back to article Boffinry bigwig puts another boot into biofuels

One of Blighty's top chemists appears to be engaged in a crusade against biofuels. Dr Richard Pike, chief of the Royal Society of Chemistry, has said that biofuels are a "dead end" and "extremely inefficient", and that the government was wrong to impose a requirement for 5 per cent biofuel content in motor fuel by 2010. In a …


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  1. Richie M

    RE: "All UK farmland would barely run Heathrow"

    BAA can barely run Heathrow! How can they expect the UK farmland to.

  2. Slaine

    Fuel Savings

    If they were to rollout the same system across the whole of Heathrow as they have just implimented in Terminal 5, an ornamental garden windmill would generate enough power to run it.

  3. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

    hang on...

    ... doesn't this report put the boot into Heathrow (and modern aviation) for unsustainable use of fuel?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why farmland?

    Farmland is for growing foodcrops. Forest is for making raw materials. The taiga belt is rather underutilized as it is, and is currently rather more cost effective than solar panels (and yes, I even own shares in REC, but I still think spruce-powered vehicles have a future).

  5. Horridbloke

    Bad maths

    Your figure of 800 flights is based on the fuel consumption for a London to New York flight. Okay some routes are longer, but a lot of them are short hops to the Costa Del Scum etc. In addition not all aircraft are 500-passenger behemoths and therefore burn less fuel per mile. The actual theoretical-production-capacity / Heathrow-consumption is therefore probably a lot better. Are the statistics available for how much fuel Heathrow sells? (FWIW I still don't think the biofuel capacity is remotely sufficient).

    Mine's the one with the slide rule in the pocket.

  6. Edward Barrow

    only for tractors

    imo, the only future for biofuels is to power tractors, reducing agriculture's dependence on oil so we don't starve when it runs out. And whether that's going to be any more efficient than growing oats to feed horses is moot.

  7. Anne van der Bom


    The credibility of this professor evaporated upon the suggestion to use the electricity to create hydrogen to power our stuff. That's plain stupid. You should store electricity in batteries. It's about three times as efficient. Luckily there are enough car manufacturers that get the idea and forget about hydrogen in favour of battery powered vehicles. The professor has clearly not yet had this insight. Although I agree with him that it is very doubtful that biofuels will really help us.

  8. Jamie

    Human power

    It is in my opinion that we should instead change all planes to run on hot air and then we can use the enviro-nuts, politicos, and lawyers to power the planes.

    Alternatively we could put propellers on the plane hooked to a huge elastic band which we wind up, once wound tight it will be able to move and not burn any fuel, or release CO2.

    I'm lost

  9. Killian

    and not just aviation

    "doesn't this report put the boot into Heathrow (and modern aviation) for unsustainable use of fuel?"

    Certainly a more rational conclusion - but the idea that we should only consume as much as we can produce by sustainable means isn't compatible with the fact that most people don't give a fuck about the long (or even medium) term problems we're creating, provided they can do whatever they want (and make as much money as they can) now.

  10. Tim

    Before dismissing biofuels...

    Don't forget that currently farmers are paid to not grow things by classifying part of their land as "set-aside"; if the expansion of biofuel production is at risk of impacting on food production capability, we should cease the practice of set-aside. It was introduced due to the old grain mountains etc that the EU used to create, but is highly outdated now. Though it is a very lucrative system for the farmer so they would need to be compensated for its removal.

    Though Honda & their lobbyists won't like this...

  11. cor

    Hmm what is the real issue here..?

    Whilst it is a valid point that cropfuels can't provide enough fuel to run a small percentage of the daily UK requirements, surely the deduction is: There is so much (non sustainable) fuel being burnt each day that even harvesting the entire UK production is not enough to replace it.

    I don't have the answer, but efficiency seems to be the key to 'start' with.

  12. Jerry

    5% overall isn't that bad

    5% ethanol in petrol is not that hard to do and could probably be done with waste plant feedstock rather than growing the stuff specifically.

    For Diesel, quite a lot of it is already single digit percentage biodiesel. This is because with the new low sulphur diesel they need to provide a bit extra lubrication and the best way to do that is to blend in biodiesel. Here in Oz biodiesel is not made of plants at all - it's a tallow based process made from rendered animal remains - pigs, horses, cats etc.

    Next time you tank up, Put a Pussy in your Peugeot.

  13. James Anderson Silver badge

    Slightly off-topic

    A digresion from the important debate on whether we should all starve so that "green" celibrities can fly first class with a clear conscience.

    Why are Bio-Fuelsvirtuous but Bio_Paper sinful. I mean of its OK to grow fertilzer consuming corn on the cob just to burn, why is it not OK to turn organicly grown trees into something useful like paper?

