Production of Cars Using Ethanol-based Fuels Spurred by Sweden Use of Biofuels


The world’s car makers are racing each other to produce powerful new models that run on ethanol-based fuels for the booming Swedish market.

The world’s car makers are racing each other to produce powerful new models that run on ethanol-based fuels for the booming Swedish market.

Sweden is a world leader in the use of biofuels. With the Swedish government investing a great deal of money in subsidizing the rise of ethanol-powered cars, over 40,000 cars on the road here (1 percent of the four million cars) are flex-fuel models designed to run on a blend of up to 85 percent ethanol (E85).

In March 2007, the Environment Ministry announced a rebate of 10,000 Swedish Kronar (1,080 Euro) for those who buy an eco-car. Under the previous government these were already 20 percent cheaper to insure taxed less and exempt from the Stockholm congestion charge. In addition, the untaxed biofuels amount to some 1 billion Swedish Kronar (109 million euro) of government subsidy.

The recently elected conservative government of Fredik Reinfeldt, is prepared to spend another half-billion Swedish Kronar (55 million euro) on the development of biofuels.

Sweden has also signed an agreement with the United States, to work together on the development of biofuels. "The U.S. can learn from us, as Sweden is so far in front, and Swedish companies need U.S. capital, so it seems like a win-win situation," Frank Nilsson at the Swedish Energy Ministry told IPS-Inter Press Service (IPS).

The first half of 2007 saw 23,058 flex-fuel vehicles sold in Sweden, an increase of 25 percent over the same period last year. Likewise, during May 2007, the sale of E85 (85 percent ethanol and 15 percent petrol) rose by 46 percent, compared with the same period in 2006, while sales of petrol fell by 3.3 percent over the same period. 


(Note: On October 10,2007, the National Research Council of US National Academy of Sciences issued a report entitled: "Increase in Ethanol Production From Corn Could Significantly Impact Water Quality and Availability If New Practices And Techniques Are Not Employed."  That NAS press release follows this article.)


The long-term ambition of the Swedish government is to free Sweden from dependency on petroleum entirely. In 2005, the then Socialist-led government stated its ambition to "break Sweden’s dependence on fossil fuels by 2020", and the current conservative government has indicated it will continue along this path, with biofuels playing an important part.

To this end, the previous government set up the Commission for Oil Independence, which published its findings in July 2006. According to its report, the next few years need to see a twelve-fold increase in the amount of domestic biofuel production.

Sugar cane can be used as a biofuel. Photo: Wikipedia

  Currently, all Sweden’s biofuel is imported from the sugarcane plantations of Brazil. But already, there are doubts about the sustainability of importing ethanol from Brazil. Sweden agreed to abolish a special tax on Brazilian ethanol imports during a visit of President Lula da Silva to Stockholm on Sep. 11, 2007.

The Commission had warned: “In the present situation, imports of Brazilian ethanol would be economically advantageous for Sweden. However, with increased demand on the world market, we can expect higher prices and an ‘upward price adjustment in relation to our own domestic production’."

This has led to a push by the Swedish government for ‘second generation’ biofuels, such as ethanol made from wood cellulose.

Sweden hopes to crack the secret of making ethanol and diesel fuel cheaply from forest materials – such as byproducts from this densely wooded country’s large logging industry. Currently, the ‘black fuel’ method is very fuel intensive, and hence not commercially viable.

Martin Larrsson of the Ministry of the Environment told IPS that he could see subsidies for ‘first generation’ biofuels, imported Brazilian ethanol decreasing, and subsidies for ‘second generation’ biofuels such as wood-derived ethanol increasing.

The oil companies are involved in this process, as their refining know-how and infrastructure can easily be turned to the manufacture of fuel, and products such as plastics in biomass factories. Ingla Hadga, of the Swedish Petroleum Institute, which represents oil giants operating in Sweden, such as Shell, Mobil and Statoil, told IPS that the oil companies are quite happy with the idea of moving into biofuels -- and that they don't see any threat to petroleum’s future from this sector just yet.

In the mean time, the Swedish government continues to push for lower EU tariffs on imported ethanol. In February 2007, Sten Tolgfors, minister for foreign trade, complained that current tariffs of 1.80 Swedish Kronor per litre of ethanol (0.20 Euro) effectively amounted to a 60 percent increase in the price. Tolgfors also stated that "Free trade helps countries use their comparative advantages. Tariffs undermine these and distort the conditions for production."

The paper industry is also involved in the development of cellulose-based vehicle fuels. The experimental Chemrec plant, in Piteå, in the extreme north of Sweden, is working to turn a paper pulp byproduct into fuel.

