QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

At SEKAB we get many questions about our products and about ethanol in general. Here we have tried to bring together the answers to those most frequently asked.

If you cannot find the answer to your question, you can either use the page’s search function, or contact us here.

Questions about ethanol

What are the environmental benefits of running a vehicle on bioethanol?

The main reason for running a vehicle on bioethanol is that you greatly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, a threat to the earth’s climate system. The so-called greenhouse effect, or the threat of undesirable climate change, is today considered to be one of the biggest threats to life on our planet.

Does ethanol production compete with food production?

In Sweden, we only need 20% of our arable land to meet our food requirements. The rest can be used to grow energy crops, which in turn can be converted into fuel. From a global perspective, it is indeed true that we first and foremost must satisfy the population’s food requirements. However, it is not primarily a lack of food that is causing starvation in the world, but poverty.

Ethanol production in developing countries can provide poor farmers with a great opportunity to get better prices for their crops. In addition, the technology of extracting ethanol from cellulose will further reduce the competition with food production since we can then, to a much greater extent, use for example forestry raw materials and agricultural residues to make ethanol.

Can the use of biofuels reduce our dependency on oil?

Simply cutting back on our one-sided dependency on oil from a few net exporting oil countries is one of the main reasons why both the USA and Europe, by means of legislation on the one hand and various benefits on the other, is dramatically trying to increase the use of biofuels with a focus on the transport sector. Transport already uses about 70% of all oil consumed in the USA and the EU and this percentage continues to increase.

Are fuel cells and hybrids not the solution for the future?

Fuel cells and hybrids are good examples of technologies that make vehicles more energy efficient. But even these energy-efficient engines need energy and that energy must also be more renewable. Ethanol can easily replace petrol and diesel hybrid engines.

Ethanol is also an excellent carrier of hydrogen and with the introduction of ethanol through flexifuel vehicles, such as FlexiFuel and BioPower we can speed up the construction of a network of ethanol filling stations. Thus, we can also speed up the introduction of energy-efficient fuel cell-powered hydrogen cars from renewable resources which is something all vehicle manufacturers see as a necessity in the long term.

Is ethanol more inflammable than petrol?

The SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden has recently investigated the fire and explosion risks of E85. The risks were found to be significantly less than previously believed and it was concluded that E85 is no more inflammable than petrol.

Does ethanol combustion not also produce carbon emissions?

A crucial factor with regard to the climate impact is where the carbon dioxide comes from. Does it come from ‘dead’ or ‘living’ carbon? Both are stored solar energy, but ‘dead’ carbon (oil, coal and natural gas) has been locked in (fossil-bound) in the earth’s crust for 200 million years. When it is released into the atmosphere it results in an imbalance that affects the climate.

Biofuels such as ethanol or biogas come from ‘living’ carbon that comes from the plants that surround us today, and that are part of the carbon cycle – that is nature’s way of moving carbon around to support life on Earth. Plant photosynthesis breaks down carbon dioxide into carbohydrates which build up plants, and oxygen which is emitted into the air. When the plant dies or is burned, the carbon returns to the air and is then absorbed by other plants.

‘Dead’ carbon in the form of oil (petrol and diesel), coal or natural gas comes from plants that existed millions of years ago. The carbon they absorbed is now released when these fossil fuels are used. There are no additional plants that can absorb this carbon. This means increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and an increased greenhouse effect. Brazil, today the world’s largest ethanol producer, produces ethanol with a 90-95% net saving of fossil carbon dioxide. A report by Chalmers (Magnus Blinge) shows SEKAB’s current ethanol production in Domsjö uses 2% fossil energy, which means a 98% net reduction of fossil carbon dioxide.

Is there enough biomass in the world to produce the energy we need?

Probably not. We therefore need to do many things at one and the same time. For example, we must invest more in the expansion of public transport and in building smarter communities from a traffic perspective. But most importantly, we have to produce far more energy efficient vehicles. We have to have vehicles in the future that do not consume any more than 0.03 litres per km such as plug-in hybrids which are powered largely by electricity.