    I mean Sweden grows (and plants) enough trees to provide europe with paper for at least the next 500 years, but, this is somehow sinful and instead we must waste gallons of fuel collecting old paper and turning it into substandard barly usable grey paper.

    I have come to the sad conclusion that ecoligy/greenness has more in common with theoligy than science. The planet obviously needs saving but the misguided eco warriors are not the ones to do it.

  14. Matt

    Maths and expertise

    It irritates me the way one scientist speaks out on an area he is not really an expert in and it becomes news. The guy's a chemical engineer, he's no more qualified to talk about crop yields, farming methods and use of land than I am.

    One of the problems with bio-fuel is that there are many ways to produce it, some better than others. The yanks seem to like to use corn for political reasons, whereas I think rape seed is more efficient (this may be something he does know about).

    I'm never quite sure how crop production stands anyway, as over the last twenty years farmers in the UK have been encouraged to stop farming land. It's difficult to say what we could do if we started using the land again.

    There is of course the calculation error of assuming all flights are to New York etc, but I think that's been mentioned.

    I would also imagine that fields of solar panels may cause their own climate problems when compared to crops.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    High ground.

    We're all shagged then, better start moving the cities up from the coast a bit.

    At least sea views will be getting cheaper.

  16. Michael

    Here's a solution for heathrow

    I'm sure materials technology has improved in the intervening years.....

    and refuelling could be done at Iceland

    They might have to step-up in flight security tho... but if you gotta make that business trip, this might be the way to go.

  17. Charlie Clark Silver badge


    Time for some boffin to come up with clever chairs with built-in toilet and energy harvesting machines to power the machines. Probably entirely unfeasible but would make for a nice cartoon and raises the question of just how much energy is there in the average dump? How much energy is left from 2000 calorie three course meal after initial (human) processing?

    Mine's the white one with the long straps on the arms, ta.

  18. Gianni Straniero

    Hooray for the Prof

    I was never sure why we were seriously considering biofuels anyway. Note that the government's own figures show the energy supply sector generated 1.8 times as much CO2 as the transport sector between 1990 and 2005:

    Now that Sarko & his tasty wife are visiting, maybe we can get some advice on how to generate electricity from nuclear power stations without screwing it up Ukrainian/Cumbrian style. Then we can plug our electric cars in to the grid like the Danes plan to do, and cut emissions from both sectors.

    As has been said above, running aircraft on biofuels is a red herring. We simply have to make the airlines more efficient. Consider that short-haul flights routinely run at 62% occupancy, while long-haul flights aren't much better at 75%. Arseing about in holding patterns waiting for a free runway wastes huge quantities of fuel as well. There are plans for improved routing software that advises pilots to slow down or speed up so they arrive just in time (there's your IT angle).

    And maybe we should consider flying a little less frequently. Although having just looked out the window, emigration suddenly seems rather appealing.

  19. Spleen

    "All UK farmland would barely run Heathrow"

    Solution: Close Heathrow.

    Mine's the one made of hemp; when I get worried about rising sea levels I just pull a bit off, roll it up and smoke it.

  20. Mark
    Dead Vulture

    @ Tim

    Actually the set aside part of CAP went last year.... as a response to the huge grains prices worldwide!

  21. Elmer Phud
    Thumb Down

    misconception - townies?

    There appears to be a belief that when growing bio-fuel crops all you need to do is plant stuff and it grows then you harvest it and - by some miracle, it's fuel.

    Trouble is that the crops are rarely self-sustaining and need intervention to help them along.

    The faster something grown the faster it uses nutrients, the nutrients will need to be replaced but intensive bio-fuel farming wouldn't allow time for the land to recover so there would be a need for additional support in the form of fertilisers and the like. Oh, and there's the need to stop the crops being got at by bugs so it's either spraying or engineered crops or a mixture of both.

    Not so much of a need elsewhere as you can just cut down more trees to get at better soil.

    On top of all that is the old issue of loans for farming being subject to a large percentage of bio-fuel crops and not food crops which has already raised the local prices of staple foods in some areas.

    Nope, it really isn't a case of buying some magic beans from the market.

    The beanstalk is not self-supporting and it won't be a golden egg coming out of the gooses arse.

  22. felix

    Biofuel still useful

    Biofuel is still a good way to recover usable energy from waste.

    So how many acres of solar volatics/wind turbines/wave generators/etc would it take to power Heathrow? I think the problem here is Heathrow and all the greedy f**ckers who use it... Greedy f**ckers.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Didn't anyone else notice...

    ...that the yield is per area per *year* and the number of flights is per *day*?

