108: Biofuels vs. Electric Vehicles

Matt and Sean talk about biofuels advantages and disadvantages in the drive for a cleaner future.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “Do We Really Need Electric Cars?”: https://youtu.be/PJT2xbKMH4U?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7cadIj6qpCWkg-tPzN1sgj

YouTube version of the podcast: https://www.youtube.com/stilltbdpodcast

Get in touch: https://undecidedmf.com/podcast-feedback

Support the show: https://pod.fan/still-to-be-determined

Follow us on Twitter: @stilltbdfm @byseanferrell @mattferrell or @undecidedmf

Undecided with Matt Ferrell: https://www.youtube.com/undecidedmf

★ Support this podcast ★

Hey, everybody on today’s episode of still to be determined. We’re going to talk about biofuels the pros, the cons and questions like could they be a faster solution to clean energy needs than e-cars before we get into that who are we doing this talking. Well I’m Sean Ferrell I’m Matt Ferrell’s older brother I’m a writer and I’ll be leading the discussion and with me of course is Matt this episode nor any episode could happen without him how you doing Matt I’m pretty good. It’s been a.
I’m good how you doing.
Whirlwind beginning to 2022 and here we are already mid-february. That’s right, this was Matt’s valentine’s day episode. We hope everybody got the subtext this episode do we really need electric cars. Dropping on February Fifteenth Two Thousand and twenty two I think the message is clear Matt’s saying he hearts us and we I heart corn.
Um I heart biofuel. Ah yeah.
This episode as usual spurred on a lot of interesting commentary in the comment section on Youtube and just a reminder. We love to know about people’s experiences hands on with the technology and the discoveries that Matt talks about. So if you have any experience like some of the commenters shared if you have any experience with biofuels in your part of the world. Please do jump into the comments and let us know some of the comments right? off the bat got right into some of the day in day out realities of biofuels. Like this one from Amar Lacerta who wrote there’s another point to consider here in Brazil hello Brazil by the way we have ethanol biofuel since one 78 as an option to gasoline. But even that comes from sugarcane which is a better ah output than corn or soybean. But it is questionable to use large portions of fertile land for biofuel plants instead of food to eat that is. It’s a hard measurement to make as far as it really starts to become is this profit motive that’s driving this is this. When you’re weighing environmental impact and it happens with food that we consume all the time you’ve talked about this in other videos where you’ve talked about new options for growing food either meat replacements that are labgrown meat or meat replacements that are plant-based.
Proteins you’re playing a measurement game of is this land better used for food a or food b replacing one of those foods with Biofuel then becomes it’s hard to know which way to cut. How much of that. Did you see in your research as far as that ongoing debate around people saying biofuels have a huge negative against them which is we’re taking land away from food production in order to turn it into fuel.
It’s a big raging debate I mean I did bring it up near the end of the video where I talked about the land use the water use issues. It’s a huge debate because it’s like you’re doing a tradeoff you can’t have it both ways you can’t use this land for growing food for humans as well. As for biofuels you have to choose 1 or the other and. We need more food so it’s like it’s ah it’s a complete tradeoff and it kind of ties into the whole There’s a view of biofuels of it’s kind of green washing by big oil and big. You know industries that have been around for 100 years trying to stay relevant I don’t completely I I do buy into that I do agree with that. But there’s a side of biofuels that are isn’t I was there’s a side. There’s yeah, yes, they’re correct correct.
Ah, yeah I understand that that that balance that you’re trying to achieve that there is a dark profit motive in some corporations that are driving decision making as opposed to a purely. Yeah there’s not an angelic aura. Around every person who sank Biofuel may be the answer. Yeah.
Yes, yeah, there is absolutely greenwashing going on when you talk about biofuels but at the same time biofuels are a necessity for certain industries and certain use cases. So It’s kind of like there’s this um like tugging and pulling they have to kind of do to figure out What’s the right solution and what’s the balance for this. That depending on who you talk to you’re going to get a different answer. So. It’s like there’s a raging debate about this. So. There’s no good solution right now I had didn’t find anything that was like ah that’s the one There’s the Silver Bolt that solves this question. It’s like I didn’t see anything like that.
There is also this comment from David M I’m going to try to predict the future and say that synthetic fuels will be almost exclusively used in legacy equipment. The fundamental problem is therboite thermodynamics. Processing electricity into a liquid fuel will always be less efficient than just using that electricity directly when that’s not possible. Hydrogen is a better option. Why take carbon from the atmosphere just to put it right back when you can use a fuel with no carbon emissions. It seems like that’s a pretty. Simple equation that David has laid out of source conversion use versus source use seems like a more direct route is it really as simple as he lays it out.
No for me. The one part that the reason I always talk about money money money in every one of my videos is Cost. You can’t have a debate with efficiency because sometimes the most efficient thing is the most expensive thing and so it’s like it will never ever take off if it’s the most expensive thing So it’s like efficiency to me is I don’t want to say it’s a red herring because it’s an important part of the conversation. It’s a part important part of the the calculations but you cannot ignore the costs and like Hydrogen. It’s a great idea. But for right now it is way expensive to make Hydrogen Green. So It’s like it’s Possible. We can do it but it’s just very expensive and it itself is not an efficient process yet. So There’s costs and efficiency issues with hydrogen right now that’s still getting figured out and I don’t know if we’ll ever get there to make it truly like the the future of all energy is hydrogen. It’s like I don’t think we’re going to get there. So it’s It’s once again.
