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Is Biodiesel The Fuel Of Our Future?

Aug 8, 2008
High gas prices have made all of us realize that something needs to be done about our country's dependence on oil for transportation and for other uses as well. There simply isn't enough oil to go around forever and if we don't make a change soon we may find ourselves in a dire situation. The good news is that biodiesel could provide some of the answers we need in order to solve the energy crisis.

What is Biodiesel?

First, we need to understand exactly what is meant by biodiesel because there is a lot of misinformation floating around about this oil alternative. Biodiesel is a fuel that does not contain any petroleum. Instead, it is made through a process known as transesterification. The process takes vegetable oil and divides it into two products: glycerin and methyl esters. While the glycerin can be used in consumer goods, such as soaps, the methyl esters can be used to power any diesel-powered vehicle.

One of the biggest misconceptions about biodiesel is that vehicles must be modified in order to use this petroleum alternative. That's not the case. The confusion comes from the use of straight vegetable oil as a fuel. To use this, you must have a specially modified diesel engine.

Biodiesel fuels can also be combined with certain amounts of petroleum then also used in unmodified diesel vehicles.

History of Biodiesel

Biodiesel has a much longer history than some people may imagine. Back in 1937, a patent was issued for the process of turning vegetable oil into fuel. This work was being done at the University of Brussels in Belgium. The patent specifically referred to a process known as alcoholysis, which is another term for transerterification which is the method used to produce biodiesel. That means biodiesel has been in existence for more than seven decades. What may be most shocking is that it took so long for biodiesel to become a discussed alternative to traditional petroleum fuel.

Benefits of Using Biodiesel

Obviously, biodiesel is going to offer many benefits for people who are today concerned about the dependence on oil as a way of fueling transportation and as the backbone for most of the North American economy. As the recent boost in gas prices has shown, as long as the country relies on petroleum in this way our entire livelihood is dependent on the market and on the conditions of foreign countries and their oil fields.

However, there are a wide range of other benefits we can also reap by using biodiesel in our victims. For example, biodiesel can provide environmental benefits. In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency tested biodiesel and it has so far been the only alternative fuel to pass muster under the current Clean Air Act.

One of the reasons is that biodiesel doesn't include any sulfur which would be sent into our air. Switching from diesel to biodiesel can also significantly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the air. With the switch from petroleum, those emissions were reduced by more than 78%.

Other benefits for switching to biodiesel can be found in our economic situation. Right now, as you know, the costs of petroleum continue to reach new highs. Even as the prices drop slightly, most consumers aren't seeing those reductions at the pump. Since biodiesel is made from vegetable oil, however, and the agricultural prices continue to be quite low, the price of creating and selling this alternative fuel is going to be much more affordable for the average household. That's especially true when you consider that biodiesel can be produced in the same factories that currently manufacture diesel.

Even more importantly, the switch to biodiesel would allow us to have more control over our own fuel creation. By taking back control, we can save billions of dollars. Estimates suggest that for every $1 billion spent on foreign oil, the United States lost as many as 25,000 jobs. That alone reveals the positive economic impact switching to biodiesel could have for our society.

Simply creating biodiesel in our own country would provide an enormous financial boost. Farm income would increase by about $300 million per year if 200 galloons of biodiesel were produced over the course of the next 9 years.

Clearly, there are some significant benefits to switching to biodiesel.

Making the Transition to Biodiesel

Of course, other alternative fuels have also been considered. For example, hydrogen engines are considered as one possible solution for other types of vehicles. The drawback for this alternative, however, is that new cars need to be produced and purchased which contain those hydrogen engines.

With biodiesel this is not the case and that is one of its huge advantages. Studies conducted by the U. S. government have labeled biodiesel as the least costly alternative currently available. That's because biodiesel can be used in any current diesel-engine. That means new vehicles and new engines would not have to be produced in order to switch to biodiesel or even to biodiesel/petroleum combination product.

Remember that biodiesel can also be manufactured in the same plants that currently create diesel so no new factories would need to be built in order to make this transition a reality.

Securing Your Own Biodiesel

Biodiesel is currently available in limited ways. For example, there are some stations that offer biodiesel fuel around the country. One of the most promising methods of obtaining biodiesel, however, is the ability to produce it at home. While you can make your own biodiesel with only a small number of products, including lye, methanol, and vegetable oil, you can also purchase biodiesel kits that come with large tanks so you can create bigger batches for use in your own diesel-powered vehicle. Although the kits can be a bit expensive initially, the investment can save you a great deal in the long run.

One Final Note about Biodiesel

The argument has been raised that biodiesel would eventually raise the cost of food throughout the world. One way to alleviate this concern is the use of algae to produce the biodiesel. Companies are already working on this method and it has shown great promise.
About the Author
Find out so much more about biodiesel fuel at Matthew's info-packed website all about the planet saving stuff that is biodiesel
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