    I don't see any factors of 365 in the sums.

    So all the product of all the cropland in the country for a year, at the yield numbers the prof is using wouldn't serve the aviation fuel needs of the country (noting that not all flights are transcontinental) for a day.

  24. Anne van der Bom

    @Matt - solar panels

    "I would also imagine that fields of solar panels may cause their own climate problems when compared to crops"

    Well, the logic behind solar panels is to cover roofs with them, not land. And in case we were to put them in the field, could you be a little more precise about what climate problem you foresee?

  25. Matthew

    The process involved in making solar panels

    Is about as far removed from anything 'green' as you can imagine.

    No-one will be interested in an electric car until they can make one that sounds like a V8.

  26. Matt

    @Anne van der Bom

    I had in mind that covering a field with solar panels would effect the way heat from the sun is absorbed or reflected when compared to trees or crops. I don't know what the difference would be, but I imagine there would be one.

    Crops also drink water and the ground absorbs it, so how this works with solar panels I don't know.

    I'm also unsure as to the knock on effects of removing the eco-system surrounding the crops might have.

    Not my area of expertise but it seems to me that covering the country side in solar panels isn't a good idea. Covering building may be.....

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...electric car...that sounds like a V8..."

    The actual useful purpose to which the ridiculous in-car sound systems I hear booming down the next street could be put. Don't know how severe the impact on range would be though, from the battery drain.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Solar Power Satellites

    Most of the energy being used is solar, much of it stored long ago.

    A bit is nuclear, and a smaller bit is being retrieved from the angular momentum of the Earth/Luna system.

    Tree huggers and Brussels bureausprouts are selling everyone a carbonaceous bill of goods-- our lifestyle by and large depends on the use of energy, so we need a source that has reduced side effects. Eco wankers selling hair shirts (salvaged from carbon free shedding sheep undoubtedly) advocating living in caves is not the way to go. We need to harvest the energy that is being wasted (yes WASTED) by the sun!

    Last I heard, the NASA and Ariane space boffins poo poo'd the idea, perhaps they've been stuck in their ossified cubicles too long without any sunlight and fresh air-- the stink of rotting ideas causes mental decay after only a short time.

    Branson should start up Virgin Solar and make some more billions, clearly the huggies, sprouts, and spacepoos aren't up to solving any real problems!

  29. Jeff Deacon

    Re: Before dismissing biofuels... by Tim

    "Don't forget that currently farmers are paid to not grow things by classifying part of their land as "set-aside"; if the expansion of biofuel production is at risk of impacting on food production capability, we should cease the practice of set-aside."

    Alas, set-aside is already going, because the EU has just realised that there is a serious world food shortage going on. That is why all the basics have gone up in Tesco, and why the increases won't stop any time soon. So whether or not the Prof has done his sums right, there is a problem around the corner. Do we use land to grow food, or do we use it to grow fuel? It can't do both simultaneously.

    Glum, because the politicians are bound to choose the wrong answer.

  30. Simon Palmer
    Gates Horns

    Biofuels from Algae

    So if GB isn't big enough, grow Algae in the sea and convert that to Biofuel. We're going to be stuffed if we don't do something soon. We'll be giving half our GDP to the petrochemical industry if things carry on like this! Algae produces something like 10x more net product than from corn too.

  31. JeffyPooh

    CO2 crisis (noun): see 'concrete'

    All Aircraft: ~2% of man-made CO2 emissions

    Concrete: ~15% of man-made CO2 emissions

    We should concentrate our attention on Bio-concrete...

    By the way, when they make clean diesel fuel by removing the sulfur, are there truck-loads of sulfur leaving the refineries and heading where? Or do they simply open a valve and redirect the sulfur into the Bunker C ship fuel thereby short-circuiting everything (except, perhaps granting this, inner-city air pollution) but doing nothing about the global warming impact of NOW EVEN DIRTIER ship fuel?

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Trains, Planes and Automobiles

    Its sad that we are focusing on Jets and Automobiles.

    The system of Trains and Trollies which pervaded mass transport has been forgotten. These systems work a lot better in bad weather like snow and rain than automobiles and jets.

    The system based on airplanes and automobiles is itself massively in-efficient. Before we bag bio-fuels, perhaps we should bag the inefficient infrastructure.

    Granted airplanes are much better for inter-continental traffic and automobiles are better for rural transportation....but why not put the emphasis on making the infrastructure as effiicient as possible?

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >Trains, Planes and Automobiles

    >The system of Trains and Trollies which pervaded mass transport

    >has been forgotten.