Are emissions other than carbon dioxide also reduced when one uses ethanol?

Today’s petrol engine cars with catalytic converters are already very clean, but fuel-flexible cars run on ethanol reduce other emissions even further and have good margins regarding the EU requirements from 2005.

Is the rainforest in Brazil being devastated to manufacture ethanol?

In Brazil, ethanol is manufactured from sugar cane. The fact that the rainforest is under threat is very worrying, but it has nothing to do with the cultivation of sugar cane. Brazil is a very large country; it takes five hours to fly from north to south. Sugar cane is grown several thousands of kilometers from the rainforest. Reports that confirm this can be found at the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the Swedish Association of Green Motorists.

In order to meet environmental demands and ensure the quality of the bioethanol prominent Swedish, European and Brazilian scientists have, in collaboration with the Brazilian Government and the International Energy Agency and at the initiative of the BioAlcohol Fuel Foundation (BAFF), established specifications, established criteria and regulations for ethanol production. Learn more about this at www.hallbaretanol.se

How are the working conditions of sugar cane workers in South America?

It is good that attention is drawn to the question of the sugar cane workers’ working situation, because they often work under difficult conditions. The issue is very important and a solution must be found that does not create other social problems.

In Brazil, about 6 million people earn their livelihood thanks to the bioethanol programme. According to Brazilian researchers, most of these people would otherwise have moved to large urban slums without any opportunities to earn a living, or they would have resorted to burning parts of the rainforest to grow food. Therefore, the Brazilian government is implementing gradual mechanisation as new areas are brought into production.

The Brazilian sugar cane industry is today where Swedish forestry was a generation ago when mechanisation was being introduced in order to remove heavy manual jobs. Good for the workers, yes, but it must be done gradually so as not to create mass unemployment. The ethanol SEKAB sells is produced in accordance with the Verified Sustainable Ethanol Initiative.

If carbon emissions are reduced by using bioethanol is there not a risk that other noxious emissions will increase instead?

Other noxious emissions like nitrogen oxides, particulates and hydrocarbons also decrease when you run a car on bioethanol. Today’s modern petrol engine cars are already so clean that these improvements are of marginal importance. Compared to diesel engine cars, the improvements are manifest. The only measurable emission that increases with alcohols is aldehydes. With today’s catalysts, the level is so low that it is not deemed significant.

What are the plans for future ethanol production?

In the short term international agriculture is producing a very large cereal grain surplus. But in the longer term, sugar cane will be the predominant raw material in the tropics and in the temperate climate zones we will move increasingly towards producing ethanol from raw materials rich in cellulose.

Does ethanol combustion also create carbon emissions?

A crucial factor with regard to the climate impact is where the carbon dioxide comes from. Does it come from ‘dead’ or ‘living’ carbon? Both are stored solar energy, but ‘dead’ carbon (oil, coal and natural gas) has been locked in (fossil-bound) in the earth’s crust for 200 million years. When it is released into the atmosphere it results in an imbalance that affects the climate.

Biofuels such as ethanol or biogas come from ‘living’ carbon that comes from the plants that surround us today, and that are part of the carbon cycle – that is nature’s way of moving carbon around to support life on Earth. Plant photosynthesis breaks down carbon dioxide into carbohydrates which build up plants, and oxygen which is emitted into the air. When the plant dies or is burned, the carbon returns to the air and is then absorbed by other plants

‘Dead’ carbon in the form of oil (petrol and diesel), coal or natural gas comes from plants that existed millions of years ago. The carbon they absorbed is now released when these fossil fuels are used. There are no additional plants that can absorb this carbon. This means increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and an increased greenhouse effect. Brazil, today the world’s largest ethanol producer, produces ethanol with a 90-95% net saving of fossil carbon dioxide.

A report by Chalmers (Magnus Blinge) shows SEKAB’s current ethanol production in Domsjö uses 2% fossil energy, which means a 98% net reduction of fossil carbon dioxide.

How are the working conditions for sugar cane workers in Brazil?

