Biofuels New algae biofuel study.

Published on August 4th, 2014 | by Joshua S Hill


Global Gasoline Guzzling Set To Plummet

August 4th, 2014 by  

Policies designed to minimise and redefine dependence upon oil for transportation have been the talk of many towns around the world over the past several years, leading Navigant Research to posit that gasoline consumption for road transportation will fall by 4% from 2014 to 2035.

New algae biofuel study.

Algae biofuel from Sapphire Energy.

Policies intended to reduce fuel consumption have ranged from subsidising alternative fuels and alternative-fuel vehicles, making the development of new and economic biofuels a priority, as well as higher fuel-economy requirements for new vehicles. Each policy has been one step in a cleaner future, and another nail in the coffin of traditional fuel-oriented transportation.

“The anticipated effects of climate change are driving international cooperation on mitigation efforts, including reducing oil consumption in the transportation sector,” says Scott Shepard, research analyst with Navigant Research.

“Markets for both vehicles and fuels have gradually begun to respond to these efforts, and alternative fuels ‑ including electricity, natural gas, and biodiesel ‑ are beginning to have an impact on global oil demand.”

With more than 1.2 billion vehicles on the world’s roads today — a number which continues to grow each year — global dependence upon oil couldn’t be higher. This is a dependence many governments would like to extricate themselves from, as it is a dependence which results in major costs affecting national energy security, environmental security, economic stability, and in some situations, real national security.

Navigant Research predicts that annual global road transportation-related energy consumption will grow from 81.1 quadrillion Btu in 2014 to 101.7 quadrillion Btu in 2035. In slightly less frightening numbers, that means that gasoline consumption will rise through to 2021, reaching 367.3 billion gallons a year, before beginning to fall, declining towards 348.1 billion gallons a year in 2035.

We’ve seen the rise of the electric vehicle over the past decade, and more recently the idea of alternative-fuels has grown in popularity as well. As we move forward, and governmental policies start to force change rather than simply incentivise it, we will no doubt see a greater shift in the way that the transport industry responds.

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I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

  • Victor Provenzano

    Mr. Hill, if the global use of gasoline falls by only 4% by the year 2035, then we are on the way to what Joe Romm at Climate Progress calls “hell and high water.” According to the calculations of Michael Mann, who is the famed creator of the “hockey stick” graph, by the year 2036, the global temperature rise will reach 2 degrees C and pass into the realm of “catastrophic warming.” According to the climate models, after a 2 degree C rise, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet will begin to accelerate significantly.

    Biofuels are now known to be an ecological calamity on a global scale. The use of arable and marginal land to grow biofuel crops, instead of food, is one of the main reasons that there have been food riots in over 60 countries in the last 6 years. The biomass from these crops should be left in the soil on farmland and in woodlands, rather being made into transportation fuel. The key answer to our current use of fossil fuels in land transportation is not, in any way, the use of biofuels, but, rather, a program of “vehicle fitness” (lighweighting, efficient aerodynamics, and the reduction of rolling resistance) and the use of electric vehicles (especially if powered increasingly by wind and solar as time passes). Other nascent and ecologically sound automotive technologies, such as urban solar vehicles, may also play a role at some point. The use of biofuels, however, is leading to a rise in slash
    and burn agriculture in Brazil and Indonesia, causing an untenable rise in the price of the world’s grain, depleting the world’s soil, and not offering, as of yet, a genuinely desirable carbon trade off. There may be an environmentally sound role in the future for advanced biofuel made from algae, but only if it is grown in enclosures on non-arable land, such as desert, and especially if it is used mostly for air and sea travel. For land travel, other options are available.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Mann may have been a bit too aggressive.

      “A leaked draft of the (IPCC) report sent to governments in December suggests that in order to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) by the end of the century — the stated goal of international climate talks — emissions need to fall by 40-70 percent by 2050.”
      I haven’t seen climate scientists, including Mann, arguing against this finding.

      Biofuels do no add to our CO2 level. They recycle atmospheric CO2. (That’s assuming no fossil fuel use in their cultivation, harvesting and processing.)

