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Biofuels are immediate future for vehicles, says BP

Forget electric vehicles (EVs); the immediate future is biofuels. That’s the view of oil giant BP which conducted a thorough investigation into all forms of alternative fuels when it created its ‘future fuels team’.

According to Olly Mace, BP senior executive in downstream oils and biofuels, the team “decided they wanted BP to invest in biofuels as the best option for the future”.

He told delegates at the annual ICFM conference that biofuels were “not a miracle or a curse”, adding: “They have to be done well but if they are, then they are a powerful solution to climate change.”

Mace pointed to two key challenges. First is how to make the crops through a sustainable process. The answer, BP believes, is cellulose, using all of the plant.

“We can select plants that grow fast in poor soil – it’s very sustainable,” he said.

The second is to develop higher-quality biofuels. The mix in the UK tends to be 5% biofuel although most modern cars are compatible with a 15% mix.

BP has developed isobutanol, a substitute for ethanol which is kinder to the car’s engine. Using this process, it had the BMW London Olympics fleet running on a blend of 24% biofuel without any issues. The cars can simply switch back to a conventional fuel if necessary.

However, those challenges are around finding practical solutions to tangible problems; a far greater test comes with trying to persuade government, manufacturers and fleets to switch their attention away from EVs.

Mace recognises the issue. “EVs have their place; they are legitimate in certain applications, but it’s about sorting hype from reality. There are those in Government that are happy to jump on the hype bandwagon when it comes to electric vehicles.”

He believes you can’t beat liquids for their density and ease of use as a fuel; batteries have to “fight hard to offset that fundamental disadvantage”.

Mace also points to the billions of pounds that have been invested in the fuel infrastructure over many years.

“That will influence the share of the market that EVs can take,” he said. “You would have to spend billions of pounds on infrastructure. If all cars went electric we would have to increase capacity by 50% and energy firms are already worrying about increasing by 10%.”

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