    Actually there great wodges of dosh being pumped into ugly tram systems, that blight cities with overhead power lines and reduce the amount of road you can drive on whilst achieving exactly the same effect as a bus lane but at 10 times the price. (And because all public transport is massively unionised they have to have drivers which means they cost a bomb and stop running when you're trying to get back from the pub).

    >These systems work a lot better in bad weather like snow and rain

    >than automobiles and jets.

    Well, for the right types of snow.

    >The system based on airplanes and automobiles is itself massively in-efficient.

    How come they're both massively cheaper than the heavily subsidised rail system then?

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @JonB - Trains, Planes and Automobiles

    >>The system based on airplanes and automobiles is itself massively in-efficient.

    >How come they're both massively cheaper than the heavily subsidised rail system then?

    Er, because the train passengers pay for the lines, stations and infrastructure at near full investment cost, and roads and related infrastructure are paid for by the general taxpayer. The road fund, and revenue from infringements do not pay anything like the true cost of construction and maintaining roads, damage to buildings, deaths and injuries to drivers, passengers and pedestrians. The car owning punter pays for the car (say, less than 2,000 quid a year, and petrol and road fund at roughly 500 quid). Railways pay much of the cost of the track, infrastructure and maintenance, rolling stock, stations, policing and staff.

    HGVs are even more heavily subsidized - The damage a vehicle causes to the road surface is proportional to the fourth power of axle weight, so a 40 ton lorry with an 11.5 ton axle weight causes several thousand times the amount of damage as as a single car axle, so in round terms an HGV is more than 10,000 times as damaging as a car.

    The average drivers comment that "I pay for the roads from my road-fund and fuel tax", if true (It is not.), implies that an HGV owner should pay for their share of replacement/damage etc. If you say an average car is used, say, 1.5 hours a day, and an average HGV is used for 8 hours, then the road fund for an HGV should be in the order of 50,000 times that of a car. Or roughly 10 million quid - You can buy a train for that...

    Paris, because she is heavily subsidized too.

  35. ian

    Mixing wsystems is bad practise

    Metres? Acres? Surely you could have kept to one system or the other. Imperial hectares* would have been more appropriate.

    * The frogs can keep their platinum hectare. Britannia rules!

  36. John

    Shouldn't farmland be used to grow food instead?

    As usual the priorites are wrong. I hate to use common sense, but there seems to be a lack of it these days. HM Govt's own figures project the population to rise to 65 million in the not too distant future. This leaves me wondering if that BF's don't take off (excuse the pun) will we end up eating the stuff? Next time you're in the High Street beware of folk with clipboards asking you to partake in a survey of a new "superfood".

    Given that air travel is supposed to be expanding rapidly, if farmland is given over to BF's, where is Terminal 6 going to go? As for buses, trams and trains, if you're outside London, forget it.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Why does he think he figured this out?!

    It's obvious that biofuels are only a stop-gap solution, and it's also obvious that static analysis can never correctly predict the future, what I mean is predictions based on current techniques and technology are meaningless since these things change constantly.

    The 'best' solutions to future energy supplies for transport and the rest will emerge throught the natural course of events. Relax :-)

  38. Slaine

    reality check

    All Aircraft: ~2% of man-made CO2 emissions

    Concrete: ~15% of man-made CO2 emissions

    Man: ~2% of all global CO2 emissions

    icon represents mount vesuvius

  39. Jon Tocker

    Well, it's quite obvious...

    You don't use UK farmland.

    You set the entire Third World into biofuel production and freight the fuel to the First World countries. Of course, massive starvation will wipe out most the populations of the Third World nations (as there will not be enough food crops to go around) but the heavily reduced populations (all working to produce biofuel crops) can be easily fed through the existing networks such as World Vision and similar charities, especially since there will be no need to waste money on any more education than is required to effectively grow biofuel crops.

    The Third World nations will benefit from having their famine-stricken populations reduced to a manageable few and the ultra-rich "slebs" can jet-set around the world secure in the knowledge that their lifestyles and food supplies are safe.

    Oh, wait a minute, the current NZ govt is rapidly pushing us into Third World status. Forget I mentioned it...

    @"...electric car...that sounds like a V8..."

    Why be anonymous? A brilliant observation like yours should be properly attributed. You've come up with another EV bonus I hadn't thought of: the buggers'll have to turn down their blasted sound systems if they want to get better than 3-5km on a single charge.

    Oh, and the bit about the Third World etc above is called "satire", before all the PC lunatics start frothing at the mouth. Oops, too late, they started frothing a third of the way through the first paragraph. The fire-proof jacket on the left, please.

  40. Ishkandar


    Mine's a large merc and I can get 4 to 5 very nice pussies in it, thank you !!

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