On biodiesel

One of my goals in life is to help remove the dependence that we as a country have on external sources of fuel. I feel that the best short term solution to this is to cut over to Biodiesel.

I have had many conversations with friends, foes, family and passersby about this subject, and I have heard many pros and cons to this tactic. I will try and address some of the cons now.

Why not Hydrogen?

The Bush administration has invested a significant amount of capital in to Hydrogen as a replacement fuel. Long term , very long term, this might be viable. But, unless you are willing to wait 30 years, this might not be the best solution.

In an earlier article that I wrote about Biodiesel, I WAG‘ed that a hydrogen pump might cost $100,000. Well, it seems that I was wrong. Hydrogen pumps are more on the scale of $1,000,000 each. As we have 176,000 fueling stations in the country , we are looking at $176 billion just to put one pump at each station.

Not only that, but Hydrogen is far less efficient then then petroleum or bio based combustion engines. Biodiesel is on the order of 8 times more efficient then Hydrogen. The Volkswagen Jetta TDI has a 700 mile range, and the Toyota FCHV has about 180 mile range. This is because it takes so much more energy to produce hydrogen then biodiesel. Hydrogen is not an effective energy ‘battery’ , it’s energy density is very low. For example, to get a 1000 mile range in a sedan, we would need 20 gallons of biodiesel vs 268 gallons of hydrogen.

The cost of Hydrogen is steep as well. It would cost between $ 2.5 Trillion (wind power) and $25 trillion (solar power) to produce enough clean hydrogen to replace our current consumption. Algae based Biodiesel production plants would only cost about $170 billion to build. For a good comparison between different types of Low Emission Vehicles check This out.

What is the energy efficiency for producing biodiesel? Based on a report by the US DOE and USDA entitled “Life Cycle Inventory of Biodiesel and Petroleum Diesel for Use in an Urban Bus”5, biodiesel produced from soy has an energy balance of 3.2:1. That means that for each unit of energy put into growing the soybeans and turning the soy oil into biodiesel, we get back 3.2 units of energy in the form of biodiesel. That works out to an energy efficiency of 320% (when only looking at fossil energy input – input from the sun, for example, is not included). The reason for the energy efficiency being greater than 100% is that the growing soybeans turn energy from the sun into chemical energy (oil). Current generation diesel engines are 43% efficient (HCCI diesel engines under development, and heavy duty diesel engines have higher efficiencies approaching 55% (better than fuel cells), but for the moment we’ll just use current car-sized diesel engine technology). That 3.2 energy balance is for biodiesel made from soybean oil – a rather inefficient crop for the purpose. Other feedstocks such as algaes can yield substantially higher energy balances, as can using thermochemical processes for processing wastes into biofuels (such as the thermal depolymerization process pioneered by Changing World Technologies). Such approaches can yield EROI values ranging from 5-10, potentially even higher.

From the University of New Hampshire’s Biodiesel Site

Bio-Diesel versus Petroleum Diesel
A similar study was co-sponsored by the United States Department of Energy and the USDA, entitled, “Life Cycle Inventory of Biodiesel and Petroleum Diesel for Use in an Urban Bus.”
The study, published in May 1998, states; “Biodiesel yields 3.2 units of fuel product energy for every unit of fossil energy consumed in its life cycle.” The report continues, “By contrast, Petroleum diesel’s life cycle yields only 0.83 units of fuel energy per unit of fossil energy consumed.” According to this analysis, the energy yield of biodiesel is (3.2/0.83) 280 percent greater than petroleum diesel fuel.

From The State of Minnesota.

Anybody can make biodiesel. It’s easy, you can make it in your kitchen – and it’s BETTER than the petro-diesel fuel the big oil companies sell you. Your diesel motor will run better and last longer on your home-made fuel, and it’s much cleaner – better for the environment and better for health. If you make it from used cooking oil it’s not only cheap but you’ll be recycling a troublesome waste product. Best of all is the GREAT feeling of freedom, independence and empowerment it will give you. Here’s how to do it-everything you need to know.

From Journey to Forever

States are taking an interest in Biodiesel as well as Local folks.

4 thoughts on “On biodiesel”

  1. One of the things that I have found – 100% of the fuel consumption could be replaced with 750 square miles of Algae farms. These would produce clean burning B100.

  2. Good point on hydrogen. I personally thought investment in hydrogen was simply done for appearance. It has the look of progress, but no real progress (as in applicable) will be made…not for a very long time. Who knows what will happen during those years…when you go so long with little to no progress it is very easy to forget that you have a problem to solve.

    Hybrids, biodiesel, and ethanol (E85) all seem like more realistic alternatives. Totally cutting dependence on oil is a pipe dream. I’ve always ranted that it was probably the oil companies that owned all the patents on alternative fuel sources which is why we still rely so heavily on the gas-powered engine. I’ve never looked into it mind you, but I still rant about it. It just seems odd to me that we can put a rover on mars, yet motor vehicle technology doesn’t ever seem to evolve.

    I think it is time we put those agricultural grants to work; whether it is soy for biodiesel or corn for E85 fuel or perhaps even a V8 driven engine. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here to make a world of difference. Just a little progress would be a huge relief and a step in the right direction. It buys us more time at least.

  3. That is a great article. Jetta’s are great little machines. I would really like to own one, but Sheila likes her Explorer to much. :)

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