Electric Vehicles and Biofuels: Market Trends and Top Research Universities

Energy plays a key role in the economy and environment. According to the experts, there is a huge and growing demand for energy that’s “reliable, cheap, and clean.” We all are aware of the term called “Renewable Energy“. Renewable energy is the energy derived from natural sources that can be used again and again. Renewable energy is clean, affordable, and reliable. It has also got the potential to counter poverty and climate change. Today, electric vehicles and biofuels are creating tremendous buzz. Both of them are valuable to maintain our earth’s atmospheric conditions and contributes towards sustainable development.

Electric Vehicles and Biofuels: Market & Scopes

While gasoline and diesel are still dominant, an increasing percentage of vehicle power is coming from alternatives such as biofuel, natural gas, and electricity. Non-liquid fuels which include electricity and natural gas will become increasingly important in the coming decades.

After China, Europe has also become a very popular market for electric vehicles as sales soar by 40% to exceed 1 million by volume. Between January and June around 195,000 plug-in cars were sold across the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, a 42% increase on the same period a year before. A growing number of countries, including Austria, Denmark, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal have established targets for electric vehicle sales.

Electric Vehicles and Biofuels

Norway has been the leader by a big margin. Norway is even planning to make all short-haul flights of 1.5 hours or less using electric planes. Avinor, the public operator of Norwegian airports, is planning to launch a tender to test a commercial short-haul route by an electric-powered plane in 2025. Zunum Aero, a start-up partly financed by Boeing, plans to have an electric plane available by 2022.

Airbus, Rolls Royce and Siemens are working together to develop a hybrid model which may make its maiden flight as soon as 2020. These developments will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also reduce noise levels by half.

Sweden has a goal of achieving a complete fossil fuel-free vehicle fleet by 2030. In the first of its kind, Sweden is trialling the world’s first public road which allows electric vehicles to recharge while driving. Similar to a slot-car track, vehicles are able to connect to an electric rail that’s embedded into the road.

electric vehicles and biofuels

Electric Vehicles vs Biofuels

Co-Authored by Ankita Murmu

Now, the question is which is more efficient? A lot of debate is still on the rise of electric vehicles and biofuels. Findings show that turning biomass into electricity is more beneficial than turning it into transportation fuels. Vehicles propelled by biomass-fired electricity would travel farther on a given crop and produce fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than vehicles powered by ethanol. Electric vehicles cost less than half as much to operate as their gasoline-powered counterparts.

What are Electric Vehicles?

EV or Electric Vehicles are an alternative to the traditional vehicles. They run on electricity generated from renewable energy sources. As fossil fuels are slowly getting depleted, clean energy technological solutions have been provided by the EV’s.

How do EVs work?

Electric Vehicles looks similar to the conventional vehicles. The difference lies in its model. Batteries in electric vehicles are rechargeable. They not only take energy from the grid but also give energy back to it. The batteries soak up the solar energy throughout the day while it is abundant, then provide that excess energy to the grid whenever they’re parked and plugged in.

What are BioFuels?

BioFuels are the alternative fuels derived from biomass. Examples of biofuels are- Bioethanol, Biodiesel, Biogas. They are used for transportation purposes as a substitute for fossil fuels.

Bioethanol is used as a substitute for petrol. It is produced by the sugar fermentation process of cellulose, derived from maize and sugar cane. On the other hand, Biodiesel is produced from oil crops such as rapeseed, palm, and soybean. Biogas is produced from the decomposition of organic wastes. It can be used as a fuel for any heating purpose, such as cooking.

Recommended Article: Biofuels, Biomass Energy and Algae Technology

Biofuels and Electric Cars

Countries using Electric Vehicles and Biofuels

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), EV’s have hit the market and observed massive growth over the years. The majority of electricity in the United States is generated from renewable energy rather than other sources like coal. California has about 10 times more EVs than Georgia and generates no electricity from coal. The electricity comes from the natural gas plants.

Source: Global EV Outlook 2017’, International Energy Agency, 2017

Brazil began producing biofuels in the 1970’s when it was hit by OPEC oil shock. Due to its large production of sugarcane, Bioethanol is widely used to power cars. It is widely used in Brazil and US and, rarely used in Britain. Ethanol was traditionally produced by fermentation.

