Thursday, 11 August 2005

Daryl Hannah and biodiesel

Readers of this blog will be aware, that biodiesel is controversial. So it was with great interest that I was able to discuss it with Hollywood actress and film star, Daryl Hannah. She has been promoting biodiesel, and she pointed out, originally diesel engines was created so that farmers could grow their own fuels -- a basic diesel engine will run on peanut oil, sunflower oil, and pretty well any similar oil. In fact most modern diesels can be converted for a few hundred pounds or dollars. Modern highly efficient engines can run on a wide range of waste oils, from recycled engine oils to used cooking oils, and agricultural wastes from the sugar industry and other crops. This is certainly something that should be encouraged.

However, the problem arises when land is cleared specifically to grow crops to produce biodiesel oils. Just as a problem is created when huge areas of forests are cleared to grow soya beans, to feed increasing numbers of vegetarians in the developed world.

But thinking about these complex issues led me to think about cars and transport in general. We are being exhorted to change to modern 'hybrid' cars, that can run on electricity or biodiesel, solar powered cars and various other forms of less polluting forms of transport. But one aspect of these vehicles I have not been able to get data on, is the embedded energy. If I buy a second hand 20 year old Volvo, Jaguar, Rolls Royce or similar car with a relatively long life will I use more energy than buying a brand new car with a 20 year lifespan? New cars contain catalytic converters etc, plus a host of other sophisticated gadgetry, all of which requires energy to be made. Similarly, a 15th century house, even though it may be draughty may be much more energy efficient than a super, state-of-the-art eco house built in 2005, which uses concrete, plastics, glass and other modern materials. Does anyone out there know where data on embedded energy can be located?

But to return to biodiesel and energy efficiency of cars. The lexus hybrid, running on gas or electricity, at a cost of $30,000 or more has to represent something of a paradox. The chances are that the sort of person owning such a car, will also be spending large amounts of money on other commodities, and travelling by air. So what is the point of saving a few joules of energy in a car, if it is then spent flying around the world, or building an air-conditioned house in the south of France?

In my sci-fi future, everyone will be issued with a book of energy coupons on their 18th birthday. They can use them, but not trade them. They can be used for cars, having children, air-conditioning and any other non essential luxury. Only healthcare, basic housing, education and food will not require their expenditure. Perhaps it's just as well I am not going to be ruler of the universe.

No comments:

Post a Comment