There’s no silver bullet here. It’s about what’s the rate use case for this technology and there’s no one technology that’s going to rule them all. It’s ah it’d be like saying to somebody I Want you to build this house and I’m gonna give you a screwdriver now go for it. It’s like no I need a hammer I need a saw I Need you need all these different tools depending what you need to do.
Right? right.
So Hydrogen will have its role and then biofuels will have its role.
Right? to put some words into your mouth I think that and you of course jump in and and tell me to stop it sounds like what you’re describing is okay, all things being equal. There being 2 level playing fields on one side being diesel fuel and biofuel and on the other side being electric vehicles and both are at even playing fields. You would say electric is the way to go. But. Because fleets of electric vehicles are going to require charging stations that simply do not exist yet at scale is that the is that the the factor that is tipping it toward a bio or hybrid.
Fuel solution. What what is it that you think is the underlying thing holding back the the electric vehicle from from saying? Yes, absolutely we should scrap plans for biofuels and other alternatives.
It’s ah cost energy density weight all of those things are a huge factor because like you’re not going to. We don’t have electric planes because you’d have to put so many batteries on them. They’d be too heavy. It’s trains and shipping in the oceans. It’s like that’s what I’ve talked about in previous videos with shipping. Like that’s why I keep looking at that because it’s like how do we make shipping cleaner because we can’t pack it full of batteries and have these huge cargo ships just battery powered. That’s not going to work So It’s one’s against the right tool with the right Job. It’s not that we don’t have the infrastructure yet for fast charging because that’s getting built out right now. The hydrogen. Infrastructure isn’t there either. So you’d have to build that out. So It’s like all these different technologies still have to have their infrastructure built out so to me that’s that’s an obvious limiting factor. But it’s not putting one over another.. It’s more of ah, what’s the right tool for the right Job. So for me, it’s like when you’re talking about Planes. You’re probably talking about biofuels when you’re talking about Shipping. You’re probably talking about biofuels combined with wind power to help make them more Efficient. You’re not going to see batteries in those systems for a very long time I Just don’t think that’s going to be a feasible approach. But for cars Yes, absolutely Battery. It’s like trucks like pickup trucks and cars and. Buses and things like that I think those are going to all end up battery at some point.
We talked about this recently in conversation with each other and a group of your Patreon supporters which was an interesting conversation as a whole the the Patreon supporters are very active in this area and. Are themselves bringing a lot of very interesting information into the conversation and one of the things that we talked about was advertising you and I were chatting about the fact that the super bowl which was this past weekend. There were more ads for electric vehicles. Then I recall ever seeing from companies that I don’t recall ever seeing anything about and the thing that I was most impressed by were the number of ads that I saw for the electric trucks that these companies are making the larger scale vehicles I’m wondering.
Yeah, yep.
How realistic are those ads as far as availability of those vehicles. Do you have any insight into are those things now rolling off of the assembly line and available or are these are these basically ads for.
No no.
Coming soon to a theater near you 2024
That it’s basically that coming soon to to a theater near you and this year next year and the year after it was it was showing what’s coming but not what’s available. You can’t buy a a 4 f 105 electric right? now you can’t buy Gm or chrysler trucks. You can’t even buy the cyber truck yet. It’s like they’re not here. And obviously Tesla didn’t advertise but like all the other advertisements were about ah were here. Don’t forget, but ah, forget about us. We have stuff coming if you’re playing on buying a truck you know consider us for the future. That’s what those ads were mainly about and what I also thought was really interesting was Tesla which is the largest ev manufacturer in the world. The most successful ev manufacturer in the world. They don’t do any advertising but so many of those ads were taking pot shots at Tesla without naming them by name which I thought was fascinating these like pot shots that you know we’re not trying to conquer conquer Mars you know, referring to Elon and spacex is like I thought it was pretty funny that they’re not admitting.
You know by name who it is but we all we all know who you’re talking about I Thought that was pretty funny.
Right? We’re not the 500 pound gorilla in the room. We’re just where’s a bunch of guys trying to build a good truck.
Well it goes but it it goes to show that Tesla really has turned into an 800 pound gorilla like they’re dominating that market so much that who we would have considered the dominant players like Gm and Ford they’re having to kind of punch up at Tesla because Tesla has so.
Reposition themselves. Yeah.
They are now the dominant player. Yeah.
It sounds very much like the conversation around all of this is I mean we can only have this conversation in the era in which we are living and in which we are having the conversation I’m reminded of the speed at which transitions from.
Yes, yep.
Horse power to steam power would have taken place how slow that was and it feels like at a certain point. There was the ability to make a steam engine there. There were people saying like I built a steam engine. This is what it does and then to say well. Now use that instead of horses. Well no, no, no, no, no, we’re not ready like we’re decades away from this being on a vehicle that would actually be able to pull itself given its Weight. We don’t have enough efficiency around that the mechanisms to make it actually efficiently work.

