Are Biodiesel Fuel Vehicles the Answer to the Growing Environmental Problems?

After taking a couple of days off to talk about some other things, it’s time to get back to reviewing cars that might be able to save the planet.

Today I’m going to look at biodiesel fuel, which I think is one of the more interesting alternative fuels out there because it is essentially a creative way of turning waste products into fuel for our cars.

According to FuelEconomy.gov:

“Biodiesel is a form of diesel fuel manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled restaurant greases.  It is safe, biodegradable and produces less air pollutants than petroleum based diesel.”

And, the best part is, most diesel fuel vehicles are currently able to run on biodiesel fuels.  Granted, you can’t just run out to the store, buy a bottle of vegetable oil and be on your way; you would still need to be refined before it was ok to use as fuel.

Here’s a list of pros and cons that I was able to pull together from a couple of different online resources:

Pros:

  • Is a completely renewable source of fuel.
  • Can be produced from products (restaurant greases) that would otherwise be thrown away.
  • Emits substantially less hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides and sulfate.
  • Biodegradable and less toxic to handle when compared to gasoline.

Cons:

  • Currently, if you try and use biodiesel fuel in your diesel vehicle, it may void your car’s warranty.
  • Unless you’re getting waste products from restaurants for free and then converting it to biodiesel yourself, it’s going to cost you more than gasoline.
  • Emissions include a slight increase in nitrous oxide, which is commonly referred to as “laughing gas.”
  • Tends to not perform well in cold temperatures.

While biodiesel fuels certainly have their drawbacks, it looks as if it could definitely be a very viable alternative fuel.  And, if we can try and set it up in such a way that most of it is produced via waste products, I think that biodiesels should be pushed to the top of the list of possible alternative fuels. 

For more information regarding biodiesel fuels, please check out FuelEconomy.gov and Biodiesel.org.

Comments

  1. Andrew Dodds says

    To add to the cons:

    – Demolition of the remains of the world’s rainforests to grow the stuff, should it be adapted on a wide scale. Humans already appropriate something like 50% of the entire biological productivity of the planet for food, wood and fuel; biofuels on any meaningful scale would push this towards 100%.

  2. Brian Carr says

    Andrew – thanks for the comment, and good point. I remember thinking to myself as I was writing the list that I should have included habitat destruction (as I did for ethanol). Thanks for pointing that out.

  3. Biodiesel does not void warranties in small blends. Up to 5% is warranted by almost every manufacturer there is. In the United States a few manufacturers allow up to 20% (B20) and as the biofuel industry standards are finalized and adopted – more manufacturers will support higher blends.

    Also some more “pros” about biodiesel:

    1. Diesel vehicles get better mileage to start with than their gasoline equivalents. So using a biofuel in a diesel engine gets more bang for the buck.

    2. Biodiesel has a much higher net energy yield than ethanol or biobutanol. Meaning it takes less energy to produce biodiesel than the other biofuels.

    3. Biodiesel has been made from just about any source of oil. It is being made from meat processing plant waste, and can be made from algae which is much more efficient than any other form of biofuel.

    4. Biodiesel can be used in ANY blend in just about any diesel engine made since 1995. Older engines merely need new fuel lines to be biodiesel compatible.

    Now to the cons:

    Of course any biofuel can be produced poorly. In order to prevent wide scale ecological damage, make sure the biofuel you use comes from a responsible source. Write your elected and city officials, ask them to put moratoreums on imported biofuels. The whole point is to reduce our dependence on foreign nations. Not just shift it. Just like any other product – if you buy irresponsibly there is no incentive for companies to be responsible.

    And with regards to “Emissions include a slight increase in nitrous oxide, which is commonly referred to as “laughing gas.”. This is still debated. (Also I am not sure that it emits the “laughing gas” type of NOx, NO2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_oxide ) Some recent tests have shown that the NOx emissions depends more on the type of engine than the type of fuel. In some engine designs NOx emissions from biodiesel are lower than that of regular diesel – and in other engine designs they are higher. A quick google for Biodiesel NOx emissions will get you more info than I can share here.

    Anyway, just my 2 cents.

  4. Brian Carr says

    VR – Thanks for the comment; lots of good information to digest.

    I think your third point about how “biodiesel has been made from just about any source of oil” is what makes it sound very promising. If we can take items that would otherwise be waste and find a way to turn them into efficient fuels, I think that’s the best of both worlds!

  5. Bill Logan says

    I currently own a diesel 3500 truck that i pay less for fuel, but i polute the atmosphere withe smoke and toxic immisions. The fuel is less than gasoline and i’m getting 20 + mph on the road. I want to use biodiesel, and i know i will pay more for it. The payment is $478.00 per month and maintenance is expensive and i can’t find biodiesel anyware. Should i wait to see if my town will offer the blend of petro diesel and soy bean, or should i just get rid of it for a cheaper vehicle. I don’t use it to haul a trailer anymore, and being semi-retired i could use something cheaper to operate. What is your opinion?

  6. Has Anyone EVER thought of SLOWING down the driving and then inventing a SOLAR VEHICLE?????
    Seems like a WIN WIN kinda thing with NO hurting the enviroment…. Right or wrong???
    Takes longer to get somewhere because of the slower speed of the vehicle. I would think because of the storage of power..

  7. you suck… i hate this car, you hafve to recharge a battery…. just to go shopping.

  8. With the use of biodiesel, the smoke generated becomes very clean instead of the traditional diesel. And thus, can make our car last longer. So what would you prefer?

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  2. […] car is the main achievement so far. Fuel-cell vehicles, electric vehicles, and those that run on biofuels are significant works in progress, and nuclear energy is being explored […]

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