Friday, 8 June 2007

Virgin Fuel

Announcement by Virgin of a trial of moving to a 20% biodiesel mix on their trains. Press release here (via treehugger). Anybody with a CSR background care to comment on this in light of all the biofuels controversy (as I understand it, it depends how you source it; shipping it from african farmlands bad, local sources esp re-using old oils, good?)

The real big story in the background is the Virgin group's commitment to find a 'cleann fuel' for trains & especially planes:

QUOTE (from 2006 interview with Branson): "...we're also actually working on developing a new kind of fuel, which I can't say much about but which is quite exciting (...) It will be called Virgin Fuel, yes! It's not ethanol-based as such, but it'll be a clean fuel. And if we've got it right, it could be a very important breakthrough. We think this fuel will work in cars and trucks and trains within a year. And we're hoping that it might work in commercial jet engines within five years, possibly sooner. So it will be able to work in Virgin Atlantic planes one day." (Source CNN)


John Grant said...

I found a brilliant article (via treehugger) on corn based ethanol

NB I dont know how the biodiesel on virgin planes is sourced nor what virgin fuel will be based on, but its interesting anyway given US political momentum behind corn based ethanol...

The most relevant section is this:

What impact does corn-based ethanol have on global warming gasses?

Many people believe that using ethanol from corn would greatly reduce the emission of gasses implicated in global warming. This belief is based on the observation that if a corn plant grew, and then was burned, without any fossil fuel inputs or fertilizer, there would be no net gain in global warming gasses. This is because the carbon dioxide released in the burning of the plant would be offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed by the plant while the plant was growing. This simplistic model is not correct for the production of corn-based ethanol because fossil fuels are used in the growing of corn and the production of ethanol, and these contribute to global warming gasses. Nitrogen used in fertilizer also tends to produce nitrous oxide, which is 300 times as potent a global warming gas as carbon dioxide. There are also secondary impacts -- for example, increasing US corn production is likely to result in less US soybean production. If this occurs, Brazil, the largest producer of soybeans, is likely to increase its soybean production. Space for this increased Brazilian production is likely to be obtained by cutting down rain forests, which will tend to increase global warming gases. One review of the impact of ethanol on global warming gasses found "ambiguous" indications, with some studies indicating small increases, and others indicating small decreases. The authors' best estimate was a 13% decrease relative to the emissions made by gasoline. This implies that burning ethanol still contributes to global warming gasses -- but to a slightly smaller extent than gasoline.

fran said...

All good points if you look at carbon only, but one of the main concerns about ethanol is that in a world where the population is expanding rapidly and the growing capacity of the warmer, drier parts of the world will be reduced through climate change (admittedly growing potential is likely to be boosted in some parts of the North), conflict is likely to arise over land use for growing food versus increased demand for growing commercial crops for ethanol. So expect to see some geopolitical impacts of ethanol production, as well as environmental ones.

Ultimately we have to get much more efficient with our fuel, and not just switch our hydrocarbons from fossil fuels to plant based ones.