And we need to figure out how to do that. Are we going to do it on roads. Are we going to do it on rails like there’s all of that there’s decades of that It feels like we are the decades have shrunk into years now where this new technology is now jumped into like oh we have this new technology. We have a car it can run electricity.
They have.
Can do it in these ways and instead of talking about decades. We’re now years away from that transition if we’re at that point with the electric vehicle and some of the other things that you’ve talked about hydrogen for. For airplanes biofuels for shipping biofuels combined with maybe other sources like wind another one that you’ve talked about in your channel recently the the um molten salt reactors things like that if we’re talking about a. Handful of years now before we see an electric vehicle roll off of a assembly line from Ford and it’s for sale and somebody can actually go get it. Let’s say 5 to 10 years. What do you think? the windows are for those other technologies are they comparable. Are they another 5 years another 10 years beyond that.
That’s a good question. Ah when I was looking into like electric flight and alternative fuel sources for flight as well as cargo shipping they’re building alternative fuel based cargo ships now. Will be rolling out into operation over the next three to five years so those are coming very soon for planes those are still getting worked on and like biofuel synthetic fuel based planes are being developed but again I think that’s probably more of the 5 to 10 year timeframe. But like what you’re talking about like things are accelerating. There’s a great graph I can’t remember where I saw it. Um that shows technological advancements and adoption over time is speeding up and it shows how long it took to go from horses to cars refrigeration air conditioning color tv to black-white Tv telephones.
Um, yeah.
Um, yeah.
It’s like the the lines start out going like these slow slopes and they get they. They’re almost going vertical now and it’s like pretty much for everything like the transition to smartphones and tab but computers and now we’re talking about battery electric and it feels like battery electric cars have taken forever. But.
We’re now vertical. Yeah, we’re hitting it? Yeah yeah.
It really hasn’t when you look at it in the scale of time. It’s like we are just like almost straight lines going up now. So it’s like we’re talking 3 to 5 years for a lot of these things but for the biggest bank for your buck. It’s getting everybody off of fossil fuels for cars and pickup trucks that’s going to take.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Be the biggest benefit to the environment versus plane well planes are bad but it’s only like 2 to 3% of carbon emissions shipping is like 2 to 3% of carbon emissions where you’re talking about vehicles. It’s double digits. It’s huge so it’s diminishing returns. So it’s like there’s not the pressure to solve flight in cargo. Compared to what we what we’re doing with cars like hitting cars and pickup trucks first makes a lot of sense and it’s going to be very fast. We’re at the tipping point right now. So it’s we’re not going to wait long for it of these things to start showing up.
I would like to share a comment and I have a feeling I know what your response to it will be but I’m going to share it regardless and it’s from inpilot who wrote this is like creating more environment, friendly film when digital cameras started taking over. It’s point. Now Evs are taking over the market. No need to transport the fuel to gas stations then for you to go to a gas station. You have the choice of charging at home. No waiting in lines or inhaling fuels. Do you agree that it is pointless to talk about biofuels and other alternatives when evs are taking over the market and. Are evs actually even taking over the market.
Ah, third there that comment is 100% right? It’s like when you’re talking about like passenger cars evs are going to become the dominant player hands down. We’re we’re well on that path right now but you but to say it’s not worth talking about biofuels or synthetic fuels. Where I’m like I don’t agree because it’s like I said battery doesn’t make sense for everything. It doesn’t we can’t we can’t make it work It’s not the right tool for the job so we still do need synthetic fuels and biofuels and ammonia and hydrogen and all these other different technologies to fuel and power things as cleanly as we can. So we have to talk about it. We have to deal with it and to think that batteries solve all the issues is is not the full picture. We have to look bigger.
It’s an interesting comparison that den pilot made you and I Matt and I both grew up in the rochester area Rochester new york home comb of Kodak and burial place of Kodak Kodak as a company name still exists.
Kodak. Yeah yeah.
It is not the Kodak that existed at 1 time that is literally the name Kodak was the brand name was sold and there is now a company that uses Kodak but it is not the Kodak that existed as the film company and it’s an interestingerative and to say that the development of alternative fuels.
It’s a brand.
