US: High Biofuel use hurts water supply

▪ US: High Biofuel use hurts water supply

The water it takes to supply energy to California, the biggest US fuel market, has risen almost four-fold over two decades. And the culprit isn’t oil. It’s biofuels, according to a report.

California’s “water footprint” for energy -- the water used to produce transportation fuels, natural gas and electricity consumed in the state -- rose to 7.7 cubic kilometers in 2012 from 2.1 in 1990, the report prepared by university and environmental researchers showed.

Almost all of the increase came from water used to grow biofuel crops in the US Midwest and overseas to help meet the state’s goals for using low-carbon fuels, according to the paper published by the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

The increase in water demand for biofuels highlights an unintended consequence of low-carbon fuel policies being adopted and considered across the US to curb global warming and reduce the nation’s dependence on oil. Alternative fuels such as ethanol have drawn criticism for years from groups including the National Council of Chain Restaurants that argue they come with hidden costs such as rising food prices.  

“As California’s energy policies have sought to mitigate climate change, water systems and resources, considered extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, have received little attention,” the report’s authors said. “The interconnectedness of energy and water systems deserves closer attention in both academic and policy arenas.”

Pacific Institute, Berkeley

While the water used to grow biofuel crops for California rose, the report showed the amount necessary to produce oil declined 30%. The “footprint” for natural gas increased 150%, according to the article.

The report prepared by Heather Cooley, water program director at the Oakland-based research group Pacific Institute, and Julian Fulton at University of California at Berkeley’s energy and resources group, was published late last month and distributed by e-mail on Monday by the institute.

Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the Sacramento-based California Air Resources Board that oversees the state’s low-carbon fuel standard, said by e-mail that the agency was aware of the report and “will be taking a look.”

The water study comes as California faces an unprecedented drought that has dried up hydropower generation and boosted its use of costlier natural gas-fired electricity. The increase in gas use cost ratepayers about $1.4 billion in the three years ended October 2014, the Pacific Institute said in a separate report issued Tuesday.

▪ EU: Carmakers braced for European Crack Down on Diesel Vehicles

The French government, which owns about 15 per cent of carmakers Renault and PSA Peugeot Citroën, has pledged to “progressively” ban from 2015 diesel vehicles.

The November announcement by Prime Minister Manuel Valls — in which he admitted the promotion of diesel cars had been a “mistake” — was followed last month by a promise from Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo to ban these vehicles from the city by 2020.

France’s stance highlights a big shift taking place in the European debate over vehicle pollution. For a decade or more, policy makers have focused on targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and this prompted carmakers to invest heavily in diesel vehicles because they emit less CO2 than the petrol equivalents.

But now the focus is turning to air quality, which raises far-reaching questions about the viability of diesel vehicles. This is because they emit harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxide that can cause serious respiratory problems.

Cities are under pressure from the European Commission to tackle pollution. Studies from the International Council on Clean Transportation, a research body, and King’s College, part of the University of London, have highlighted the scale of emissions from diesel vehicles and linked them to as many as 60,000 deaths a year in the UK.

Cities in Norway have discussed similar anti-diesel measures.

The changing stance of European policy makers presents a big problem for the continent’s biggest carmakers, including the two French state-backed companies and the big three German manufacturers.

Most exposed are BMW and Daimler, whose “diesel mix” — those vehicles as a proportion of total sales — is 81 per cent and 71 per cent respectively in Europe. Volvo is even higher, at 90 per cent. These sales reflect how governments have long been pursuing policies that pushed manufacturers and drivers towards diesel vehicles.

While Europe leads the world as the biggest market for diesel cars, there has been very little take-up in Japan and the US. “Unless the market in diesel takes off around the world — and that looks increasingly unlikely — the European manufacturers are effectively backing the wrong technology,” says Greg Archer, clean vehicles manager at Transport & Environment, a Brussels-based think-tank.

He also argues that the perceived CO2 benefits of diesel have been overstated if the overall “well to wheel” impact of using the fuel is taken into account. The fuel is more energy intensive to refine, and the types of diesel cars consumers purchase tend to be heavier than the petrol equivalents. “When you take all of these life-cycle factors into account, what you actually find is diesels are not lower CO2 than gasoline, they’re just more fuel-efficient at the tailpipe,” says Mr. Archer.

Shadow Environment Minister: We Messed up Switching Motorists to Diesel

Attempts made by the previous Labour government in the U.K. to get millions of people to switch from petrol cars to diesel vehicles in order to "save" the planet was a mistake, Barry Gardiner, shadow Environment Minister has admitted. "Hands up - there's absolutely no question that the decision we took was the wrong decision. But at that time we didn't have the evidence that subsequently we did have," Gardiner said during an episode of Channel Four's Dispatches, called "The Great Car Con."

At least ten million Britons are driving diesel cars, a trend which was encouraged by tax breaks by Gordon Brown back when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer.

