Monday,  Sep 24, 2018,11:08 (GMT+7) 0 0
Second thought for biofuel
The Saigon Times Daily
Sunday,  Oct 22, 2017,20:37 (GMT+7)

Second thought for biofuel

The Saigon Times Daily

As the deadline for the compulsory replacement of fossil fuel A92 by biofuel E5 – on January 1, 2018 – is drawing near, consumers remain doubtful, and traders are still reluctant, though authorities have repeatedly said that it will go as planned.

The stark contrast between authorities on one side, and traders and consumers on the other needs to be removed first if the scheme is to be a success. In other words, the difference must be bridged, with consumers and traders being shown the benefits of using the biofuel.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade last week organized a conference in Hanoi, where the biofuel was touted as a solution to sustainable development, now that climate change is impacting on the country. Some scientific data given at the conference pointed to the benefits of biofuel E5, saying it was even better for engines than the normal fossil fuel. Biofuels are also gaining strong popularity in many countries around the world, including in advanced economies like Australia, the U.S. and European countries.

Such data are reliable, but not sufficient.

E5 is VND300 per liter cheaper than the same-standard fossil fuel A92, but its energy content is lower, meaning a vehicle covers a shorter distance with the same amount of biofuel as that of fossil fuel. To convince consumers, this difference needs to be worked out.

Given the benefits for the economy as a whole, arguments that biofuels are more environmentally friendly also need a rethink. Such arguments may prove correct when isolating the consumption of fuels. However, numerous studies have pointed out that to produce biofuels, various resources are needed, from water and crops as feedstock to coal and oil, to process and produce such fuels. Some environment organizations have even gone as far as accusing producers of biofuels of damaging the environment and depleting rainforests worldwide.

Biofuels have had a long history and reached a booming period several years back when the oil price rose to all-time highs, briefly at US$200 per barrel. But oil has tumbled ever since, hovering around US$50 per barrel, making biofuel production commercially unviable at the moment. There are still some projects promoted in the world, but based on new studies of using other sources of feedstock like seaweed or grass, rather than traditional ones like starch and corn.

In Vietnam, all ethanol plants are using starch as feedstock, and all have grappled with difficulties in securing outlets. There are arguments that the decision to replace fossil fuel A92 with biofuel E5 seems to be a lifeline for such struggling producers.

Unless scientific data is given to prove that in Vietnam, ethanol production is still cost-effective, and the use of the biofuel is beneficial for all stakeholders, and the entire economy in terms of sustainable development, the coercive replacement needs a second thought.

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