US DOE Launches Online Technology Commercialization Portal
Zymetis Seeking to Commercialize Marine Bacterium for Breaking Down Biomass (corrected)

Study Finds Combination of Second-Generation Biofuels, Vehicle Efficiency and Electromobility Could Sustainably Replace Up To 40-45% of Swiss Fossil Fuel Requirements

Displacement of fossil fuels via a combination of biofuels, vehicle efficiency and electromobility under the three scenarios of the study. Zah et al. Click to enlarge.

Up to 40-45% of fossil fuel use for transportation in Switzerland could be replaced by 2030 through a combination of second-generation biofuels, increased vehicle efficiency, and electromobility, according to the most optimistic scenario in a study carried out for TA-SWISS, the Swiss Centre for Technology Assessment, by an interdisciplinary team headed by Dr. Rainer Zah from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research Empa in Dübendorf.

The 40% replacement figure in 2030 is based on average vehicle fuel consumption of 4L/100km (58.8 mpg US); electric cars having an almost 40% share of the entire vehicle fleet; and about 19% of the fuel used being of organic origin (mainly domestically produced biomethane gas and imported BTL fuel). Pushing vehicle efficiency to 3L/100km (78.4 mpg US) would result in a total 45% displacement of fossil fuels.

It also assumes that the lower fuel consumption would not be (over)compensated by more frequent and longer journeys. In Switzerland, 56.5 billion vehicle kilometers will be travelled in 2010; the study assumes an increase in that to 66 billion vehicle kilometers by the year 2030.

The study examined the well-to-wheels life cycle impact of biofuels, and also estimated the extent to which biofuels might be able to replace fossil fuels in Switzerland, under three scenarios.

Among the findings of the study, presented in Bern on 29 June, is that the most environmentally friendly biofuels are primarily those which are manufactured using waste products and left-over materials such as green waste, saw-mill waste and waste wood.

When crops are grown in developing countries specifically for the production of biofuels, then the disadvantages dominate the equation, because they compete with crops for food production and thus increase the pressure on the natural ecosystem. And since in Switzerland only a limited amount of waste material is available, even in the best case biofuels would only be able to provide about 8% of the fuel requirements, all other things being constant.

However, Zah says that the team’s findings should not be interpreted as a reason for giving up the support of biofuels development through public funding.

That would be a short-sighted reaction. Even though the proportion of locally produced biofuel is modest, it is still equivalent to the annual energy consumption of more than a million single-family houses.

—Rainer Zah

The more important question, he suggests, is how to diversify the energy supply for the mobility sector, or in other words how to ensure that the most appropriate drive technology is used for various travel needs—long distance journeys, urban mobility, freight transport and so on.

In parallel, the priority is to increase vehicle efficiency but also to extend the electromobility network.

The question is not whether electromobility, improved vehicle efficiency or support for sustainable biofuel development should be allocated the highest priority. Far more important is that we have to find ways to ensure that all three approaches make significant progress and then apply them where they bring the most benefit.

—Rainer Zah


  • R. Zah, C. Binder, S. Bringezu, J. Reinhard, A. Schmid, H. Schuetz. Future Perspectives of 2nd Generation Biofuels, Edited by TA-SWISS—the Swiss Centre for Technology Assessment, published by Hochschulverlag AG der ETH Zürich, 2010. ISBN 978-3-7281-3334-2.



All this and more is a very strong possibility if the political will and the general public were ready to do it.

A multi-national transition plan would help and could be a useful subject for the next G-20/G-8 forums. It would be a change from the last useless one.

fred schumacher

This study shows that by improving fuel economy substantially and shifting part of travel over to batteries that it's possible to make deep cuts in petroleum use. A country rich in land and resources, such as the U.S. could accomplish this transition.

The largest chunk of food production is tied to feeding animals. There is room for increased biofuels production if meat consumption patterns are moderated. Biofuels don't have to replace all present petroleum use to be effective.


That is more or less the conclusion I came to with simple calculations, what you need is highly efficient vehicle, then the bio fuels will help, with gaz guzzlers as we use today, biofuels won't help.


It all helps, I would rather see a Tahoe or Excursion running cellulose E85/M85 than importing oil. Those types will be on the road for another 10 years and can run cellulose E85.


Harvey, I like your idea. I think the G20 would do well to declare a move to global energy independence. Doubtful it'll ever happen - but a good idea anyway.


Fred, you called it right but our meat and over eating addiction goes very deep and will take decades to change, if it ever does. Meanwhile many of us carry an extra 30 Kg to 60 Kg around and will die from obesity related health problems. Eating chicken instead of beef could ease the problem because it takes much less energy and food stock to produce and could be less fattening.

The comments to this entry are closed.