Why don’t the university buses smell like french fries?

The Senate is now considering increasing government subsidies for corn growers to produce more ethanol. If we produce enough ethanol we can postpone our next invasion of a Middle Eastern country for two to three years.
~Jay Leno

I remember quite clearly when I first started hearing about biofuels that when a biofueled car drove by, it would smell like french fries. I’ve driven behind numerous biofueled university buses and I can tell you, they do not smell like french fries.

I’m rather leery of biofuels. I think they may yet be a promising alternative to conventional fossil fuels, but only if we stay away from the so-called “first generation biofuels,” the biofuels made from things such as corn or other grains. While the US tends to over-produce corn, anyway, we could never produce enough to fill our gas tanks with enough left over to do all the things we’ve made corn do. That doesn’t stop the corn industry, though. And of course, any negative side-effects of ethanol become environmentalism’s problem. Win-win for the corn industry.

Biofuels from waste products, the “second generation biofuels,” I think have more promise. Since we were probably going to throw the corn stalks and used vegetable oil away, anyway, it makes sense that this would be the more logical of the two approaches. Since used vegetable oil can be made into biofuel at home, I can imagine this wouldn’t be very popular with our existing fuel companies. If this takes off, expect them to start a massive campaign about how A) their fuel is better or B) home-made fuels are bad.

A bigger problem is the lack of infrastructure to accommodate biofuels. This is the problem with “Flexfuel” vehicles. Where the hell do you get straight biofuel? I know of one Bio-Willie station, and I can’t really recall exactly where it is, but it’s far enough away that by the time I drove over there, filled up, and got back home I’d be out of fuel again. Outside of Austin, biofuels are few and far between. This is why I laugh when I see the Flexfuel label. Right now, it’s greenwashing. If you could pull over all the Flexfuel drivers and ask what’s in their gas tank, they’d probably say “gasoline.”

I won’t hold my breath for biofuels, though. While they’re better off now than they have been since the past eight presidents, any real change is going to occur slowly and incrementally. Much like cancer, there will never be a “cure” for our fossil fuel addiction. Instead, it’s going to take numerous small steps that really won’t be much noticed.


2 Responses to “Why don’t the university buses smell like french fries?”

  1. Dargon Says:

    If I may, biofuels, first or second generation, by their very nature, would be very, very poor replacements for fossil fuels. For the hobbyist or public transit or the like, it works great, but if we were to attempt a complete switch, you hit a big problem. There just ain’t enough waste product and new product to fuel all the vehicles. It does not matter how good the infrastructure is; if there isn’t enough fuel then it lacks potential (ha, that was a physics pun).

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