Have you encountered the debate concerning the use of bioliquids heating oils yet? If not, you could be missing out on one of the most defining arguments of the decade. Biofuels, generally called bioliquids when used for heating or energy-producing purposes, are produced from vegetable oils such as palm, soya and corn via a process known as biomass conversion. Many look upon biofuels as a favourable domestic energy solution for a number of different reasons, including their renewable nature, reputed carbon neutral status and high energy density. But, if bioliquids are as good as they’re reported to be, why aren’t more people using them? Why do we still hear of emissions and oil spills when everyone is talking about plants having the answer.
In order to understand the current situation, I’ve taken a look at what different experts around the world have had to say about biofuels: will they enter widespread use in the near future, or will practical issues get in the way of progress?
Striking the balance between heating oils and renewable energy
In an informative article on the blog of heating oil suppliers HeatingOil.co.uk, the company details some of the pros and cons associated with using bioliquids and other renewable energies to heat your home. As you would expect, HeatingOil.co.uk points to the fact that bioliquids are renewable and completely carbon neutral as reasons to laud the fuel for domestic use. However, they also go on to shine a spotlight on the contentious fuel versus food debate. One of the main arguments against bioliquids is that they require large swathes of arable land in order to be grown in the necessary quantities, and critics argue that this land would be better used to grow food while people continue to go hungry around the world. It’s an argument that emerges to derail the bioliquid bandwagon time and again.
As HeatingOil.co.uk points out, however, there are researchers constantly striving to find a way around the fuel versus food argument, to the benefit of all. The use of fungi, for example, and other plants that can be grown more or less anywhere, not just in valuable ploughed fields, hold potential. This field of research is still very much in its infancy however, and the fuel versus food debate still poses a serious obstacle for many heating oil users.
Why I don’t ride a unicorn to work
Robert Rapier employs an interesting analogy to help explain why the popularity of bioliquid heating oils hasn’t reached expected levels in his article for the Energy Trends Insider. Robert argues that he doesn’t ride a unicorn to work because the animals don’t exist, and a product that doesn’t exist cannot achieve widespread levels of popularity. Robert goes on to say that asking heating oil or gasoline suppliers to include mandatory levels of cellulosic ethanol biofuel in their products is unfair if said cellulosic ethanol isn’t available in the quantities that were previously assumed – like asking auto manufacturers to sell a mandatory number of unicorns when the animals are untenably scarce.
Robert argues that while bioliquids are potentially exciting renewable energy sources that may one day replace home heating oil, that the emphasis needs to weigh heavily on the word ‘potential’. We’re still some way off enjoying readily available, inexpensive bioliquids, so putting people under pressure to use them before we’re really ready is both irresponsible and unfair. The expectation of both governments and individuals that energy companies ought to supply such fuels is unrealistic, particularly when costs are high and demand is low. In the face of such challenges, it’s heartening to see heating oil suppliers like the aforementioned even giving the subject space on their blog.
The day-to-day impracticalities
There are numerous far-reaching obstacles standing in the way of widespread bioliquid heating oil use, but ultimately, it’s the little day-to-day impracticalities of the fuel that may prove the stumbling block for most homeowners today.
Bioliquid heating oil is not a miracle fuel – for the most part, it’s a mixture of kerosene and cellulosic ethanol that isn’t anywhere near carbon neutral. Of course, the mixture reduces consumption of our finite crude oil resources and helps to lessen homeowners’ carbon footprints, but it’s currently more of a stopgap solution than an ultimate replacement for petroleum-based fuels. Running an existing heating oil boiler on a bioliquid mix is problematic, too. The biofuels included in the mix can have a detrimental effect on the rubber components of some older boilers, costing users more money in maintenance and ultimately in repairs. The same is true for the reported use of biofuels in cars: theoretically, it’s a simple conversion process from regular fuels to their greener alternatives; in practice, not so much.
Unfortunately, bioliquid heating oils have a long way to go before we’ll see them used in the majority of rural homes and lauded by all and sundry. Until we can solve the issue of supply, bypass the fuel versus food debate and ensure that the fuel mix is practical in a day-to-day setting, petroleum-based fuels like kerosene and red diesel will unfortunately continue to propagate.