"We also (expected) cleaner diesel engines, which we thought meant that any potential problem was a lower-grade problem than the problem we were trying to solve of CO2," Gardiner added. In 2014, more than half of all new vehicles sold were diesels, according to The Telegraph. While diesel cars may have lower CO2 emissions than petrol cars, they emit a higher amount of deadly pollutants, like nitrogen dioxide and sooty particle matter, both of which have contributed to high levels of air pollution resulting in deaths of 29,000 people every year.

The policy was a response to the 1997 Kyoto treaty, which was created to cut greenhouse gases. "It was right to move away from vehicles that push out CO2, but the impact is a massive public health problem," said Gardiner. "The real tragedy is after we set up the committee on the medical effects of air pollution and it reported back in 2010 we've had five years that this government has done nothing about it."

"When people are in cars if they've got windows closed and the air conditioning on, they probably think that they are actually immune from the emissions from the vehicles in front of them and in reality that's not the case because the gases penetrate so easily that they will get into the cabin of the vehicle and depending on the ventilation of that cabin they may actually build up to much higher concentrations," said Professor Frank Kelly, Chair of the Committee for the Medical Effects of Air Pollution, according to The Independent.

▪ Malaysia: Update on RAPID Project – now pushed back again to mid-2019

Originally expected to be commissioned in 2016, the Pengerang development has twice been delayed due to issues with relocation of residents. It was initially reported to begin operations in 2017, where it would then as part of its deployment scope begin delivering Euro 4M (and Euro 5M) petrol and Diesel to Malaysians. The start-up date was eventually pushed back towards early-2019.

Now that the start-up of the US$16 billion facility has been moved again – the refinery is now only scheduled to come online in the middle of 2019, Petronas president and group chief executive officer Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin stated, as the slide in oil prices over the last 12 months had forced Petronas to review and re-bid some of its engineering, procurement and construction contracts for better prices, the report added. Some sources cynically recommend changing the project name from “RAPID” to “SLOW” because of the ongoing delays.

The complex will be able to produce 9m MT of petroleum products and 4.5m MT of petrochemicals a year – the Rapid refinery will be capable of a 300,000 b/d output and supply feedstock for the facility’s petrochemical complex as well as produce Euro 4 and Euro 5 gasoline and diesel.

The implementation of Euro 4M and 5M fuels in Malaysia is set to begin with Euro 4M RON 97 petrol arriving first in September 2015, followed by Euro 4M RON 95 petrol in October 2018. Euro 5M grade RON 95 and RON 97 petrol is scheduled to be introduced in 2025. The delay in the RAPID project will most certainly have an effect on the rollout of the Euro 4 M projects scheduled to begin in Q4 2018. The 300KT/y integrated MTBE unit is an essential component in the supply chain. A delay in the project will of course have an impact on the supply of volume and clean octane to the local market and can only lead to another delay in the scheduled implementation plan of the new gasoline grades.`

▪ EU: Audi claims first synthetic gasoline made from plants

In late 2014, Global Bioenergies started up the fermentation unit for a pilot program to produce gaseous iso-butane from renewable biomass sugars such as corn-derived glucose. Gaseous iso-butane is a sort of raw material for the petrochemical industry that can then be refined into a variety of plastics, fuels and other applications.

The next step in the process was to run the material through a conditioning and purification process, allowing it to be collected and stored in liquid form under pressure. Some of it was then sent to Germany to be converted into isooctane fuel, creating a pure, 100 octane gasoline.

"To me this is a historic moment," says Global Bioenergies CEO Marc Delcourt. "It is the first time that we have produced real gasoline from plants."

Isooctane is currently used as an additive to improve fuel quality, but could also be used a stand-alone fuel. Audi calls the final, refined form of the fuel "e-benzin" and claims that it burns clean due to its lack of Sulphur and benzene. Also, its high grade enables it to power engines using high compression ratios for more efficiency.

Audi will test the fuel composition and conduct engine tests to see how it performs before eventually trying it out in vehicle fleets. Delcourt says he could see it being used in consumer cars on a large scale "very soon."

"We thinking we're bringing green-ness to a field that desperately needs green-ness," says Rick Bockrath, vice president for chemical engineering at Global Bioenergies. "It's basically how we're moving away from an oil-based economy towards something that has a renewable, sustainable future to it."

Audi and Global Bioenergies hope to tweak the production process in the future so that biomass is no longer required and e-benzin can be created using only water, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and sunlight. We saw a similar project in Europe in 2014 that sought to make jet fuel.

As part of its next phase, the company is building a new demonstration plant in Germany, similar to the one pictured above. The facility will be 10 times larger than the one in France, and able to produce 100 tons (90.7 tonnes) of isooctane and high purity iso-butane per year as soon as 2016.

▪ Philippines: Petron pumps out Euro IV-compliant fuels ahead of government mandate

The Euro IV-compliant fuel will soon be available in all Petron service stations nationwide, ahead of the government’s 01-Jan 2016 mandatory schedule. The Euro IV standard is a globally accepted European emission benchmark for vehicles which requires significantly lower amounts of Sulphur and Benzene. The current standard in the Philippines for Sulphur is 500ppm. By 01-Jan 2016, all gasoline products in the country must be Euro IV-compliant.