The working conditions in sugar cane plantations in Brazil are often hard. The mechanisation of the harvest is an important step towards improving the situation. By making demands for good working conditions in the production of fuel Swedish players can exert influence and thereby accelerate positive development.

The sugar cane industry has about 1 million employees in Brazil. 70 percent of the production takes place within large facilities. Much of the sugar cane is cut by hand today, which requires that the fields are burned before the workers can begin to cut down the cane. The purpose of this action is to protect workers from snakes and sharp leaves. Mechanisation is increasing rapidly and this contributes to better electricity production yields from the sugar cane, to considerably better working conditions and to greater opportunities to utilise leaves and stems and use them as biofuel to produce electricity.

Approximately 60 percent of the ethanol in Brazil comes from the Sao Paulo region where today about 30 percent of the sugar cane is already harvested by machines and this figure is increasing rapidly. This means fewer jobs, but more advanced, higher paid ones and better working environments. In the Sao Paulo region, industry, trade unions, educational institutions and various agencies have also agreed on a training plan for of the sugar cane workers who lose their jobs as a result of mechanisation.

When we fill up with E85 in Sweden, we contribute to an increase in the ethanol production in Brazil. Ethanol currently provides jobs for 1 million people in Brazil, thereby contributing to the development of the country’s economy outside the big cities. The fact that wages are low for many of Brazil’s agricultural workers is not due to ethanol’s rapid growth; on the contrary, rising demand raises wages. The workers in the sugar cane industry are by our standards very low-paid but often much better paid than those who work with products such as coffee, soybeans and cotton and they earn more than the average worker in the agricultural industry in Brazil.

Is not it better to make timber and paper than ethanol from the trees?

We should do both. We have and have had an annual surplus of wood in Sweden for many years. Using the knowledge from earlier research and the research that is ongoing, we can increase the amount of wood produced annually by about 30% over the next few years. This will give us the opportunity to produce a large volume of renewable fuels in Sweden.

Is there enough biomass in the world to produce the renewable energy we need?

Probably not. We therefore need to do many things at one and the same time. For example, we must invest more in the expansion of public transport and in building smarter communities from a traffic perspective. But most importantly we have to produce far more energy efficient vehicles. We have to have vehicles such as hybrids which are powered largely by electricity.

Is not it better to put our biomass into oil-fired heating plants on the continent, thus reducing CO2 emissions more effectively?

In theory, it is. But since we know that oil is a finite resource and that it will become a scarce commodity in the near future, we cannot unilaterally invest all our biomass into one area. We need to develop various new technologies that allow us to use biomass as the basis for developing new biofuels for example. Developments of this nature take a long time and are implemented in various stages. Therefore, we must start now to be able to offer the best possible solutions.

 

Durability

What does ‘sustainable’ ethanol mean?

It is important to ensure that ethanol is produced in as sustainable a manner as possible. Therefore, one must take into account how, where and from which raw material the ethanol is produced.

Ethanol must be certified and approved, i.e. it must comply with international and national standards and legal requirements with regard to climate issues, other environmental and social considerations, and the raw material must be not grown in or near the rainforest or other sensitive biotopes.

The criteria must be measurable. People who fill their tanks with ethanol should feel confidence in how the fuel has been produced and handled throughout the chain from the farm fields to the filling station.

 

Questions about E85

What is E85?

E85 comprises a blend of 75-85% ethanol and 15-25% 95-octane unleaded petrol.

How much fossil CO2 is released per km when driving on E85?

If we assume a fuel consumption of 1 litre of E85 per 10 kilometres it corresponds to about 40g of fossil CO2/km. This figure includes the carbon dioxide from the petrol portion as well as from the manufacture and distribution of the ethanol.

How is the fuel consumption of an ethanol car compared to a petrol engine car?

The fuel consumption with petrol is exactly the same as for a traditional petrol engine car. For ethanol, the fuel consumption per km is higher because ethanol contains less energy than petrol. E85 contains about 70-75% energy compared to petrol and the increase in fuel consumption of about 20-35% is offset by the lower selling price of bioethanol.

Does an ethanol car have two different tanks?

