Americans are in love with their personal vehicles. Even those of us who are highly motivated to live, work, and consume in asustainable, environmentally-friendly way simply have to use our cars to get to work, take the kids to school and soccer games,do our shopping, and go the places we need to be. In most towns and cities, public transportation just doesn't meet the needsof our busy lifestyles. We are a nation on the move, and we move in our cars, station wagons, and SUV's.
Now it's possible to have our proverbial "cake and eat it too". We can have the comfortable and functionalkinds of vehicles we're used to driving. We can drive as fast as safe road conditions allow. We can go on a road trip and stayaway for weeks if we want to. We can haul kids, dogs, sporting or camping gear, groceries, trailers, boats, or all of the above.And we can do all this without using a drop of petroleum!
Non-toxic and easily manufactured
Biodiesel is a vegetable oil-based fuel that runs in diesel engines of cars, buses, trucks, construction equipment, boats,generators, and also in oil home heating units. It's usually made from soy or canola oil, and can also be made from recycledfryer oil.. Biodiesel can be used to fuel any diesel engine. In general, those venicles manufactured after 1995 requre nomodification to use 100% biodiesel. Older vehicles often have natural rubber parts in their fuel systems; and these have to bereplaced before running pure biodiesel. Vehicle performance and mileage may be decreased by 5-7% with biodiesel; howeverthis is not noticeable for the consumer in everyday use. Biodiesel is good for engines. Adding as little as 20% biodieselincreases lubricity of the fuel and significantly decreases engine wear and tear. When you start a car running biodiesel, you don'tsee that characteristic black, foul-smelling cloud of exhaust. Depending on the fuel source, biodiesel exaust smells like popcorn,french fries, donuts or canola oil heating in your frying pan.
Biodiesel is completely non-toxic (you can drink it; but you might feel sick). Spills are no problem in soil or water. All otherfuels require special storage and pose a threat to the environment if spilled. Even batteries of electric vehicles present adisposal/recycling problem. Because it is non-toxic and biodegradeable, biodiesel can be stored and transported safely withoutthe precautions that must be taken with petroleum fuels. A spill of biodiesel will cause absolutely no injury to soil, fish, plants oranimals.
Biodiesel manufacture is a simple and low-tech process. Some people actually make "home brew" fuel in theirkitchens with a blender. One can use vegetable oil, either straight from the farm, or after a trip through a deep fat fryer.Soybean oil is the most common source for biodiesel because it is plentiful and often a byproduct of soy protein production.Canola (rapeseed) oil makes the best fuel, and recycled fryer fat from restaurants also works very well after it has been filteredand the water removed from it. Animal slaughter by-products have also been used to make oil for biodiesel; though this is notas energy-efficient as using vegetable oil. Oil from algae promises to be a great source for fuels because of its high yield and theability to use animal byproducts or exhaust from industrial processes to feed the algal growth. In order to burn in an unmodifiedvehicle, the oil has to be made less viscous by "transesterification", which means being mixed in preciseproportions with an alcohol (either ethanol or methanol) and a strong base (potassium or sodium hydroxide). The byproducts ofthat are biodiesel and glycerine, which is used to make boutique soaps.
Short-term air quality and health benefits
The health and air quality advantages of biodiesel are significant. Biodiesel produces significantly lower emissions of carbonmonoxide, hydrocarbons and cancer-causing particulate matter compared to petroleum diesel fuel. Emissions also contain farlower levels of the toxic contaminants typically associated with diesel fuel. Life-cycle reductions in carbon dioxide are alsosignificant. In addition, biodiesel has only trace amounts of sulfur, resulting in significant reductions in sulfur dioxide (SO2)emissions, which contribute to the development of acid rain.
Diesel emissions are a huge problem in school buses. Inside air quality on school buses is very poor and the incidence of childhood asthma has skyrocketed since school systems have been using diesel buses. Many schools are now using biodiesel intheir buses to dramatically reduce health risks to the kids riding them.
Emission reductions are achieved with biodiesel without the need for additional emissions control equipment, but biodiesel iscompatible with such equipment in new diesel engines or after-market equipment, such as particulate filters, installed on olderdiesel vehicles. Biodiesel is biodegradable and non-toxic. As a result, biodiesel poses minimal concerns related to soil andwater contamination. The percentage of biodiesel used in a blend will, of course, affect the extent of these benefits.
Long-term environmental benefits
Carbon dioxide (CO2) contributes at least 50% to what are called "greenhouse gases", which result in globalwarming...a potential ecological disaster. One bad thing about using fossil fuels of any kind, such as natural gas or productsmade from petroleum is that the CO2 released from this fuel was "fixed", or taken out of the atmosphere manythousands of years ago by prehistoric plants. The petroleum products and natural gas that we burn is from those prehistoricplants and the animals that ate them. Therefore, using petroleum products releases CO2 that hasn't been in the atmosphere inmodern times. Burning biodiesel, on the other hand, releases carbon that has just been taken out of the asmosphere by plants,so the CO2 released doesn't add to global warming, as does that from gasoline, petrodiesel, or compressed natural gas.We can burn all the biodiesel we want and not add a bit to the overall CO2 in the earth's atmosphere.