      There are biofuel crops which can be grown without interfering with food production. For example some perennial grasses grow where food crops will not. Canola can be grown between wheat crops when the land would otherwise lay fallow. In both cases the land is actually improved, fertilizer needs are minimal.

      The best option is to move as much transportation and shipping to electricity. Electric vehicles for personal travel and short range hauling. HSR for longer range travel, electrified rail for long distance shipping. Perhaps biofuel for air travel and ocean shipping, but minimize both.

      • Burnerjack

        Help me out here Bob: Although I understand the argument, it seems to me that the atmosphere cannot differentiate between 500 million year old CO2 and 2 year old CO2. 500ppm is 500 ppm. So reducing atmospheric CO2 is only going to happen by our reduced emissions as well as the absence of natural emissions such as volcanoes, etc.
        To imply that the atmosphere can differentiate between brand X and brand Y CO2 is a crazy feel good illussion.

        • sorry to interject. Carbon dioxide has an atmosphere life of about 100 years. Carbon is constantly cycled between air, land and water. Carbon dioxide or carbon has a signature based on when it was formed (via deposition) and how it was emitted (industrial combustion or forest fires). This gets into analytical chemistry pretty heavy, but all understandable by geochemists. This geochemistry is how folks have done a mass balance on the carbon cycle. Here’s a post I prepared summarizing or fawning over NOAA’s work:

          • Bob_Wallace

            Interjection welcomed.

            Here’s another good source with a good illustration.


          • Burnerjack

            So if it comes from a forest fire its OK but if it comes from a Ford its bad? Don’t both sources contribute to what is in the atmosphere the day it was released? Yes, the trees had it sequestered for a short period, true. But does the effect on the atmosphere differentiate or is 500 ppm just that:500 ppm? In 100 years the CO2 from that Ford will be sequestered in trees, the oceans and/or coral formation despite being released from a million year old sequestration by said Ford. No? Hate come off as difficult but I don’t see it. It will take the natural order to sequester X tons whether its from Air Transport or Mt. Pinitubo. Am I wrong on this point?

          • Bob_Wallace

            If the CO2 is from a forest fire then there will be a short term spike but not an overall, long term increase in atmospheric carbon. As the forest regrows carbon will be sucked out of the atmosphere.

            The CO2 coming out the back of a F150 was safely stored deep below the ground and away from the surface carbon cycle.

            It may well be that trees and other growing things will re-sequester the F150 CO2 over the next 100 years. If so, planet temps will drop later on. The critical thing right now is to stop putting even more carbon in the atmosphere, plants can only store so much.

            Additionally, we’ve created a forcing. By increasing temperatures we’ve increased the amount of forest we burn each year. The carbon that might have been stored in trees for 100 years or so before being released by decay is being cycled out much quicker.

          • Here’s the report on the subject of the earth’s carbon balance. The number is 4 gigatons per year is in excess of the natural carbon balance. This excess comes from anthropogenic sources including burning fossil fuel, cement manufacturing and biosphere reductions (i.e. wetlands being filled in to make sprawl). The other mass is just part of the natural cycle like photosynthesis, fires, etc.

            “Carbon Cycling and Biosequestration Integrating Biology and Climate Through Systems Science”


            I hope you’re not being fatuous or trolling. This carbon cycle and carbon mass balance is pretty old stuff. There are many websites and blogs you can get yourself up to speed on. I don’t really need to be helping out like this.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’m not sure I have the background to help you out very much. When the report is released we can take a look at their argument.