Other than electric is like trying to make an environmental um, environmentally friendly film during the growth of the digital camera I don’t think it’s I don’t think it’s a 1 to 1 comparison because as you point out there are alternative fuels that take into. Um, various uses more advantages than electric vehicles and when these companies are looking at these alternatives the other place where this analogy breaks down for me is this. You have. Petroleum-based fuels and you have people looking into alternatives for petroleum what companies like Kodak did was double down on the demand for film itself as opposed to. They were nobody was looking for alternatives to film that was digital and Kodak made the terrible mistake of saying no people are always going to want film. So the analogy of film versus digital feels like.
An uneven comparison when you’re talking about well people who are looking into biofuels or hydrogen or wind or msrs or whatever they are looking for the next evolution themselves. You may not agree that that evolution is the 1 you would pick. But they are at least looking for alternatives to something which is far worse.
But that’s good point I like that and the other fun fact about Kodak they shut down and they had all these massive plants around rochester that weren’t getting used anymore and now some of those plants are turning into battery recycling. So it’s like they they used to be. Film and now they’re recycling ev batteries the company lifecycle has a big facility there in some of the old Kodak buildings and they’re expanding and building more so it’s it’s fine to see how like okay, it’s kind of sad that you know shed a little tearer for Kodak and Rochester but Rochester’s actually becoming ah, ah, kind of ah a hub for the future. Of Evs which is kind of cool.
Yeah, it’s interesting that I can’t help but wonder how much of that is because that land might be contaminated in some way from the years of film production there and maybe it can’t be used for anything else other than industrial stuff. So perfect here comes another industry. That’s full of toxic chemicals. We can just do it. There. It’s I mean it really. That’s good when you have land that can’t be really used for anything other than something with a toxic edge find the new technology that needs that land. So.
Yeah I don’t think that’s think’s more of the infrastructure because it’s it’s it had train yards and you know roads set up for trailers and trucks and everything like the infrastructure set up there for high turnaround ah a large workforce right? So it’s set up for it.
And a large workforce. There’s a there’s ah yeah, a large workforce in the rochester area.
So it’s like it made so much sense just to occupy these empty buildings and take advantage of them.
The last comment I wanted to share spurted on some ideas for me regarding a larger issue which I thought you might find interesting for future videos this one’s from anjay summers who wrote an issue skip over is that combustion engines don’t only emit co 2 They also emit a host of other substances like particular matter causing health issues and nitrogen compounds causing biodiversity problems evs have their own share of problems of course including greater particular matter caused by their higher tireware due to their high mass. So the the tires are actually spewing. Particular matter into the air and those rubber pieces we don’t necessarily want to be breathing in or littering the sides of our roads that got me to thinking have you considered doing a video about the various impacts around. Industries like the developmental electric of electric vehicles. That’s great from 1 perspective have you considered doing a video about what does this do to things like as Andre points out the effect of the car itself on the environment. So you’ve got the wear and tear on the road.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Road Building Highway construction are there any positives or negatives that come out of a change to the types of cars we’re looking at having on the road versus what we currently have.
Not in that way and I like that angle I have looked at I have been wanting to explore beyond the thing itself like what how is this impacting the supply chain around it. How is it impacting like is this actually genuinely cleaner because.
Mining we have to do for this solution. It might be worse than what we were doing before even though it’s not spewing CO two out. It’s actually worse for the environment to dig. It’s like I’ve been wanting to do explorations around the different impacts of all these things I hadn’t considered that. But that’s going to be added to the list now.
Yeah I thought you’d be interested in that angle. So thank you so much to Andre and all of our other commenters leaving their words that spurred on some interesting ideas and. Maybe they’ll show up in a future video from Matt’s channel if you’d like to support the show. Please do consider reviewing us on Apple Podcasts Google Podcasts Spotify wherever it is that you’re finding us you knew going in where you were listening to us. So just go right back there. And review us won’t you and if you’d like to more directly support us. You can go to still tbd fm you can click on the become a supporter button and and that allows you to throw coins at us. We love hearing those coins hit our skulls and if you’re watching us on Youtube. You can click the join button on Youtube and become a member there all of that really does help to support the show and thank you so much for listening or watching and we’ll talk to you next time.

← Older
Newer →