Alternative Fuel Biodiesel – Magic Fuel Of The Future

Eleanor Hanson

Many vehicles are fueled by diesel, but with the increasing demand for environmentally safer fuels many diesel users are asking for better alternatives, too. Biodiesel is the name of a clean burning alternative fuel. It’s a vegetable oil-based fuel that can run in an unmodified, or slightly modified, diesel engine. It is produced through a chemically-refined process called trans-esterification. Essentially, biodiesel is a renewable fuel made by a chemical reaction of alcohol and vegetable or animal oils, fats, or greases, that seaparates the glycerins in the oil from the methyl esters. It is methyl esters which form the biodiesel and they can be merged with regular diesel or it can be used alone. Biodiesel is biodegradable, nontoxic, and free of sulfur.

Pros Of Using Biodiesel

Contrary to popular beliefs, biodiesel is not raw vegetable oil. As an alternative fuel, biodiesel must be manufactured according to strict industry specifications in order to insure proper performance and is the only alternative fuel to have fully completed the health effects testing requirements of the 1990 Clean Air Act. Biodiesel is nearly carbon-neutral, which means it contributes almost zero emissions to global warming.

Biodiesel has fewer emissions than standard diesel, is biodegradable, and is a renewable source of energy. The exhaust emissions of sulfur and its related compounds contribute to the formation of acid rain; carbon monoxide is a widely recognized toxin; and carbon dioxide contributes to the greenhouse effect. There are also some lesser known emission compounds that cause concern, such hydrocarbons that have been linked to the formation of certain types of cancer. Particulate matter has negative health effects upon the lungs, and unburned hydrocarbons contribute to the formation of smog and ozone. These are basically eliminated when biodiesel is used instead of regular diesel. Biodiesel also lubricates the engine better than petroleum diesel, which helps reduce engine friction and wear and extends engine life.

Cons Of Using Biodiesel

Of course, as with any other fuel source, biodiesel has its downsides. Pure biodiesel gets slushy at a little under 32°F which is a definite problem in those areas that experience freezing or sub-freezing temperatures during the winter. However, combined with some petroleum based diesel, the temperature resistance can be greatly improved. It does create more nitrogen oxides which contribute to smog. Biodiesel initially cost a little more than regular diesels but with the steady cost increases for petroleum-based diesels that cost difference is now negligible. In addition, for older engines its solvent effects may corrode any natural rubbers. Although it can be used in newer diesel engines, when switched to from petroleum-based diesel, there is a need for frequent changes of fuel and oil filters. Biodiesel will begin to clean out the residues left from petroleum, which is why the filters need frequent replacement but this only lasts for a short time.

A Final Thought

Biodiesel is an up and coming player in the alternative fuel market. Although it is not as readily available as other fuels, it has passed all the health effect testing requirements of the Clean Air Act. It is made with products grown in the USA without having to involve other countries. The country can become less dependent upon foreign countries for fuel supplies and the money goes right back into the U.S. economy. As a choice for the future, its advantages far outweigh any potential drawbacks.

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