No, the car has a single tank for petrol and E85 fuel. The two fuels can be mixed together in any way. A computer identifies the current fuel mixture and adjusts the engine accordingly. When replacing the fuel the engine needs a little “reflection time” in order to identify the current fuel mix before adjusting the setting.

Do ethanol cars really start when it's cold outside?

A winter (November to March) grade of ethanol (75% ethanol and 25% petrol) was introduced in the winter of 2006.The result has since then been safer cold starts for motorists.

For example, one need no longer be worried about a winter trip up to the mountains. In order to guarantee cold starts at temperatures below -15 º C, today’s ethanol cars require an engine heater or a higher percentage of petrol in the fuel.

Will the engine be damaged by regularly using different combinations of fuel?

No, the engine is adapted to be used with any combination of ethanol and petrol.

Does an ethanol car's performance vary dependent on which fuel is used?

The performance is better when the car is run on bioethanol E85 than when run on petrol. The engine power of Saab cars increases by about 20% (about 30 hp) due to the fact that ethanol has a higher octane rating. In Ford and Volvo cars, the power increases by some percent.

Do ethanol engines use more energy than a conventional petrol engines?

No, the energy consumption is the same when running the two engines on E85 and petrol respectively.

Do ethanol cars use more fuel when running on ethanol compared to petrol?

Bioethanol has lower energy content than petrol. This means that cars run on E85 fuel consume about 20-35% more than when run on petrol. This is compensated by the lower price of E85.

Does consumption increase more during hard driving on ethanol compared to petrol?

No the percentage increase remains the same but the difference increases in absolute terms.

Does the price of E85 follow the price of petrol?

The price of E85 is affected only up to 15-25% (the percentage of petrol in the mix) by the large price fluctuations in crude oil. It has therefore been relatively stable for several years. It is the petrol companies that determine the final price at the E85 pump.

Where can you fill up with E85?

E85 pumps are currently well distributed all over Sweden. There are at present about 1400 filling stations. The various oil companies’ websites have information on where one can fill up with E85.

 

Questions about ED95 – Ethanol fuel for heavy goods vehicles

What is ED95?

ED95 comprises a blend of 95% ethanol and 5% ignition improver.

Do ethanol lorries have the same service schedules and warranties as regular ones?

Yes, except that vehicle manufacturers require/recommend an extra oil change (oil + filter) every 10 000 and 15 000 km.

How much more does an ethanol lorry cost to buy compared to a comparable diesel lorry?

Approximately SEK 100 000 more. Most other types of environmental lorries cost considerably more to buy than a comparable diesel lorry but ethanol lorries only cost a little more.

Why is an extra service required every 10 000 / 10 500 km?

For precautionary reasons vehicle manufacturers require/recommend an extra oil change. Probably the recommended service schedules will in time be the same as for petrol engine vehicles.

Will the warranty become void if the extra oil change is not carried out?

Yes, the warranty requires that the service schedule is followed.

What are the environmental benefits of an ethanol lorry when you run it on bioethanol?

The most important reason for running on bioethanol is that you greatly reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that threaten the Earth’s climate. The so-called greenhouse effect or the threat of undesirable climate change is currently considered to be one of the greatest threats to life on our planet.

Can the increased use of biofuels be of any significant importance in reducing our growing dependence on oil from the Middle East?

Simply cutting back on our one-sided dependency on oil from a few net exporting oil countries is one of the main reasons why both the USA and Europe by means of legislation on the one hand and various benefits on the other is dramatically trying to increase the use of biofuels with a focus on the transport sector. Transport already uses about 70% of all oil consumed in the USA and the EU and this percentage continues to increase.

Are fuel cells and hybrids the solution for the future?

Fuel cells and hybrids are good examples of technologies that make vehicles more energy efficient. But these energy efficient engines also need energy and this energy must become increasingly renewable. Ethanol can easily replace petrol/diesel in hybrid engines.

If carbon emissions are reduced by using bioethanol is there not a risk that other noxious emissions will increase instead?

