back to article US prof says 'bioelectric' cars much better than biofuel

A prof in California has made the unsurprising observation that you can produce more transport miles from an acre of cropland by growing biomass for generators and using electric vehicles than by burning crop biofuels in ordinary engines. Assistant professor Elliott Campbell and his colleagues compared two different ways of …


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  1. Kirstian K

    how about......

    If the world thought about it,

    the correct answer is always the most expensive option.

    now i have a plan,

    use a chunk of this cash the world is pumping into recovering the world ecomomy,

    instead of into bad debts, into say solar energy in the way mentioned.

    it would save land, give jobs, generate energy saving money, saving the enviroment

    by being green, which would cost the world less in the long run,

    it may be expensive now, but cheaper, in the long run, and better for the worl in soooo many ways.

    instead we are pumping billions into buying bad debts,

    when we could be doing something usefull......

    is it me or has the work really lost the plot..

  2. Michael O'Malley


    If I switch to an electric car, the car itself will be cheap. But wouldn't I need hundreds of kilometres of flex?

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Yes, but...

    All very well and true, but this reasoning assumes that new cars and photo-voltaic cells will spring up overnight, as if by magic, and cover the entire countryside!

    The real benefit of more "trad" biofuel is the ability to phase old vehicles and methods of energy production out, while switching to a more green way of doing things than burning oil.

    Also, why do they always talk about ethanol? What about good-old Used Vegetable Oil for diesel engines? That's a "trad" biofuel which is nice and efficient -- a byproduct of the fast-food industry that is burned in (many) normal diesel engines with no (or very little) modifications.

  4. Steven Hunter

    Why not...

    Why not harvest the crops, then convert the leftover ~90% of the plant into biofuel/bioelectricity? Seems like a win-win scenario to me.

    (And yes, I know plant derived ethanol can't currently be made this way, but so far as I know bioelectricity could be.)

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Missing the point

    Prof is missing the point. Solar cells do not have a farmer lobby.

    It will take oil to become 400$+ per barrel for people to look into the real economics of "green fuel". Anything before that will be just struggling for handouts.

  6. Chris


    high speed jet aircraft may need to burn some sort of hydrocarbon fuel, but lighter-than-air craft (blimps or zeppelins) could probably operate on electricity easily. If a light enough solar cell is developed to cover the envelope with, I could see them possibly able to operate nearly indefinitely.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The point in ethanol is that existing cars and infrastructure can use it, the comparison is a future maybe workable in 5-15 years concept and a works right now one.

    Ethanol is clearly less efficient than bio-diesel as well, the bio debunkers always pick the easy target and the aircraft mentioned in the article would be running a bio-diesel variant not ethanol at all.

    Finally, the energy consumption for the production of the solar panels themselves and the batteries needed to store the energy would have to be included in the comparison.

    We don't even know the battery technology that might one day be used - the world lithium supply being a bit short for providing the energy demands of every vehicle at the moment.

    Overpopulation isn't a future thing, it's a right now thing. Without the huge energy store of oil the worlds population cannot be sustained. That's why losing farmland to energy seems like madness - we've got more people than we can afford.

  8. Disco-Legend-Zeke
    Paris Hilton

    Electric Eel Electric

    Let's get the gene splicers to build a plant that generates electricity directly.

    And just to keep you amused, start with cannabis, which already has the highest oil per acre of any annual. (Top oil producer is palm trees, which have another advantage, they can grow in salty water.)

    Paris cause she keeps me amused.

  9. mark Silver badge

    too late

    "Overpopulation isn't a future thing, it's a right now thing. Without the huge energy store of oil the worlds population cannot be sustained. That's why losing farmland to energy seems like madness - we've got more people than we can afford"

    Nail on the fucking head John.

    Theres too many people on the planet right now for the amount of farmland to sustain without fossil based fertilizers etc , even if they didnt want cars.

    Which leaves little room for biofuel.

    All these ideas are quite noble and correct etc , but pale into insignificance compared with our total energy demands.

    People will look back in hundred years and say:

    " so let me get this straight - in the old days to go a mile down the road to get bread and milk you used to take a , um. 'forbyfour' which is a 3 ton lump of metal???"

  10. Louis


    Shouldn't the headline have been "Bioelectric also not viable"?

  11. machinehead


    Solar Bio-fueled Alternative energy will not make a significant difference fulfilling energy demands.

    Nuclear Energy can.

    But there are many who, for whatever reason, oppose all things ATOMIC.

    They buy into things like the "RENEWABLE ENERGY INITIATIVE", but don't have a clue about what that means or how it might work. They believe the HYPE.

    Solar power is vastly more expensive than other, proven technologies. Solar power can't compete unless at least three things happen:

    1. Oil gets way (way way way) more expensive.

    2. Solar energy collection achieves much greater efficiency, and the cost goes down significantly.

    3. There is a better storage solution developed for when it's night or cloudy.

    So far none of these things has happened, or is likely to happen for decades.

