Report recommends petrol with higher ethanol content

Economist Jim Power says ‘fossil fuel is deeply embedded in driving culture in this country’

Cars back-to-back on the M50 in Dublin.  File photograph: Alan Betson

Cars back-to-back on the M50 in Dublin. File photograph: Alan Betson

 

A new report claims a 70 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases could be achieved through the use of ethanol as a fuel source instead of oil.

The report, published on Tuesday, was produced by economist Jim Power for Ethanol Europe, and advocates the role of ethanol in Ireland’s climate action plan. It recommends the introduction of E10, which is petrol containing up to 10 per cent ethanol. Ireland has had 5 per cent ethanol mixed in its petrol since 2005.

The report claims the fuel mix is suitable for all petrol cars, would not incur extra costs to consumers and would reduce fossil fuel emissions.

Ethanol is alcohol made by fermenting the sugars in plants, and is produced from feedstocks such as corn, wheat or sugarcane. It produces fewer carbon emissions than conventional petrol, but other environmental impacts are associated with its production..

Mr Power said the the urgency of the climate crisis provided the backdrop to the report. “Progress to date, certainly in an Irish context, and I think globally as well, arguably, has been unacceptably slow,” he said.

As the number of vehicles on Irish roads continues to rise, transport is a leu area identified within the Government’s climate action plan. The plan aims to bring 950,000 electric vehicles on to Irish roads with a nationwide charging network and to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2030.

“The reality is that fossil fuel is deeply embedded in driving culture in this country and it’s proving very difficult to move away from that,” Mr Power said.

Based on the low numbers of electric vehicles currently in operation in Ireland, he believed it was “inconceivable” that the 2030 targets set out in the climate action plan will be met.

“I would argue very strongly that ultimately we will move towards 100 per cent electrification but I think it is going to take a lot longer than is currently envisaged.

“So, if one could get an environmentally-friendly bridge that would take us from where we are today to where we aspire to be, ethanol certainly could fit a lot of criteria in that regard,” he said.

James Cogan of Ethanol Europe, the company behind the report, said: “Even with war-time-like measures implemented to force a fleet transition, there would still be an awful amount of liquid fuel sloshing around, and that’s essentially where the value of things like ethanol can be found.”

“Electric cars need to come in, hybrid cars need to come in, wind, everything. But to get to where we need to go, everything is needed,” Mr Cogan said. “Ethanol energy is virtually zero-cost in comparison to other [options].”

When asked about the environmental costs of ethanol production, which can involve farming huge swathes of land and the use of environmentally-damaging herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, Mr Cogan said: “Those impacts are accounted for in the life-cycle calculations for ethanol. And they’re compared to the equivalent of fossil energy production.”

He added: “The point is that it’s a much lesser evil than not doing it.”

Other controversies surrounding the use of biofuels such as ethanol include their impact on the food supply chain, as they divert farmland from food to fuel production.

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said biofuels must be used alongside electricity as part of the decarbonisation of the transport sector, to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees celcius.

Fine Gael TD and member of the Climate Action Committee Marcella Corcoran Kennedy attended the report launch and said she hoped biofuel could be one “step on the way” in a “just transition” to sustainable transport in Ireland.