Publ. by Nat. Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20418; ISBN 0-309-03386-1, 1983, 106 pp.
This report summarizes information on alcohol fuel technologies for planners, investors, and technical assistance agencies in developing countries. Although the information is primarily aimed at the non-technical reader, it does include some details of the technologies; references are included for those who wish more specialized information.
In developing countries, government and industry are considering the use of locally produced alcohol fuels to reduce the burden of foreign exchange payments for petroleum products; some have already begun constructing facilities to produce alcohol fuels from indigenous materials.
To substitute alcohols for petroleum fuels must create diverse considerations:
- The technical capability exists to substitute the lower alcohols, methanol and ethanol, completely or in substantial part for all types of liquid fuels currently derived from petroleum.
- The technical capability exists in almost all countries to produce ethanol from a broad spectrum of renewable biomass resources, specifically from many varieties of plants and from agricultural, food processing, and urban wastes. The components in these raw materials from which ethanol may be
produced are sugars, starches, cellulose, and hemicelluloses.
- In many situations, alcohol fuels may be the most convenient alternative to gasoline, but on a small scale there may be other energy sources that require less capital, organization, and management.
- The economic consequences that can ensue from adopting biomass- based alcohol fuels must be carefully analyzed; for example, positive indirect-economic factors associated with the replacement of imported petroleum by a home-based fuel industry as opposed to the possible negative effects on food prices and energy costs in different sectors.
- The environmental implications of a biomass-based alcohol fuel strategy are far-reaching but little understood. They range from the extremely damaging, such as deforestation to produce the wood needed for a cellulose-based alcohol industry, to beneficial, such as improved forest management practices leading to higher productivity with better ecological balance. The energy plantation approach to biomass production raises questions about vulnerability to pests, water requirements, and pollution by runoff.
- The substitution of alcohols for petroleum-based vehicle fuels can affect air quality. Although evidence suggests that the overall results may be beneficial, experience with alcohol fuels is too limited to permit unequivocal conclusions.
- The most critical effects are likely to result from the way in which production of alcohol fuels benefits those involved. The adoption of a biomass-based alcohol fuel policy will have other social impacts, depending on which of these two extremes tends to predominate, and will particularly affect land use and ownership.
Finally it can be stated that developing countries must develop or expand their own capabilities to monitor and audit their energy needs, assess their biomass resources, weigh competing requirements, define fuel markets, and evaluate the technologies needed to convert local resources into fuel to meet local needs. These countries should also identify and evaluate, to the extent possible, all potential impacts economic, environmental, and social arising from the implementation of a biomass-based alcohol fuel strategy.
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