    Please spare me the description and or link to the "New Battery", "Capacitor", or "Flywheel". These things are just parlor tricks at the moment. We don't even have a truly useful battery powered car yet. 40 miles? Pure unadulterated HYPE.

    Nuclear Power is the only current technology that can provide the limitless energy the world demands. It's on 24/7, requires no sunlight , wind or flora to work. It's cheap, efficient and safe.

    It's cheaper than oil or solar power. Cleaner than coal.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    A simple solution.

    Llamas, reigns, and saddles. Gidd'yup.

  13. Charles Manning

    80% efficiency is bollocks

    The problem with just zooming in on drivetrain or motor efficiency is that you lose the true system cost.

    Sure, only 20% of the energy going into an internal combustion engine hits the wheels and 80% of the energy going into an electric motor gets to the wheels.

    But take one step back. If you make the "cut off point" at where the energy goes into the car you get a very different picture. With liquid fuels pretty much 100% of the fuel going into the car gets to the engine (just a tiny amount is lost to evaporation etc). With electrics it is a far more dismal picture. Battery charging/discharging and motor control is pretty inefficient ~70% or so. That means that only 50-60% of the electrical energy put into the vehicle actually gets to the wheels. Sure, that's a step up from 20% but not quite up there with 80%.

  14. Aitor Silver badge

    Machinehead, you are wrong.

    Wind energy, is 5% of being competitive with the cheapest ways of electricity: coal and nuclear. It is less expensive than gas and oil.

    As for "wind stops", it is just an externality, the cost includes that.

    Solar thermoelectric is geting competitive.

    PV panels go from 12% to 35% in efficiency, and most are more than 20%. Plants are stuck in 2% efficiency....

    As for batteries, you can build an electric car that travels way more than 40 miles.. even using gel battteries.. but you need a place to charge these cars. And they only travel something like 60-80 miles per charge, at most, and then 3-6 hours charging.

    As for "limitless", it is also limited.. but the fly ash of coal contains lots of fissible material, as does the "nuclear waste".

    I am sorry to inform you, that safe nuclear power is not cheap.. it is expensive. We have cheap nuclear energy because it is almost safe.. and before that we had incredibly cheap nuclear energy because it wasn't safe.

  15. Goat Jam

    Nuclear costs

    Most proponents in the Nuclear=cheap camp fail to account for future costs involved with maintaining decommissioned power plants into the future. When a nuclear power station is switched off it doesn't magically stop being radioactive, it will remain radioactive for many, many generations and it is those generations who will bear the cost of maintaining or cleaning up these radioactive sites that were used to generate power for us now.

    Nuclear supporters simply want to hand ball the costs of their desire for "cheap" nuclear power onto their grand kids and beyond.

  16. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    PV panels don't need water?

    One of the annoyances from the PV crowd is this constant assertion that solar power is "water-friendly" and therefore can be implemented in areas with limited water supplies such as deserts or large areas of the Middle East. Which makes me laugh. Just last year I got a sight of the early morning routine at a solar farm outside Madrid, which includes a dozen staff hosing down the panels and mopping them clean. PV panels need to be dust-free (and bird-poop free) to work to optimal efficiency, which means daily cleaning. In areas such as the Middle East (or even Spain) where water supplies are limited, massive expanses of PV panels will need a LOT of water daily. And what about the cleaning agents used? How much detergent gets dumped into the environment by the daily panel washing?

    Oh, and just to make our European readers groan, that Madrid solar farm was proudly displaying signs saying it was "EU funded" - obviously not competitive, then!

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Let's burn our food for fuel

    Great idea.


  18. Dave


    But what about the sensible middle-ground of using ethanol or similar to power a fuel-cell?

    Then you don't need to carry heavy batteries around, but also benefit from the efficiency of electric drive?

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Whiny elitist lefties refuse to use mass transit

    The real problem is that all these U.S. morons here refuse to get out of their stupid cars. What, are they disabled or something? No, didn't think so. They should forget their overpriced cars and use mass transit if they REALLY care about the environment.

    "But," you say, "mass transit sucks giant donkey dicks and takes 10 times as long as driving, if service even exists at all." Yeah, well, that's true... but ONLY because so few people actually use it!

    Get all the rich stuck-up snobs (and the whiny elitist lefties) AND all the beer-swilling John Q. Pubics (no, that's not a typo) out of their cars, and you'd be surprised how quickly that mass-transit would improve. The public would DEMAND that it improve. Also, stores would have to start doing home-deliveries again, like they used to decades ago before cars were commonplace.

    But as it is, no one cares (at least here in the U.S., which seems to make rules for the rest of the world), and so the useless debates go on about which type of car is better.

    But realistically, if people ONLY used their cars for absolutely essential trips and not for stupid crap like going to concerts or convenience stores to buy only one item, the whole "which kind of car is better" thing wouldn't even matter.

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