Every day, oil is a topic that will make its way in the news, water dispenser chit-chat, and even family dinner conversations. Gasoline is such is an essential part of people’s daily comings and goings that it is difficult not to be affected by the increase of petrol prices, the fear of exhausting fuel reserves, and the effects petroleum has on the planet. All this concern over oil has brought out more interest in alternative fuels, including biodiesel.
Biodiesel is one of the major biofuels, fuels made from biological ingredients rather than fossil fuels. Biodiesel is usually made from numerous natural resources, like plant oils or animal fat, through a series of chemical reactions. It is used in diesel engines, and it was in fact used by Rudolf Diesel as a fuel source for his engine during a demonstration in 1900. It is the fuel used by several fleets of federal and public organizations in the United States, such as the U.S. Air Force and Army, the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Department of Energy, and even NASA.
Is biodiesel the best fuel alternative today? Should we advocate harder for the government to invest more in this biofuel? The opinion surrounding biodiesel is split with each proponent focusing on the advantages and disadvantages. But the best way to make an informed decision on the matter is to study the pros and cons.
List of Pros of Biodiesel
1. It is environmentally friendly.
Currently, biodiesel is the only biofuel to have successfully completed emissions testing in accordance with the Clean Air Act. It does not produce any hazardous emissions. It is biodegradable, so even if a biodiesel spill happens, it has less damage on the environment and the cleanup would be easier. In addition to that, it is also renewable. In fact, cooking oil or grease can be turned into biodiesel.
2. It is safer.
It is non-toxic and gives fewer particulates when burnt, reducing the risk of respiratory illnesses. Research shows that it is even ten times less toxic than table salt. Also, it has a higher flashpoint compared to conventional diesel. This means it is less likely to accidentally combust because it burns at a higher temperature, thus, it makes storage and transportation easier and safer.
3. It is ready to use.
Biodiesel can be used in diesel engines right away with little or no modification required. But sometimes it is mixed with standard diesel fuels. It can also be used as an alternative fuel for heating homes.
4. It helps extend the working life of engines.
It contributes to the ease of movement of an engine, also known as lubricity. It is estimated that a biodiesel blend of just 1% can increase fuel lubricity by as much as 65%. Biodiesel acts as a solvent, helping to loosen deposits and other gunk inside the engine. It also doesn’t leave any deposits. As a result, it prevents clogs and prolongs the working life of an engine.
5. It can decrease the dependence on foreign oil.
The world supply of oil is decreasing but the oil demands in the United States are increasing. By having an alternative source of fuel, America can be less dependent on imported oil. The U.S. grows soybean as one of its major domestic crops. This plant is one of the most popular natural resources used in making biodiesel. By investing more in the growing and processing of soybean for the production of a bigger domestic biofuel supply, the United States can have stronger energy security.
List of Cons of Biodiesel
1. It is prone to gelling.
Biodiesel is known to gel in colder temperatures. The gel point is a function of the feedstock and the mixture of biodiesel to diesel. This means biodiesel wouldn’t be feasible to use in all regions and climates. If it would be used during cold climates, the tanks would require heating.
2. It can damage pipes and filters.
It is common to see gaskets and seals degrade over time when using biodiesel fuel. In addition, it can also cause clogged filters and damaged pipes. This problem is mostly associated with fuel mixes of B20 (blends containing 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent standard diesel) or more. This is because biodiesel can release deposits attached to pipes and tanks from previous diesel use. However, after the old deposits have been released, clogged filters can no longer be a problem. Biodiesel manufacturers also suggest changing the fuel pump when you switch to high-concentration biodiesel blends. Another issue is biodiesel breaks down rubber components, so fuel line and fuel pump seals made of rubber or with rubber-like composition tends to break. Many manufacturers have included biodiesel in their warranties, however there is still a chance problems will exist.
3. It can affect the food supply.
Because plants are used as biodiesel feedstock and there is a high demand for oil, farmers may be pushed to exclusively grow crops used as natural resources for biofuels. This could lead to a shortage of food supply and an increase in prices of produce for consumption.
4. It is not as accessible and affordable as other fuel types.
There are only a few filling stations for biodiesel around the country so it is not as accessible as other fuel types. Sometimes, you even need to get directly in touch with a supplier or distributor who can deliver to you. This means it will be a big inconvenience to get a refill. Aside from that, biodiesel is more expensive because it can be costly to produce and the supply is still low.
5. It has reduced fuel efficiency.
Research shows that using B20 mixtures can reduce fuel efficiency by one to two percent and that there is a ten percent reduction in power on average. So you would need 1.1 gallons of biodiesel to equal 1 gallon of standard diesel.
Alternative fuel sources will be a necessity in the near future. And as public awareness grows, biodiesel can be a solution that will win more positive support.
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.