      • Victor Provenzano

        The E.U. has already begun to back away, to a significant degree, from its earlier policy on biofuels. Even in the U.S., with its vast land mass, there is simply not enough land available to allow us to even come close to supplying the U.S. land transportation fleet with biofuels. The carbon inputs required to grow corn for methanol, for instance, are, quite simply, immense. They include fertilizer, as well as fuel for farming equipment, the processing of raw material, and the transportation of both raw material and biofuels. The net effect is that there is only an insignificant fall in the net carbon emissions deriving from ethanol compared with those that derive from gasoline. Around 40% of the corn crop in the U.S. is now being used to make ethanol and this is causing the price of corn and other food grains to rise substantially in the world market. It has been one of the leading causes of the recent increase in the world’s malnutrition rate. What is more, there is not enough land, marginal or otherwise, to grow the switchgrass or the other biomass that would be required to supply all or most of the fuel to the U.S. transportation fleet. Grasslands of various kinds, where switchgrass can be grown, are an essential global ecosystem. They should not now be robbed of their biomass and thus of their soil resource. Those who favor a widescale policy for the development of biofuels are not thinking holistically about the overall ecological consequences of such a policy. A third generation biofuels policy, one that would use algae, for instance—-and grow it in enclosures in the desert or on very dry land with little or no plant life—-might be an ecologically sound way of creating a limited amount of biofuel for use in land, sea and air transportation. Virtually every environmental authority at this point favors, above all, the electrification of most of the land transportation fleet, rather a widescale biofuels policy. Surely Clean Technica does. Furthermore, beyond electrification, it is “vehicle fitness” that is the key to a radical reduction in the use of fuel and electricity for land travel. Vehicle fitness is what VW, Audi, and BMW are already pursuing. The 2014 VW XL-1 plug-in hybrid gets an astonishing 313 mpg on diesel since it only weighs a little more than 1700 pounds. That is more than FOURTEEN times the average mileage of an American car. If we make the entire land, sea and air transportation fleet out of lightweight and ultra-lightweight materials, such as ultra-strong carbon fiber composites, fiberglass, aluminum, and magnesium, there will be no need to produce biofuels on any significant scale. Electricity, increasingly from wind and solar, can power our future lightweighted cars, vans and trains. Hydrogen and algal biofuels, for example, can power our future lightweighted air transportation fleet. And our future lightweighted shipping fleet can be run, for instance, on a combination of hydrogen, algal biofuels, decktop solar, and wind sails that glide in the air, aloft, above the deck. At this point, first and second generation biofuels are wreaking ecological havoc, depleting soils, causing deforestation in Indonesia, not providing a sufficient carbon trade off, continuing our reliance on the internal combustion engine (which, of course, is what the fossil fuel firms desire), and are already responsible for a significant amount of famine in the Southern Hemisphere. I am afraid that those who are still talking about the desirability of a widescale biofuels policy are at once behind the times and well behind the ecological curve. Biofuels, at this point, are causing more problems with the global environment and the world food supply than they are solving.

        • Bob_Wallace

          “Biofuels, at this point, are causing more problems with the global environment and the world food supply than they are solving.”

          That does not mean that there will not be ways to produce some biofuel responsibly. In the near future we will need some liquid fuel for things like flying over oceans.

    • JamesWimberley

      “The use of biofuels, however, is leading to a rise in slash and burn agriculture in Brazil and Indonesia ..” I don’t know about Indonesia but biofuel production in Brazil is not slash-and-burn (a strategy for subsistence farmers) but from industrialized growing of sugar cane. It take place far away from the Amazon rainforest, mainly in Sao Paulo state (link). What threatens the rainforest is cattle ranching.

      • Victor Provenzano

        Point well taken about Brazil. In Indonesia, things are even worse than mere slash and burn, since the forest that is being burned in Indonesia to produce palm oil for biofuels is often sitting on top of peat. So, in Indonesia, slash and burn is not only a matter of burning and releasing carbon from the trees and plant life, and later releasing carbon from the upper soil when it is cultivated and depleted. In Indonesia, the “undersoil,” which is often peat, burns slowly, filling the air with smoke and ash, darkening the sky, and then floating in a pall over Southeast Asia and beyond.

    • Burnerjack

      Unless I’m just wrong, biofuel in the form of ethanol and methanol can be made from food crops AFTER the food was consumed. My point is it doesn’t have to be a food or fuel argument. We can have both from the same agriculture with the proper infrastructure .

