It all started with a little joke in the build-up to the Cop26 summit that would discuss what could be done about climate change. When quizzed about his own green credentials, particularly in terms of the fuel he uses to run his Aston Martin, Prince Charles gave a slightly cheeky answer:
“Surplus English white wine and whey from the cheese process.”
At any other time in history, this would seem like a sarcastic response. However, Prince Charles isn’t completely taking the mickey. His car actually does run on organic fuels that differ greatly from typical petrol.
Is this fuel wine?
Are you looking at a future where you’re going to be able to empty a bottle of Italian wine into your car’s fuel tank so you can get from A to B?
However, the heir to the English throne does have a fascinating vehicle. And in this article, we’re going to examine what Prince Charles is really talking about when he says his car runs on wine and cheese. We’re also going to look at the pros and cons of the very special kind of fuel that he’s using right now.
So…What is the Car Running On?
While Charles’s car isn’t actually running on wine, at least not in its purest form, it’s likely that some of what goes into your wine is also finding its way into the car’s fuel tank.
The prince’s car runs on something called bioethanol. This is a biofuel that is made using natural products from the land, with the overall goal of being a fuel that is easy to manufacture, renewable, and better for the environment. According to Charles, and other supports of this type of fuel, bioethanol is a way for him to keep his Aston Martin carbon-neutral, allowing him to drive it as much as he wants without having to worry about people questioning his green credentials.
The car runs mostly on bioethanol. However, that fuel is part of a solution made using bioethanol and petrol, with the bioethanol making up 85% of the mixture to the petrol’s 15%. So, it’s not a perfectly clean fuel, at least in its current form. And despite the Prince’s jokes, it’s certainly not a fuel made using wine and cheese.
This brings us to a question.
Are we likely to see bioethanol becoming the standard in cars any time soon?
To answer that, we need to look at the pros and cons of the fuel.
The Pros of Bioethanol
Bioethanol has some obvious advantages, at least when compared to standard petrol.
Even when used as part of a solution with petrol, bioethanol is far more environmentally friendly. It uses far less oil, meaning you’re pumping much less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than you would when using normal petrol. Furthermore, many will argue that the farming techniques used to gather the materials needed to make bioethanol are far more friendly to the environment than the techniques used to collect oil.
There’s also the fact that bioethanol uses waste products. The prince’s joke about using surplus wine and cheese whey clues you in to the fact that bioethanol actually gives us a use for a lot of the offshoots and waste products of the food and farming industry, meaning these otherwise useless products don’t have to get disposed of in traditional means.
Some also argue that biofuel is good for the economy.
After all, having farms dedicated to creating biofuels would mean more jobs for farmers.
All of this sounds great. But there are some very distinct drawbacks to biofuels that may make you reconsider them as a perfect replacement for petrol.
The Cons of Bioethanol
One of the potential drawbacks of this type of fuel was highlighted in the immediate aftermath of the prince’s comments.
Greg Archer, who is the director of an organization called T&E, which is a campaign group for green energy usage, had this to say:
“Prince Charles’s quaint solution to decarbonise his Aston Martin using a high blend of bioethanol made from cheese and wine wastes should not be mistaken for a serious solution to decarbonise vehicles.
“On a large scale, biofuels do more harm than good, driving deforestation and land use change that worsens the climate crisis.”
So, perhaps biofuels are not as good for the environment as first thought. And if they became the standard type of fuel, we would have to find and use more land to create biofuels than we currently use to create food and wine.
That would be a problem both in terms of limited resources and the potential damage done to the land.
Furthermore, a study from Cornell University conducted in 2005 highlights how big the environmental issue is. According to that study, the energy required to produce the amount of corn needed to create bioethanol is 29% higher than the amount of energy the bioethanol can create.
In other words, you have to use more energy to create the fuel than the fuel is capable of saving.
Building from this is the novelty of the solution.
Yes, biofuels are clearly shown to work. However, there is already a concerted drive towards electric cars that use fuel cells, which could make biofuels redundant before they ever had the chance to become prominent. While the prince’s solution for running his Aston Martin sounds fun, it requires extensive customization that’s far beyond what’s available to the average consumer.
The simple fact is that biofuels are currently not accessible.
What’s more, the direction the industry is going in suggests that they won’t become accessible any time soon.
The Final Word
Are we going to see a world where biofuel becomes the standard?
It’s unlikely given the industry’s preference for electric vehicles. And that means there will be no world where you use your Italian wine to fuel your car.
That is a good thing!
Not only do you get to enjoy your wine as it’s meant to be enjoyed, but the lack of success that biofuels have enjoyed means that wine producers can dedicate their lands’ full resources to make spectacular wines.
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