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Green Corner




An A-Z of the environment & issues

by Peter Hatswell



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B is for Bio-fuels

Man has been using bio-fuels from the earliest days in the form of wood and leaves and later, animal fats and wood alcohol. The industrial revolution converted us to fossil fuels - a finite resource and away from our previously (probably unwitting) sustainable behaviour.

The relatively low cost of coal, oil and gas has allowed industry to expand and provide us with almost all the benefits of modern life including plastics, synthetic fibres and chemicals.

Without these what we now see as essentials - life would be very different but we have to prepare for the time when the fossil stocks run out.

The most promising developments for our future transport needs are bio-diesel made from vegetable oils, ethanol from the fermentation of sugars plus the possibility of compressed bio-gas from rotting vegetable matter. Waste landfill sites and sewage works in Bedfordshire already use bio-gas to heat reaction vessels or to drive gas engines to produce electricity, thus reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.


There is a danger that the race for supplying vegetable oil to meet these needs will lead to the clearing of more ancient forests for the production of palm nut or soy bean oils. Although the climate in Europe is less favourable for the production of bio-fuels than that of tropical countries, it is important to minimise the distance travelled by such crops to save energy and to provide security of supply. This industry could also provide local employment in farming which is an area where we already have great expertise.


The growing of trees to provide power station fuel has yet to be proved as a workable solution but compressed wood pellets are already providing an easily controlled alternative to heating oil, particularly in rural areas.


The use of sustainable fuels has other benefits. For example the spent vegetable matter from bio-gas production can be used as a fertiliser and soil conditioner to grow more crops. Capturing the methane from decaying vegetable material rather than allowing it to escape into the upper atmosphere not only gives us a clean fuel but helps to reduce global warming.




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