      • Bob_Wallace

        The US wastes about 50% of all food it produces. If we could get a good sized portion of that into a biofuel stream it would help.

        Agriculture waste is another source. Not stripping the fields clean of the organic material needed to build the soil, but the stuff that goes to the processing plants and then to landfills. Pull out the ‘fuel’ and return what is left to the fields.

        Then things like switchgrass. Native plants which can be grown on burned out agricultural fields, yield a source for biofuels, fix carbon (switchgrass has a very extensive root system) and replenish the soil so that it can be used for food again.

      • No way

        There are so many ways and sources to get biofuels it’s almost ridiculous. There are a few that is not recommended because they do more harm than good but most of them are great, it’s just a matter of making sure beforehand that it’s sustainable.

        For example such a thing as a landfill is totally unnecessary. Everything going in it is usable for energy recovery, material recycling and composting/digestion.

        Waste from the slaughter industry and waste products from the paper industry etc. are converted to diesel (HVO) here, producing fuel for 10% of the countries cars.

        Biogas from manure, used reed, sewage plants etc. etc.

        There are things everywhere that can be used.

  • Burnerjack

    Maybe I’m not getting it right. Seems to me, biofuel may change the economic, political dynamics but I see little to no benefit from an environmental aspect. I see biofuels as the OPEC antidote. Nothing more. Unless your talking about methanol or other alcohol isomers.

  • EnTill

    4% to 2035? I doubt we’ll even have any gasoline cars by then. I think that by 2020 electric vehicles will far outperform gas cars in all aspects (including range), nobody will want to buy an old gas car then. By 2035 most gas cars will have been taken off the roads or converted to electric.

  • Poechewe

    The use of gasoline is going to have to drop much faster than 4% in little more than 20 years. Of course, the use of gasoline per capita will drop faster than 4% but population growth and increased industrialization in poor countries erases a lot of that.

  • Chris Marshalk

    If we look at U.S. Total Gasoline All Sales/Deliveries by Prime Supplier data

    1995 – 1999 – Sales Up +8.78%
    2000 -2004 – Sales Up +3.68%
    2005 – 2009 – Sales Down -2.50%
    2010 – 2014 (May 14) – Sales Down -6.33%

    Historic data is a good indication of future movements, I think this will be greater than > 4% decline.

    Plus + Total Plug-In Electric Cars sales volumes for July of 10,500 vehicles, oil demand will continue to fall faster each month as move EV take to the road.

    • JamesWimberley

      Th projected growth in gasoline consumption isn’t driven by OECD countries, which have car saturation and growing efficiency, but by LDCs. Their populations certainly want individual mobility. That’s why China is backing evs energetically (link).

  • Steve Grinwis

    Plummet. 4%.

    Yup. Cleantech clickbait.

  • JamesWimberley

    Is the predicted peak in 2021 – 367bn gallons – feasible? We have passed peak conventional oil; overall oil output is flat, using an increasing amount of expensive and dirty unconventional resources. Attempts to increase gasoline consumption will drive prices higher – accelerating the shift to evs and public transport. In India and China, the trend will be reinforced by the fact that expensive oil is imported while cheap renewable electricity is home-grown. Facing the inevitable transition, it’s not clear that oil companies will be prepared to make the very large investments needed to expand output for only a few years of assured high-price demand. Tipping points ahead!

    • Speaking of unconventional oil. I drove past BP Whiting refinery last week. The sulfur smell I remember from the 1960s is back. It’s pretty bad. BP Whiting put its $4 billion heavy crude (Alberta tar sands bitumen) upgrades on line earlier this year. The smell is pretty bad again. Not to mention the ever increasing pile of petcoke. This bitumen has super high levels of sulfur. I’m hoping this smell was coincidental, maybe an upset, or I imagined it.

      Edit to add: I’ve worked in the area on and off for over 20 years and that sulfur smell was never that pungent.

      • Poechewe

        The age of cheap light sweet crude is over. Hence the need to refine cheaper grades with sulfur.