Energy balance is another important environmental attribute of fuels. If we need to use a great deal of energy to produce a fuel,its effects on the environment and on the energy supply can be devastating. For every one unit of energy needed to producebiodiesel, 3.24 units of energy are gained. On the other hand, it takes 2 units of energy to produce a single unit of petroleumdiesel energy, and even more for gasoline. This information is not available for hydrogen fuel cell technology; however hydrogengas steam reforming operations do use natural gas and electricity to make steam, so it's likely to be high. So, for overallefficiency of energy in fuel production, biodiesel is about six times better than petroleum diesel and even more for gasoline. Thatmeans that we won't deplete our energy stores nearly as quickly if we use biodiesel.
At this time, recovering and transporting petroleum has significant environmental costs. We all remember the Exxon Valdezdisaster and other smaller oil spills that have devastated coastal wildlife. And there continues to be debate over drilling in theArctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of the last pristine natural places on earth, with an exquisitely unique and delicate ecology which should not be disturbed. The widespread use of biodiesel can end this debate forever and keep the wild places wild.
A low-cost, existing technical and consumer infrastructure
One of the best things about biodiesel is that it's available here and now and the technology to use it (the diesel engine) isavailable, efficient, reliable, economical, and has been in use for literally a hundred years. As compared to hydrogen fuel celltechnology, biodiesel has an extremely low-cost manuracturing and distribution infrastructure. For example, present day costestimates for natural gas steam reformer stations to produce hydrogen are estimated by Ford Motor Co. to be near $1.5 millionper station, but costs could drop to less than $250,000 per station if mass-produced. Sufficient infrastructure formass-production would therefore require between $3 billion and $15 billion in capital investment. On the other hand, anyservice station, convenience store, supermarket, or individual can set up a biodiesel tank and pump for less than $1000, and amedium-scale biodiesel manufacturing plant for less than $10,000. Because biodiesel is completely non-toxic andbiodegradable and has a high flash point, it can be stored above ground with the same safety precautions that you would use forMazola oil. Most importantly, biodiesel is widely available and widely used today; whereas hydrogen fuel cell technology willnot be available to the average consumer for ten or more years.
Biodiesel is becoming more and more available throughout North America. Most major cities have retail outlets as well as bulksuppliers..
Political and economic considerations
Biodiesel is a 100% American product, and its use supports farmers, manufacturers and businesspeople in our country.Furthermore, it can and will be produced close to where it is used, decreasing transport costs. The production and sale ofbiodiesel can also stimulate the economy in largely agrarian states where unemployment is highest. Biodiesel is here and now.Vehicles that use it are widely available at no extra cost , and fuel is widely available at prices that are higher than petroleumdiesel but yield more miles per dollar than gasoline. This could yield decreased transportation costs for all products and stimulation of commerce.
Our dependence on foreign oil has long pushed American foreign policy in less-than-optimal directions. Energy independence could be within our reach with the use of alternative fuels, including biodiesel. The implications of that are tremendously positive,from every point of view.
New, exciting vehicles from Europe coming to US in 2006
Up to now, American auto manufacturers have not embraced diesel engines. One of the reasons for that is the very low qualityof American petroleum diesel fuel and the resultant smelly and toxic emissions it causes. There has been a steady movement to clean up diesel fuel in this country, and standards will finally be the same as European diesel standards. BecauseEurope has had much higher diesel fuel standards, European auto manufacturers have developed many wonderful utility and luxury diesel vehicles. At this time, Volkswagen produces most of the new diesel cars that are driven in the US; because VWengines are the only ones that can meet emission standards with our present low-quality diesel fuel. Virtually all VW models areavailable with diesel engines.
But as fuel improves in this country, many exciting diesel vehicles will be able to be imported from Europe, and likely new diesel vehicle production will happen in this country as well. The new Touareg SUV, for example, is presently available inGermany, but will be able to be imported when US diesel fuel standards improve in 2006. BMW and Audi will be giving us anexciting array of new diesel vehicles as well; and American auto makers are posed to jump on this bandwagon.
The bottom line - Americans want convenience, utility, and luxury, and biodiesel gives them that choice.
What's particularly exciting here is that vehicles that use biodiesel are those that Americans are used to driving and do the jobsand go the distances and drive at the speeds and haul the loads that Americans have come to expect and demand of theirvehicles. Biodiesel will never run out. We do not have to endanger delicate Alaskan wilderness or be dependent on Middle Eastern sources in order to fuel our cars, trucks, oil furnaces, trains, and even airplanes.
Costs of setting up a biodiesel retail sales facility are negligible. If there is a market for it, it is easy and inexpensive to set up a manufacturing facility and sell biodiesel at any convenience store, supermarket, or other retail outlet.
Written by: Cathy Britell,
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