Maria Grahn, of Chalmers University of Technology, told IPS that this "black liquor" is usually burnt off to generate heat by the paper mill, but Volvo hope that this can be turned, by a process of gasification, into diesel, which can power their heavy vehicles.


In January 2007, Volvo and VantagePoint, a U.S. venture capital firm, pledged a 10 million dollars investment in Chemrec. "Chemrec could dramatically change the profitability of pulp mills and enable them to participate in the exploding alternative fuels industry," said Bernie Bulkin of Vantage.

A similar clean hydrogen-rich synthesis gas or CHRISGAS plant - from cellulose - located in south-central Sweden, run by Växjö University, and also funded by the EU, received 20 million euro from the Swedish Energy Agency in November 2006, conditional on industry providing 7 million euro, probably from the car and oil industries.


But not everyone is happy about the idea of generating energy from Sweden's forests. In May 2007, Bertil Leijding, boss of Sweden's SCA Norrbränslen, one of Europe's largest sellers of wood fuel for burning, warned that existing forestry industries risked being pushed out by the burgeoning, and state-subsidized ethanol industries.

The World Rainforest Movement has warned that "converting pulp mills in the North to biorefineries will drive the expansion of industrial tree plantations in the South", as the growing wood hunger leads to companies from Sweden and Finland expanding their cultivation of quick-growth forests in countries such as Brazil.

The international charity Grain, which prefers to use the term "agrofuel", recently warned that "the wide-scale cultivation of agrofuels will actually make things worse in many parts of the world, notably South-east Asia and the Amazon basin where the drying of peat lands and the felling of tropical forest will release far more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than will be saved by using agrofuels."

"We need to make a clear separation between biogas from waste, like landfill and manure, on the one hand, and between agrofuels from monoculture plantations on the other," Almuth Ernsting, BiofuelsWatch, told IPS.

A source in the Green Party – not in government any more – said: "There is a need to establish socially and environmentally friendly forms of ethanol manufacture. We clearly cannot have the whole world using western levels of car use, running on ethanol."


Article Source:

Author: Loukas Christodoulou

With Permission from: IPS: TerraViva Europe

Thursday, 27 September 2007, Stockholm, Sweden

About TERRAVIVA Europe: TERRAVIVA Europe (TVE) is the European edition of the TERRAVIVA group of periodicals published by IPS-Inter Press Service - The Global News Agency (IPS). The TVE is put out by IPS EUROPA | IPS EUROPE. IPS is the only independent global news and communication agency of its kind that operates from Europe, Africa, Asia, North America, the Caribbean and Latin America. It is owned by IPS Inter Press Service International Association which has a consultative status with the ECOSOC. IPS is also recognized by the OECD as one of the "main international non-governmental organisations official contributions to which may be reported as (bilateral) ODA".



Chemrec : For environmental information:



            Background from the CHRISGAS Web site:


Renewable energy technologies are vital for our future. To combat the climate change we need to reduce the use of fossil fuel in the transport sector and develop technologies for the production of vehicle fuel based on renewable energy sources.

The aim of the CHRISGAS Project is to demonstrate, within a five-year period, the production of a clean hydrogen-rich synthesis gas from biomass.

At the heart of this Project is the Vaxjo Varnamo Biomass Gasification Centre (VVBGC) in Sweden which has a biomass-fuelled pressure IGCC (integrated gasification combined-cycle) CHP (combined heat and power) pilot plant facility.

CHRISGAS is funded by the EC 6th Framework Programme and the Swedish Energy Agency. It runs for 5 years beginning 1st September 2004. 16 Partners representing industry and research from 7 EU member states are involved in the Project.





For more information on please contact a member of the Project Co-ordination team below or send an email with your query to:

At Växjö University:

Sune Bengtsson, CHRISGAS Co-ordinator

Phone: +46 (0) 470 70 88 23
Mobile: +46 (0) 70 668 88 23
Fax:     +46 (0) 470 70 87 56


Shamim Patel, CHRISGAS Project Manager
Phone: +46 (0) 470 70 82 93
Mobile: +46 (0) 705 898 396
Fax:     +46 (0) 470 70 87 56


Chalmers University of Technology

Se-412 96 Göteborg, Sweden

Tel: +46 (0)31-772 1000

Contact Us About Www.Chalmers.Se



National Research Council Report of October 10,2007

Division on Earth and Life Studies

Water Science and Technology Board


Increase in Ethanol Production from Corn Could Significantly Impact
Water Quality and Availability if New Practices and Techniques Are Not Employed


If projected increases in the use of corn for ethanol production occur, the harm to water quality could be considerable, and water supply problems at the regional and local levels could also arise, says a new report from the National Research Council.  The committee that wrote the report examined policy options and identified opportunities for new agricultural techniques and technologies to help minimize effects of biofuel production on water resources.


