The concept seems so pure-green: GROW our gas! And in fact, when Franco-German engineer Rudolf Diesel developed his now-ubiquitous engine in the late 1800s, he powered it with peanut oil. But, as with other internal combustion engines, the diesel engine was soon running on petroleum-based fuel or, in today's parlance, petrodiesel.
In recent years as climate change's effects have become more apparent and prices have been bid up for the planet's remaining supplies of petroleum, the idea of growing our gas has caught on again. (There were variations on the theme for years, though; Brazil has at times fueled most of its fleet on ethanol, or alcohol, derived from sugar cane.)
The premise at first sounded great. You run your car on the fry grease left over at the local burger joint. What could be more elegant? And your exhaust smelled like French fries! Mmmmmm.
In places like Seattle and San Francisco, the biodiesel movement succeeded in putting large numbers of their kind on the street. In Europe, too, the fuel has been pushed heavily in order to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. (Outside biodiesel hubs, it's harder to go biodiesel, but it is possible to make your own fuel; you just have to be willing to work with chemicals, commonly including lye.)
Alas, though, in recent years serious environmental questions have started to be raised about biodiesel. For starters, in order to fuel our whole fleet, we'd have to cover vast swaths of the countryside with soybeans or other crops, including corn, canola, flax or cottonseed. Either that, or open a LOT of burger joints.
In addition, there's the law of unintended consequences. Europe's thirst for biodiesel and to a lesser extent the United States' drove the planting of massive palm-oil plantations in Southeast Asia. This often translated into mowing down rainforests.
Still, there remains some hope that biodiesel could be the way to go if we could learn to make it out of something that grows much more quickly and efficiently. So-called "cellulosic" ethanol could be made from fast-growing weeds, some hope. And now some folks are starting to experiment with algae, theorizing that it could be the silver bullet because it grows so quickly and in such a confined space. If that worked, eco-friendly mass production could be possible.
Biodiesel proponents and those cautioning against its use can argue for hours about this topic. We hope this at least gives you a start on the subject.
For more info:
* Veggie oil, soy oil, recycled cooking oil what should be used to make green fuel?: http://biodieselmagazine.com/article.jsp?article_id=649
* Once a dream fuel, palm oil may be an eco-nightmare:www.nytimes.com/2007/01/31/business/worldbusiness/31biofuel.html
* Official site of the National Biodiesel Board: www.biodiesel.org/
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