Alternative Fuels

There are many views on the use of Biodiesel. Many people advocate for it without knowing any of the facts. In actuality, Biodiesel is not nearly as good for the environment as many people seem to think. Biodiesel is not all bad however, people are just uniformed, or operating under misconceptions as to the actual environmental impact of it. Do the benefits out weigh the cost? Does the benefit to the environment offset the downfall to the economy?
The conversion to Biodiesel is helpful to farmers working in agriculture. Biodiesel is produced from many sources, ranging from soybeans, to waste edible oil, and reformed pressurized methane. However, the agricultural market will not be able to sustain the rate of increase in consumption. It is estimated that we will need to produce one billion gallons of Biodiesel by 2019 to keep up with the demand. By 2030, 1.6 billion gallons of Biodiesel per year could be produced. Overall, for the period 2007-30, the estimated accumulated gains in net farm income are over $210 billion, and the accumulated potential savings in government payments are estimated to be $150 billion. However, much of our agricultural economy is suffering already under the impact of trying to produce enough products for ethanol and Biodiesel. Grain and corn prices have sky rocketed due to a decrease in supply. The environment and the economy are suffering from the production of these products, if not from the use.
Many diesel fuels are cut with Biodiesel, much as regular fuel is cut with ethanol. However, the percentage of the mix is not regulated. Therefore, depending on where the Biodiesel is purchased, there will be varying percentages. Consumers may think they are getting a much higher percentage than they are, thinking they are paying extra for an extra green product, that is not better than regular diesel. On the other end of the scale, some diesel fuels are cut with too high a percentage of Biodiesel. If the percentage is too high, the fuel freezes. Perhaps if Biodiesel was regulated as ethanol is, this wouldn’t be an issue.
Also, there is the impact on the actual cars we are driving. The efficiency and power of our engines significantly decreases. Engines powered with Biodiesel suffer a loss of 11% energy content. To compensate for this loss of power, many people will modify their engines. However, this causes the engine to no longer meet the EPA’s regulations. This implies that the engine tampering, that is common to attempt to make up for the loss of power, causes the engine to produce more harmful byproducts than normal diesel fuel.
Neat Biodiesel and higher percentage Biodiesel blends can cause a variety of engine performance problems, including filter plugging, injector coking, piston ring
sticking and breaking, elastomer seal swelling and hardening/cracking, and severe
engine lubricant degradation. At low ambient temperatures, Biodiesel is thicker than
conventional diesel fuel, which would limit its use in certain geographic areas. In
addition, elastomer compatibility with biodiesel remains unclear; therefore, when
biodiesel fuels are used, the condition of seals, hoses, gaskets, and wire coatings
should be monitored regularly. This repair work needed to keep engines running properly on Biodiesel, costs a significant amount of money. Biodiesel itself costs more than regular diesel fuel, as well as the extra wear and tear on the vehicle, making this a very impractical solution, at least for the time being. The main reason for turning to Biodiesel in the first case was because of increasing prices in importing crude oil. Its all about the money, making Biodiesel not economically sustainable.
Throughout the Amazonian rain forest and the savanna of Brazil, enormous swaths of land are being converted to farms for growing soybeans and sugarcaneall for use in creating Biofuels. The tropical rain forest and peat land of Indonesia and Malaysia and the grasslands of the United States are also being converted to biofuel crops. It is a disturbing trend. It has been studied extensively how the areas being transformed into farmland have acted as carbon dioxide storage systems. Trees, grass, and other flora take in the gas, incorporating the carbon into their structures. But when the land is converted for agriculture, the plants are cut down, burned, or processed, and the stored carbon is eventually released back into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases. Using numbers from nearly 50 previous studies, it has been calculated that the amount of carbon stored in these landscapes and the up-front carbon cost for each acre of land converted to produce biofuels.
Several studies found that changes in land use related to biofuel production would be a significant source of greenhouse gases in the future. Overall, biofuels would cause higher total emissions for tens to hundreds of years. Some ecosystems had surprisingly high emissionsgrasslands in the United States converted to corn farms would increase carbon dioxide for 93 years. There is another study projecting that corn-based ethanol production in the United States would increase greenhouse gases, relative to what our current, fossil-fuel-based economy produces, for 167 years. It is suggested that if the production of Biodiesel is converted from actual agriculture to agricultural waste it will have much less of a harmful impact on the environment.
It is indeed true that the burning of Biodiesel in engines produces much lower emissions of greenhouse gases than the burning of regular diesel fuel. Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel to have fully completed the health effects testing requirements of the Clean Air Act. The use of biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine results in substantial reduction of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter compared to emissions from diesel fuel. In addition, the exhaust emissions of sulfur oxides and sulfates (major components of acid rain) from biodiesel are essentially eliminated compared to diesel. Emissions of nitrogen oxides are either slightly reduced or slightly increased depending on the duty cycle of the engine and testing methods used. Based on engine testing, using the most stringent emissions testing protocols required by EPA for certification of fuels or fuel additives in the US, the overall ozone forming potential of the speculated hydrocarbon emissions from biodiesel was nearly 50 percent less than that measured for diesel fuel.
This sounds wonderful to eco-friendly outsiders. However, compared to the amount of emissions produced in the production of the Biodiesel, there is still a deficit. If 10,000 square meters of Brazilian rain forest is cleared to make way for soya beans which are used to make biodiesel over 700,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide is released. The saving generated by the resulting biodiesel will not cancel that out for around 300 years, says Joseph Fargione of the Nature Conservancy. In the case of peat land rain forest in Indonesia, which is being cleared to grow palm oil, the debt will take over 400 years to repay, Fargione says.
The ideas and principles behind biodiesel and other biofuels are very good, and environmentally aware. However, the current practice of producing these biofuels far outweighs the benefits we see in the burning of the fuels. Also, economically, the current methods of biofuel production and usage are not up to par. The cost of biodiesel is an added expense that many people can afford, especially when they add in the cost of engine repairs. Also due to the loss of engine efficiency, trucks burn through the biodiesel much faster than average diesel fuel. Therefore, much more of it is needed to keep the trucks running. The cost, both economically and environmentally, far outweighs the current benefits of biodiesel. It could be adapted to work more efficiently, and to have less of an environmental impact. When these practices are adapted, the use of biodiesel might become more eco friendly. However, at this point in time, the methods cause way more harm to the environment than can be outweighed by lower emissions.