Other noxious emissions like nitrogen oxides, particulates and hydrocarbons also decrease when you run a car on bioethanol. Today’s modern petrol engine cars are already so clean that these improvements are of marginal importance.

Compared to diesel engine cars, the improvements are manifest. The only measurable emission that increases with alcohols is aldehydes. With today’s catalysts, the level is so low that it is not deemed significant.

Is the service charge higher for an ethanol lorry?

The service charges are slightly higher because Scania requires an extra oil and filter change after every 10 000 and 15 000 km

 

Questions about cellulose ethanol and demo plants

Where will the cellulose of the future come from?

Forestry cellulose comes mainly from residues such as the branches and tops, thinning, and the like. From cultivated land, we will acquire cellulose from surplus materials such as stems and leaves. In addition, the surplus agriculture land can be used for energy forests rather than being allowed to grow wild which would then destroy valuable farmland for the future.

Household waste contains large amounts of cellulose and is therefore also is a raw material for bioethanol which is becoming increasingly interesting.

What does it cost to produce bioethanol today?

Brazil, the world’s largest and oldest ethanol producer, produces ethanol at about SEK 2/litre, which compares to petrol and diesel which are produced at today’s crude prices of around SEK 2/liter. In Europe and the USA ethanol is currently produced from corn and grain for between SEK 3-5 /litre.

What are the estimated costs of production in the future?

Experts and authorities in the EU and the USA expect to produce ethanol from cellulose-rich raw materials at between SEK 2 and SEK 4/litre. This is dependent on technological developments, future raw material costs and on scale effects governed by the trend in volume. In the event of a breakthrough for the cellulose-based refinery technology a further reduction in the cost of producing ethanol from sugar cane is also anticipated.

Does it take a lot of fossil energy to produce ethanol?

In the 1950s and 60s, there were facilities in the USA that had very poor energy exchange, but such facilities no longer exist. Contemporary rumours about ethanol’s negative energy balance (that you input more energy than what you get out of the ethanol) are not correct.

Ethanol is currently produced on a commercial basis, there are no subsidies provided. If it were to take more energy to produce than what ethanol provides as fuel, commercial production would be impossible. Brazil has a fossil energy balance of 8.9 which means that for every unit of fossil energy production, the ethanol produced then provides 8.9 times as much energy.

In future large-scale ethanol production from cellulose, Swedish researchers expect the energy efficiency to be between 75% and 85%. This is due to the fact that ethanol is just one of several products obtained from cellulose as a raw material. Lignin is another product that is used for example in power plants. One can compare the manufacturing process with an oil refinery, in goes the crude oil and out comes many different products. The same happens in the cellulosic process; in goes the wood and out comes a variety of products.

Is it better to produce timber and paper than ethanol from wood?

We will do both. Sweden has had an annual surplus of wood for many years. In addition, with the help of the research available today, as well s ongoing research, the amount of wood produced can increase by about 30% annually over the next few years. This provides opportunities to produce a large volume of renewable fuels in Sweden.

 

Misleading myths about ethanol

Is not it better to eat what we grow than to make ethanol from it?

In Sweden, we only need 20% of our arable land to meet our food requirements. The rest can be used to cultivate energy crops for example, which in turn can be converted into fuel. From a global perspective, it is indeed true that we must first and foremost satisfy the population’s food requirements.

However, it is not lack of food that causes starvation in the world. And as the technology to extract ethanol from cellulose reduces the competition with food production we can to a much greater extent use wood and agricultural residues and the like to make ethanol.

Is the rainforest in Brazil being devastated to manufacture ethanol?

In Brazil, ethanol is manufactured from sugar cane. The fact that the rainforest is under threat is very worrying, but it has nothing to do with the cultivation of sugar cane. Brazil is a very large country; it takes five hours to fly from north to south. Sugar cane is grown several thousands of kilometers from the rainforest. Reports that confirm this can be found at the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the Swedish Association of Green Motorists.

