BP Scientist: Ethanol Easier than Biodiesel

Jul.27.09 | About: BP p.l.c. (BP)

By Michael Kanellos

Ethanol or biodiesel? The debate has raged for years over which one has the greater potential for weaning the world away from fossil fuels.

Oil giant BP, or at least one of its scientists, leans toward ethanol.

"Biodiesel is much more problematic," said Paul Willems, technogy vice president in the energy biosciences department at BP, during a talk at the Synthetic Biology Workshop sponsored by UC Berkeley and Innovation Center Denmark. "The world does not have viable solutions to biodiesel... It is pretty hard justifying dedicating acres to this kind of land use with the current yields."

Ethanol is now at a point where the main challenge lay in reducing the cost to produce it. Not easy, but a technical problem. Biodiesel will require scientific breakthroughs, followed by technological know-how to reduce prices.

It's an ongoing debate, so please chime in. And either way the market develops, the world probably won't meet its biofuel mandates at the current rate, he said. Right now, the consensus estimates are that biofuels need to become 11 to 19 percent of the fuel supply by 2030. (The estimate consists of manufacturing forecasts and policy mandates.)

"The industry is not going to deliver these kinds of targets," he said.

So far, the U.S. is already way off its goals for its mandate for cellulosic ethanol, according to other researchers.