Liquid Biofuels and Sustainable Development Part 3

Plant Oil Stoves

There are a wide variety of plant oils that have potential for cooking, including coconut, jatropha, soya bean, corn, peanut, cotton, sunflower and many more. The Protos stove was developed in the Philippines by Leyte State University (LSU) in collaboration with Bosch and Siemens Home Appliance Group (BSH), who have supported and funded the work, alongside the German government (Guarte).

A key feature of this type of stove is that fuel can be bought in very low quantities – and for people on small incomes, not having to save for a refill means that the tradition of buying enough just for the next day can be continued.

Plant oil is safe to use: it does not burn under normal room conditions, and burns cleanly, so is good for health.

Those piloting the use of the plant oil stove say that it cooks faster than a traditional kerosene stove and the cost of fuel tends to be lower. Most of the stove parts are manufactured locally, although the high precision components are still made by BSH. The German agency, GTZ, is testing the stove in the longer term in Tanzania. Already there is wide demand for the stove.

Biofuel Lighting

Ethanol can be used to produce a clean bright light.

Petromax, who produce the BriteLyt Methanol/Ethanol/Alcohol Lantern, makes the best known of these lanterns. This lantern is manufactured currently in the USA (Britelyt).

The Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in the Philippines has developed the Noorie lantern that burns very cleanly, producing light equivalent to that from a 100 W incandescent light bulb. By removing the top of the lamp, an attachment can allow the lantern to be used for small amounts of cooking

Electricity Generation

There are several types of vegetable oils that can be used to generate electricity in adapted diesel engines. For example, in the Amazon region, around 1000 small power plants (<500kW) use diesel to supply electricity to small towns and villages, whilst huge plantations of oil palm are cultivated for biofuels for export (Coelho, 2005).

Diesel is not subsidised, and the electricity is often too expensive for households to buy. Diesel engines adapted to burn vegetable oil are being tested in demonstration units in isolated villages. Where they have been installed, they have been found to be socially beneficial – particularly where the communities are very isolated. Such projects are potential candidates for carbon finance as they replace diesel, which can lead to lower costs for both installation and fuel.

In Mali, according to the news agency Reuters, some 700 communities have installed biodiesel generators powered by oil from the Jatropha curcas plant. The Malian government is promoting cultivation of the inedible oilseed bush to provide electricity for lighting homes, running water pumps and grain mills, and other critical uses. Mali hopes to eventually power all of the country’s 12,000 villages with affordable, renewable energy sources. Jatropha has the additional benefit that it stabilizes soil in areas prone to erosion, and is used as a medicinal plant.

Mali is seeking to boost the standard of living of its 80-percent-rural population and to reduce migration from impoverished rural areas through electricity for light, air conditioning, vaccine storage and media. (Herro)

In rural Cambodia a scheme was piloted whereby jatropha nuts, which grow wild along the roadside, are collected by local villagers and traded by the local shopkeeper in exchange for goods to the value of the nuts. The nuts are bought by the oil-producer for this traded price and small oil-expellers located in some of the villages will be used to make jatropha oil. The oil was supplied to those businesses charging batteries and running standard diesel generators. The “cake” from the crushed seeds is used for cattle feed (DATe).

Biofuels for Transport

Ethanol is a high octane fuel and has replaced lead as an octane enhancer in petrol. By blending ethanol with petrol, oxygen is added to the fuel mixture so it burns more completely and reduces polluting emissions. Ethanol fuel blends are widely sold in the United States. The most common blend is 10% ethanol and 90% petrol (E10). Vehicle engines require no modifications to run on E10. Only flexible fuel vehicles can run on up to 85% ethanol and 15% petrol blends (E85).

Brazil is the leader in biofuel production, with a government decision more than twenty years ago to make the country self-sufficient in energy. By 2005, the number of cars sold that could run on both ethanol and petrol exceeded those sold that could use petrol alone.

By 2020, it is projected that biodiesel could represent as much as 20% of all on-road diesel used in Brazil, Europe, China and India. Biodiesel consumption in the U.S. grew from 25 million gallons per year in 2004 to over 250 million gallons in 2006. In the U.S. over fifty new, larger-scale plants are in construction and are expected to come online between 2007 and 2008 (Biodiesel 2020).

Biofuels and the Environment

Biofuels can both benefit and destroy the environment – depending on the ways in which they replace fossil fuels. When fossil fuels burn, they add to the levels of greenhouse gases in the environment. Where these are replaced by renewably-grown biofuels, the carbon dioxide is re-absorbed by the plants as they grow, and energy does not need to be expended in transporting fossil fuels for long distances. Thus, using clean and sustainable practices, biofuels can benefit the environment, and add economic value to local communities.

However, where large plantations have been planted in rainforest areas, this benefit is completely overwhelmed by the damage done to the environment by burning the forest, which is an essential global “sink” for these greenhouse gases. This large-scale, non-regulated approach can lead to land degradation as the soil is leached of its nutrients. Communities are often faced with eviction or land on which crops no longer grow.

The main use of biofuels is in the automotive sector. Again, there are both benefits and disadvantages. Ethanol can reduce carbon emissions through improved combustion, and reduced reliance on fossil fuels but access to a new source of fuel prevents shortages, so keeps the price of fuel down, encouraging more people to use private transport.

Used within the household context, biofuels have a very positive impact on the lives of those living in poverty. The kitchen environment remains the place where most women living in the developing world spend most of their time. Alleviating kitchen smoke improves health, saves money, improves women’s status, saves very large amounts of time. In areas prone to drought, it can also help save the external environment by reducing pressures on trees and other vegetation used for fuel.

Future for Biofuels

Biofuels are here to stay. Used responsibly, they can reduce the levels of pollutants currently affecting the planet, and can provide clean air in homes fit for human habitation. As new technologies become mainstreamed (such as fuel cells for the auto industry) it is to be hoped that these new technologies can improve the quality of life for those communities currently living in poverty, and provide a route to clean development for future generations.


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