        Alberta’s heavy crude is even worse and is only possible because natural gas is used to heat the Bitumen so that it flows. The energy efficiency is very low.

        • It’s even more intensive than that. Oil sands upon upgrading into bitumen up in Alberta has to get diluted to flow. About 30 percent of the total mass flowing through pipe is diluent. Diluent is chiefly natural gas liquids ranging from propane to pentanes. Sometimes gasoline range hydrocarbons are used if available. Natural gas liquids or NGL are collected from the various shale gas plays such as the Marcellus and those in Texas, etc. And piped up to Canada. So basically there has to be two pipelines to transport diluted bitumen down to Illinois and beyond. Illinois refineries are the big users right now, including Exxon, BP, Citgo, and the old Koch Family refinery in Wood River. After this years pipeline upgrades, bitumen from Illinois terminals will flow to Oklahoma, Texas and the Gulf coast. Basically making Keystone XL unnecessary for about 10 years.

          • Thanks, Would “solvents” work as “gasoline range hydrocarbons”?

          • I believe its any liquid(y) petroleum hydrocarbon mixture that is in excess supply and has the least market value at the time. Solvents like mineral spirits could work. Even diesel range hydrocarbons. Gasoline range includes pentanes through octanes, mostly. Diesel range is bigger hydrocarbons. The property of a diluent has to obviously dissolve or carry the heavy crude from Alberta for pumping and has to be separable at the refinery. Natural gas liquids (NGLs) are used because they are being produced like crazy from shale fracking and have less value than methane and ethane and higher end hydrocarbons for transportation fuels like gasoline, diesel and other distillates (jet fuel).

          • Thanks, Michael, for the info.

            While we might no like tailing ponds and oil in general, there are companies who can clean things up today, because it has to, somehow. Right? Tailings ponds must be cleaned up, no matter if tar sands continue to operate or they don’t.

            Titanium corp. can recover solvents (among other products) from froth tailing ponds.

            From the website (

            “Titanium Corporation is focusing its technical, engineering and financial resources on the commercialization of its Oil Sands Project for the following reasons:

            Canada’s oil sands have a long reserve life.

            The oil recovery process greatly concentrates valuable heavy minerals into a tailings stream, from which Titanium Corporation recovers its products.

            There is opportunity for attractive additional bitumen recovery from the oil sands resource. (And solvents, as well, as noted on the intro page)

            Creation of a new “value-added” industry in Alberta and Canada with potential for increased revenues for stakeholders

            There is no mining involved, only processing of a tailings stream.

            The infrastructure is in place in Alberta.

            There is the potential for reduction of intensity of greenhouse gas emissions (of the oil sands industry) of carbon dioxide CO2 and nitrous oxide NOx.

            There is potential for a large reduction of emissions of volatile organic carbons (VOCs)”

          • Last time I checked, less than 10 percent of the mined tar sands land has been restored. Tailings, post oily mass extraction are simply dumped, with the hope of scavengers getting something out of it. Vanadium for batteries is one thing on the horizon. The issue isn’t technology, the issue is policy and will. There is no timeline for restoration either. Mining LLCs go bankrupt all the time. Mined lands sit open for generations. It’s also Canada’s problem and hopefully they put together legislation with teeth. It’s the world’s problem indirectly since tar sands exploitation is going to emit tons of carbon dioxide.

            Another more important issue is mining methods. In situ extraction is already 50 percent of the total production. It’s problems are different and possibly worse than strip mining.

            You may want to google many of these issues. There’s an entire corner of the internet on this subject.

    • Doug Cutler

      Sounds like a road sign:

      Caution! Tipping Point Ahead

  • Wait a minute. A plummet is 4 percent between 2014 and 2035? That’s roughly 0.2 percent a year. I’d say that’s simply a flat growth rate. Better than a positive growth rate. But hardly a plummet.

    For my happiness, the only number to keep an eye out for is global CO2 (GHG) emissions in tons per year. That number has to plummet or this whole clean technology business will be for naught.

    • Vensonata

      Ditto that.

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