Years of research in government-sponsored labs has resulted in Bioethanol where enzymes are used to break down the cellulose in the bagasse (the fibrous waste of sugarcane, maize and rice). Since then productivity has been increased by 50 per cent, producing 10,000 litres per hectare.

The debate of Plug or Plant

Engineering or Biology? The world needs to be upgraded and, the debate between electric versus biofuel cars has a lot of moving parts to it.

Current Status

Elon Musk and his impact on the Electric Vehicle (EV) have created a digital paradigm shift that we are all living through. With everything going digital and smart in the world a huge, transformational force for the energy sector is awakening too. Biodiesel and ethanol are considered to be following the old paradigm with the traditional soy/corn/palm varieties that grow on arable land needed for crops. The lab work has come into the light and joined industry but, there are still problems in the production scale. How do you integrate Biofuels in the digitalized world?

Raw Materials

It is said that lithium prices will intensify because of limited supplies of the metal. However, Zinc batteries have been in use. The raw materials for biofuels are easier to get. Any plant can be used for the production of bioethanol. It only has to contain sugar and starch. As long as the land for cultivation exists, fuel farming would cause an employment boom. It is easier for the farmers to grow crops rather than putting up battery factories.

The Infrastructure

Most people will be able to charge their cars at home whereas Ethanol can’t be shipped in regular pipelines. Public charging stations also may cost less but according to Propel Biofuels, an ethanol tank and pump cost $100,000 to $150,000.

Fill up time

Biofuels will take five minutes to fill your car whereas Electric cars will take hours. In that case, Biofuels win hands down in a big way.

Would you spend such a long time looking at novelty bumper stickers and air fresheners? I bet, you would probably get bored.

The cost factor and driving range

Technological advancements have brought down the cost of EV’s. The cost of fueling an EV is much lower than a gasoline-powered car and the price has been remarkably stable compared to volatile oil and ethanol prices. The Tesla Roadster costs $109,000 and goes up to 250 miles. However, the price of bioethanol may come down in the coming years.

Electric Vehicles vs Biofuels

Energy Security

In EV’s the sun’s energy can be harnessed without the need for pipelines and geopolitical wrangling. Once the utilities are understood more jobs will be created, local economies will be made more resilient and, consumers will be more empowered to make good decisions. It might also see the geopolitics removed from the energy.

Even if there were to be a massive replacement of existing light vehicles by electric models, it is believed that the cargo and aviation sectors will be using biofuels for a long time to come.

On the other hand, EVs are making fast progress, sales are rising and the overall outlook is positive in most scenarios. Not only do they represent a very promising technology to replace fossil fuels in the transport sector but, they are also an important enabler in the development of renewable energy.

At the end of the day, electric vehicles are a replacement technology. EVs will not decrease the number of metal boxes on our roads. Companies like Nissan and Tesla offer great electric models of car with a whole lot of benefits to their customers who decide to invest. Whether you are a biology fan or a battery fan, the ultimate aim of this two is to save our planet from future obstacles.

Top Research Universities in the Field of Electric Vehicles and Biofuels

If you feel fascinated with electric vehicles and biofuels and passionate about contributing to the broad field of renewable energy & sustainability, you could end up with excellent career opportunities. Below is a comprehensive (but not exhaustive) list of universities that are highly engaged in the research work in the field of electric vehicles and biofuels

  • MIT
  • Stanford
  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
  • RWTH Aachen University
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • University of Michigan
  • Chalmers University of Technology
  • University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
  • Indiana University Bloomington
  • TU Munich
  • Georgia Tech
  • Arizona State University
  • Santa Clara University
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Toronto
  • King’s College London
  • University of Warwick
  • University of Waterloo
  • Northwestern University
  • Cardiff University
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of Delaware
  • Uppsala University
  • Lund University
  • University of Ghent
  • University of Groningen
  • KTH Royal Institute of Technology
  • University of Minnesota
  • Nanyang Technological University
  • Caltech
  • The University of Texas at Austin
  • University of South Australia
  • Wayne State University
  • University of Technology Sydney
  • UC San Diego
  • University of Manchester
  • Northern Carolina State University
  • University of Ontario Institute of Technology

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