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What if electric cars are not the solution? Petersburg scientists believe that the future belongs to biofuels

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Last summer, the European Commission made a statement about its intention to ban the sale of cars with internal combustion engines in the EU by 2035. Many analysts called this decision necessary, suggesting that it would lead to the end of the era of fossil fuels, as no one will need them anytime soon.

Some experts, however, doubted the realism of such developments, mentioning that there is no supply surplus in the EU electricity market. In other words, Europe is not prepared for universal electrification at all. This means that it is being imposed on the population artificially, forgetting about the laws of the market; and this might lead to irreparable socio-economic consequences.

Today it is obvious that such fears have very well justified. For instance: in the last six months, the cost per kilowatt-hour for consumers in the Old World has risen noticeably due to the peaks in the natural gas exchange price and the shortage of natural gas. If the energy transition continues to intensify at this pace, electricity bills will soon become virtually "golden."

"It is clear that electrification is a technology chosen by politicians, and not by the industry. Given the current European energy balance, an electric car needs to travel 70,000 kilometers to compensate for the carbon footprint of battery production and start catching up with the hybrid car. And the latter costs half as much," said Carlos Tavares, CEO of Stellantis (the corporation he heads owns such brands as Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Citroën, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Maserati, Opel, Peugeot and some others) as another argument in favor of internal combustion engines.

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This said shortly, the advantages of electric cars are not as indisputable as the beneficiaries of the energy transition are trying to portray. On the contrary: their disadvantages are still too conspicuous for us to abandon internal-combustion-powered cars without a second thought. And obviously, at the same time, it becomes evident that the current level of greenhouse gas emissions from car exhausts must be urgently reduced, because they're cause significant damage to the environment.

"There is no doubt that internal combustion engines will still remain a sought-after technology for many decades to come. As a consequence, one of the priority tasks facing science today is to reduce their negative impact on nature. There is no single recipe here: there are several areas of research, the results of which can help to achieve the stated goal. For example, additives in diesel fuel based on vegetable raw materials, depending on their concentration, can reduce CO2 emissions by almost two times," says Sofia Kosolapova, specialist of the Scientific Center "Problems of mineral and technogenic resources processing" of St. Petersburg Mining University.

The biomass for these additives can be various vegetable oils, in particular: corn, palm or rapeseed oil, used oil, and algae. The technology to process each of the three raw materials listed above differs markedly, as do the types of catalysts used in the synthesis process. But the goal in all cases is the same: to make fuel more environmentally friendly and at the same time practical for the car.

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"The use of biodiesel not only minimizes the damage that fuel causes to nature, but also has a positive effect on the engine. One of the modern trends is the reduction of sulfur content in fuel, which, of course, is harmful to the environment; but also lubricates the working surface of the piston chambers. The bio-additive provides this lubricating effect, which by extension compensates positive properties of the sulfur. This way, the bio-additive provides the required lubrication for the combustion chamber, while being an absolutely harmless component," continues Sofia Kosolapova.

Titan, the Omsk-based Group of Companies; expects to set up production of a new type of fuel in our country. This company became famous in the mid-90s, when it produced the first ton of methyl tert-butyl ether in Russia. This compound replaced the carcinogenic substance in gasoline - tetraethyl lead, and also made possible to significantly reduce the negative impact of exhaust gases on the environment. Later on it became an integral part of the new generation fuel.

Now Titan Group, in cooperation with Mining University is working on creation of a cost-effective technological chain to produce biodiesel from rapeseed.

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"Almost in all countries, such projects are carried out with state support, because it is not economically feasible for business to participate in them. But our task is to find a method of biodiesel production that would guarantee profit, and which, by extension, would be commercially justified. This is possible if we achieve to create the most effective technology in this relatively high oil prices. For example, the current level - 90 dollars per barrel - looks quite comfortable for the practical implementation of our ideas," specified Igor Pyagay, the Director of the Scientific Center "Problems of Processing Mineral and Man-Made Resources" at the Mining University.

For this to become a reality, scientists at the Mining University will have to conduct many more experiments. Their results, first of all, should help optimize the parameters of raw materials, reagents, and catalysts required for the synthesis. The goal is to bring the output of the useful product to 90% of the original volume of vegetable oil.

The second task is to raise the degree of biopreparation purification from the catalyst, which negatively affects engine performance, to the maximum possible values. The same task applies to unreacted oil and glycerin residues: they must also be removed from the additive. The third stage is to find the most suitable formula for the final product, which would be the final "green" diesel fuel. Only then it will be the turn of testing its performance properties for compliance with antional and international standards.

The content of recycled vegetable oil, waste or algae in the fuel sold at gas stations in Europe, Brazil and some other countries is as high as 20%. This high threshold makes it possible to significantly reduce the load on the environment and guarantee the quality of the product... all at the same time. Representatives of the Mining University plan to increase the content of the bio-additive in diesel to the maximum possible values.