Petron said it introduced the first locally produced Euro IV premium plus gasoline in the Philippines, Blaze 100 Euro IV, and is also the first company to locally produce a full line-up of gasoline variants that meet Euro IV standards. At present, Petron has four gasoline variants, Blaze 100 Euro 4 (RON 100), XCS (RON 95), Xtra Advance (RON 93), and Super Xtra (RON 91). Furthermore, the company said that all Petron Euro IV gasoline, with world-class additives, ensure engine cleanliness and efficient combustion for optimum engine performance and improved fuel economy.

“The local production of various gasoline grades under this global fuel standard is another milestone in the oil industry. These products are proudly Philippine-made,” Petron president and chief executive officer Ramon Ang said as he urged other players to follow suit. Petron’s early compliance comes on the back of its massive $2-bn upgrade at its Bataan refinery, which increases its local production of gasoline, diesel, and petrochemicals and also allows the production of Euro IV fuels.

▪ Australia: Second Review of the Fuel Quality Standards Act?

The Australian Government today announced the second independent review of its Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000. Marsden Jacob Associates will partner with Pacific Environment/Toxicos for the review as independent surveyors. The two firms bring with them a wealth of experience on the assessment of environmental regulation.

Fuel quality standards place limits on substances in fuel that, when burnt in vehicles' engines and expelled through an engine or vehicle's exhaust, can adversely affect people's health and the environment. The Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 provides the legislative basis for national fuel quality and fuel quality information standards in Australia.

By world standards, Australia has very clean air but it is important to review the current legislative framework for fuel quality which is not at the highest standard to ensure Australia continues to have effective, efficient and appropriate means to support a clean air future.

Road transport emissions are a major contributor to air pollution, particularly in urban communities. Since 2000, the number of vehicles on Australia's roads has increased by around a third and better fuel quality and emissions standards has ensured some good progress has been made.

As the Australian community has interests in the environmental and vehicle operability issues relating to fuel quality, industry, businesses and members of the public will have the opportunity to provide input into the review. It is expected a final report will be provided to the Government by November. The review will complement activities under the National Clean Air Agreement, which is currently being developed.

The review is also in line with the government's deregulation agenda which aims to reduce regulatory burden while achieving environmental outcomes. Further information on national fuel quality and fuel quality information standards and how to contribute to the Review is available at www.environment.gov.au/fuelquality

▪ China: Beijing likely to raise fuel standards to GB-VI in 2017

While China as a whole is still in the process of implementing GB-V standard nationwide, Beijing is already establishing national standard GB-VI specifications for gasoline and gasoil. The municipal is expected to publish the standards in due course for implementation as early as 2017, according to industry sources at Sinopec.

The Sulphur content in GB-VI will not be different from GB-V and remain at 10ppm max but the olefins and aromatics content in gasoline will be further reduced and gasoil qualities will be further improved by additional hydrogenation treatment requirements.

Sinopec intends to proactively upgrade its refineries supplying the Beijing market and making the higher quality fuels also available for the Yangtze River delta and Pearl River delta region.

The fuel quality upgrade program has yet to be confirmed by the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.

▪ US: Obama administration aims to move beyond E10 blend wall

The US Environmental Protection Agency's recently proposed biofuels blending mandates are a strong indication that the Obama administration plans to move the transportation fuel pool beyond the E10 blend wall, two former presidential advisers said Tuesday. The agency in late May proposed 2014, 2015 and 2016 Renewable Fuel Standards that put the 2016 share of ethanol above the 10% blend wall. That, paired with the US Department of Agriculture's simultaneous announcement of $100 million in funding for E85 blender pumps, indicates that beyond 2016, the Obama administration plans to further boost the amount of ethanol blended with gasoline, said Ron Minsk, who until recently served as President Barack Obama's special adviser on energy ! and environment and was heavily involved in the RFS.

Minsk said the USDA announcement of blender pump funding was an acknowledgment of infrastructure issues with higher blends. The USDA's blender pump program will be a chance for the US Ethanol industry to increase sales of E85.

The RFS proposal would require 15.93 bn gallons of biofuels to be blended with US transportation fuels in 2014, 16.30 bn gallons in 2015 and 17.40 bn gallons in 2016. The volumes are below the statutory levels required by law, but the EPA, which has some flexibility to adjust the mandate, said its proposal would spur future growth in biofuels production.

▪ Vietnam: Ethanol gasoline to go on sale nationwide

On 09-Jun Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai instructed relevant sides to make preparations for selling ethanol gasoline E5 nationwide at a meeting on the blend consumption this year.

He ordered provincial and municipal authorities to closely work with wholesalers including Vietnam Oil and Gas Group, Vietnam National Petroleum Group and Saigon Petro Company in the production and distribution of gasoline E5. They should prepare to prevent a shortage of the bio-fuel in the market.

The Government’s policy of marketing gasoline E5 have brought positive results, contributing to reduce the dependence on minerals, protect the environment, ensure national energy security and improve residents’ lives.

A litre of gasoline E5 is priced VND330 lower than traditional gasoline. The country has three E5 gasoline production companies with a total output of 85,000 tons in the first four months of 2015.

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