In order to meet environmental demands and ensure the quality of the bioethanol prominent Swedish, European and Brazilian scientists have in collaboration with the Brazilian Government and the International Energy Agency and at the initiative of the BioAlcohol Fuel Foundation (BAFF), established specifications, criteria and regulations for ethanol production.

 

Previous SEKAB-project in africa

What are the differences between the present EcoEnergy project and the previous SEKAB-project from 2006-2009?

The basic approach of introducing modern and energy efficient agriculture and industrial processes for sugar cane with a focus on social and environmental sustainability is the same. Many of the key personal are the same or have returned to the project. However, over the last three years the profile of the Bagamoyo projects has changed in respect of the following:

  • The previous project estate was initially planned for 15 000 ha; now it is 8000 ha.
  • The previous project plans were to develop an outgrowers programme at a second stage after a few years of operations. Currently there is a commitment to start with a major and comprehensive outgrowers programme from day one. The outgrower programme is estimated to directly involve and activate approximately 1500 families and is anticipated to generate gross incomes of more than 10 MUSD/year to the surrounding outgrowers’ communities.
  • The previous project focused on the production of ethanol for exports. Today, as a result of a major structural shortage of sugar in Tanzania, the focus for the processing plant in Bagamoyo will be on maximiseation of sugar production for the domestic market and on production of ethanol from the by-products, resulting in the replacement of gasoline imports.
  • The previous project was designed to generate approximately 35 000 MWh per year to the national grid. Today the project is estimated to deliver approximately 100 000 MWh/year to the national grid.
  • The previous plan was to lease the land by paying an up-front fee and an annual fee with no Government ownership. Under the current agreement, EcoEnergy will obtain a 99 year lease and free access to the land from the Government of Tanzania in exchange for a 25% ownership interest in the project company and a membership of the board of directors.
  • The previous project was planned to be financed through commercial banks while the current financing structure is mainly through Development Banks that have a focus on Africa.
Who is the owner of EcoEnergy Bagamoyo Ltd today?

The company is 100% owned by the Project Developer Agro EcoEnergy Tanzania which in turn is a Tanzanian registered company, owned 93,5% by EcoEnergy Africa AB, 5% by Tanzanian Petroleum Development Company (TPDC) and 1,5% by Community Finance Corporation Ltd (CFC). TPDC is 100% owned by Government of Tanzania. TPDC will have key role in the future development of a national ethanol infrastucture.

  • CFC is owned by three Tanzanians who have been actively taking part in the operations since 2006.
  • EcoEnergy Africa AB is owned by EcoDevelopment in Europe AB, a minority owner in SEKAB.
This project was taken over by EcoEnergy from SEKAB. What is the relationship between EcoEnergy and SEKAB today?

SEKAB has been the largest importer of Brazilian ethanol to Europe during the last ten year period. SEKAB is the largest producer of green chemicals in Europe based on Ethanol. SEKAB is owned by a regional ownership consortium comprising of Övik Energy, Umeå Energy, Skellefteå Power and EcoDevelopment. In 2009 SEKAB suffered severely from the global financial crisis and the collapse of the oil prices and the subsequent collapse of the ethanol market.

The three municipality owned energy companies of Örnsköldsvik Energy, Skellefteå Power and Umeå Energy became new majority owners of the company and a political decision was made in March 2009 to stop all new investments in international development for ethanol supply and to exit from all participation in new international project development. All personal in Tanzania were given six months notice of leave and operations were to be sold or closed down as soon as possible.

With the support of the investment bank ABG Sundal Collier a number of potential investors were approached during 2009 but no acceptable solution was found. As a result SEKAB sold the operations to EcoDevelopment under the condition that EcoDevelopment reduced the remaining closure cost for SEKAB and that SEKAB retains a right to share future profits from the operations that EcoDevelopment AB could make in future. Since October 2009 SEKAB has no ownership in any African operations.

Is there at present an off take agreement with Sekab?

There is a separate off-take agreement on buying surplus ethanol from the project. If ethanol is available, after domestic demand has been fulfilled, SEKAB has the right and the obligation to buy the surplus, based on a market price with a profit sharing formula similar to what SEKAB has developed in similar projects.

 

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