Recent increases in oil prices in conjunction with subsidy policies have led to a dramatic expansion in corn ethanol production and high interest in further expansion over the next decade, says the report.  Indeed, because of strong national interest in greater energy independence, in this year's State of the Union address, President Bush called for the production of 35 billion gallons of ethanol by 2017, which would equal about 15 percent of the U.S. liquid transportation fuels.


A National Research Council committee was convened to look at how shifts in the nation's agriculture to include more energy crops, and potentially more crops overall, could affect water management and long-term sustainability of biofuel production.  Based on findings presented at a July colloquium, the committee came to several conclusions about biofuel production and identified options for addressing them.


In terms of water quantity, the committee found that agricultural shifts to growing corn and expanding biofuel crops into regions with little agriculture, especially dry areas, could change current irrigation practices and greatly increase pressure on water resources in many parts of the United States.  The amount of rainfall and other hydroclimate conditions from region to region causes significant variations in the water requirement for the same crop, the report says.  For example, in the Northern and Southern Plains, corn generally uses more water than soybeans and cotton, while the reverse is true in the Pacific and mountain regions of the country.  Water demands for drinking, industry, and such uses as hydropower, fish habitat, and recreation could compete with, and in some cases, constrain the use of water for biofuel crops in some regions.  Consequently, growing biofuel crops requiring additional irrigation in areas with limited water supplies is a major concern, the report says.


Even though a large body of information exists for the nation's agricultural water requirements, fundamental knowledge gaps prevent making reliable assessments about the water impacts  of future large scale production of feedstocks other than corn, such as switchgrass and native grasses.  In addition, other aspects of crop production for biofuel may not be fully anticipated using the frameworks that exist for food crops.  For example, biofuel crops could be irrigated with wastewater that is biologically and chemically unsuitable for use with food crops, or genetically modified crops that are more water efficient could be developed. 


The quality of groundwater, rivers, and coastal and offshore waters could be impacted by increased fertilizer and pesticide use for biofuels, the report says.  High levels of nitrogen in stream flows are a major cause of low-oxygen or "hypoxic" regions, commonly known as "dead zones," which are lethal for most living creatures and cover broad areas of the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, and other regions.  The report notes that there are a number of agricultural practices and technologies that could be employed to reduce nutrient pollution, such as injecting fertilizer below the soil surface, using controlled-release fertilizers that have water-insoluble coatings, and optimizing the amount of fertilizer applied to the land.


A possible metric to gauge the impact of biofuels on water quality could be to compare the amount of fertilizers and pesticides used on various crops, the committee suggested.  For example, corn has the greatest application rates of both fertilizer and pesticides per acre, higher than for soybeans and mixed-species grassland biomass.  The switch from other crops or noncrop plants to corn would likely lead to much higher application rates of highly soluble nitrogen, which could migrate to drinking water wells, rivers, and streams, the committee said.  When not removed from water before consumption, high levels of nitrate and nitrite -- products of nitrogen fertilizers -- could have significant health impacts.


Nutrient and sediment pollution in streams and rivers could also both be attributed to soil erosion.  High sedimentation rates carry financial consequences as they increase the cost of often-mandatory dredging for transportation and recreation.  The committee observed that erosion might be minimized if future production of biofuels looks to perennial crops, like switchgrass, poplars or willows, or prairie polyculture, which could hold the soil and nutrients in place better than most row crops.  The committee also identified other ways that farming could be improved, such as conservation tillage and leaving most or all of the cornstalks and cobs in the field after the grain has been harvested. 


For biorefineries, the water consumed for the ethanol production process -- although modest compared with the water used growing biofuel crops -- could substantially affect local water supplies, the committee concluded.  A biorefinery that produces 100 million gallons of ethanol a year would use the equivalent of the water supply for a town of about 5,000 people.  Biorefineries could generate intense challenges for local water supplies, depending on where the facilities are located.  However, use of water in biorefineries is declining as ethanol producers increasingly incorporate water recycling and develop new methods of converting feedstocks to fuels that increase energy yields while reducing water use, the committee noted.


The study was sponsored by the McKnight Foundation, Energy Foundation, National Science Foundation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and National Research Council Day Fund.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. 


The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  


Copies of Water Implications of Biofuels Production in the United States are available from:

The National Academies Press

Tel. (1) 202-334-3313 or (1)-800-624-6242

or on the Internet at

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