduction of those European laws (a significant portion of Diesel vehicles on Australian roads were designed to European legislation) air in Australian cities will be cleaner.

    http://www.eere.energy.gov/afdc/fuels/biodiesel_production.html
    The above URL has interesting information on the production of bio-Diesel. It recommends not using vegetable oil in an (unmodified) Diesel engine. It also cites the limited market for glycerin as a problem with bio-Diesel production. It notes that 5% of US Diesel supplies could be met with waste oil. Reducing oil imports by 5% while also finding a use for all that waste oil sounds like a good thing!

    It would not be difficult to vary the fuel composition at different times of the year, and varying fuel by geography is also easy. For example in most of Australia the most viscous fuels could be used even in winter (I live in one of the cooler parts and it is still rare to see frost on the ground in the morning). In mountainous areas of Australia different fuel blends could be sold. The more biological fuels that are used in the non-mountainous parts of mainland Australia and the parts of the US that aren’t near Canada the more fossil fuels will be available for Poland etc.

    Wikipedia states that B100 produced from tallow gels at 16C but gels at -10C when produced from canola. 16C would be a problem for early morning starts in most parts of Australia, but -10C would work everywhere other than mountains in winter. Given that it seems unlikely that anyone would ever distribute B100 made exclusively from tallow this doesn’t seem to be a problem in Australia.

    The conservo people are apparently planning to sell a lot of bio-Diesel produced from algae, I’m not sure how that compares but suspect it to be more similar to canola than tallow.

    Can you put your masters thesis online in English? For a lot of what you write it would get you a better result if you were to write English language blog posts about it and link to it.

  • Bio-diesel also is (was?) known to be more aggressive to plastic and rubber items than petroleum based diesel. This caused my previous cars fuel pump to break ahead of time (even though the car was defined to be bio-diesel compatible by the manufacturer). It should have lasted at least 200,000km but only lasted a little over 100,000km.
    Also if I look at the gas stations selling bio-diesel around my place, I notice that the pumps for bio-diesel seem to rot noticably faster than any of the other pumps (gasoline, petroleum-based diesel). Not sure why this is the case, but I do notice it.

  • > But I’m not convinced that chemicals in oil that
    > make it unsuitable to eat will remain through the
    > Diesel combustion process (…).

    AFAIK not all of the components of WVO burn. Contact with water from food and air fuels the oxidation process, so part of it is just waste.

    You should mind the scale. Medium class car’s Diesel engine could burn around 8 litres of VO per 100 kilometers. That’s far more then you’re likely to ingest in a year with fried food.

    > The above URL shows that in general there are less
    > emissions (apart from nitrogen oxides) when using
    > bio-Diesel. So it’s not enough to show that
    > emissions from using bio-Diesel are more toxic
    > (which doesn’t seem clear to me) but also that the
    > emissions are more toxic to a degree that exceeds
    > the smaller quantity of emissions.

    I don’t discount these benefits. I also consider the energy security aspect for a country like Poland worthwhile (virtually no crude oil fields, 2nd rapeseed production in the EU). Lead in fuel was also introduced to improve fuel properties and we recognize this as the single biggest disaster in the history of automotive industry. I’m not implying that biodiesel poses such a great danger, but it shows that we have to throughly test and consider any novelty before mass application.

    Also the graph is for heavy duty engines. As I said before it’s most welcome to use this kind of fuel in big engines, especially older designs. The engines of modern cars, especially with direct injection, are more vulnerable to fuel quality. Most of them was designed with lesser error margin because todays petroleum fuels are of stable quality. Biodiesel, while not very different from petrodiesel, has its quirks that have to be considered. Of course engine size matters too. Car engines have air filters that collect dust to protect the engine. Big marine engines use a metal net for air filter in order to avoid intaking seagulls. Same goes for fuel quality.

    > The above URL has interesting information on the
    > production of bio-Diesel. It recommends not using
    > vegetable oil in an (unmodified) Diesel engine. (…)
    > Reducing oil imports by 5% while also finding a use
    > for all that waste oil sounds like a good thing!

    You’re right of course. Since the dawn of this discussion however we mix the uses of VO (I’m against using it in ICE) with biodiesel (which I support as fuel add-on). There is no reason to avoid biodiesel apart from the relatively high production costs. Mass application will lower the price of course. The technical differences can be overcome.

    > It would not be difficult to vary the fuel
    > composition at different times of the year, and
    > varying fuel by geography is also easy.

    Yes, that’s how supply of Diesel fuel works in Europe and North America for years so it’s not a problem at all.

    > In mountainous areas of Australia different fuel
    > blends could be sold. The more biological fuels
    > that are used in the non-mountainous parts of
    > mainland Australia and the parts of the US that
    > aren’t near Canada the more fossil fuels will be
    > available for Poland etc. (…)

    The use of such fuel on a mass scale requires proper education as it makes some practices used by common people now obsolete. If someone in California fills up the tank with B100 and drives to the the Rocky Mts where temperature is much lower it would be a problem.

  • Dan

    what the deal with this company http://www.BioConCeptsLLC.Com

    They seem to have it correct!

  • etbe

    Dan: They claim that bio-Diesel gives significantly less greenhouse gas emissions than Diesel and Ethanol. There is no reason why bio-Diesel would give significantly less CO2 output for a given quantity of energy use than regular Diesel fuel. If they take into account the CO2 absorbed when producing the fuel then Ethanol would also compare well.

    Algae does have good potential, but they seem to be using dubious claims to try and sell their products.

  • etbe: You’re right, that’s silly. Power output from coal in fuel equals CO2 emission. There’s only one way to reduce CO2 output from a vehicle – reduce the percentage of coal in fuel. For carbohydrates this is only possible for gaseous fuels, like methane.

    Quote: Bio Concepts has a diverse and strong management team.

    As if it made their products better. All their site is pulp science. Relative Emissions graph is especially stupid:
    * CO2 emission is comparable for any HC-based liquid fuel
    * “mutagenicty” is a nice figure, but we don’t really know what is it (looks scary though)
    * lower PAH emission would be great, but 10 to 20 times less is just too hard to believe (it depends on the engine as much as fuel anyway)
    * sulfates in fossil fuel are negligible these days anyway
    * NOx with catalyst compared with one without?
    * PM filters are mandatory in EU/USA in new cars anyway and I haven’t seen any reliable source claiming next-to-none PM emission for any Diesel fuel
    * for *any* amount of unburnt HCs and CO the engine is to blame

    Algae are great, but they solve nothing. We should lower CO2 emission, not CO2 net emission. this goes down to designing new power sources, rather then alternative fuels. At least it’s not yet another water-powered car. ;-)