Biodiesel is a diesel fuel substitute produced from organic materials. Chemically, it is defined as the mono alkyl esters of long chain fatty acids. Pete Bethune used only biofuel from sustainable sources like waste cooking oil to fuel Earthrace. Biofuels can play a positive role in transport energy into the future, but the key is they must be from sustainable sources.
This is important as huge tracts of rain forest and other natural environments are being destroyed because of mass plantings of crops to produce palm oil sold to produce biofuel in enormous quantities. It is vital that only sustainable sources are used or it makes a mockery of the environmental advantages of biofuel.
What are the advantages of Biodiesel?
- it is a renewable fuel, unlike fossil fuels, which will eventually run out in the not too distant future!
- it results in increased regional employment
- if spilt in a waterway, the fuel will be 95% biodegradable within 30 days
- it has the same toxicity as table salt so is safer to handle
- it has an increased flashpoint compared with diesel, so is safer
- it is classed as a non-hazardous so is easier to transport
- it has less emissions in almost all categories compared with petro-diesel
- it reduces dependence on foreign oil
- it retains more of your foreign exchange earnings at home
There are two main drawbacks with fossil fuels for transport. Firstly, there are climate change issues, with every litre of fuel putting roughly a kilogram of CO2 into the atmosphere. Secondly, fossil fuels are limited.
Oil for example will be basically exhausted in around 40 years, and natural gas in around 60. It is important that we develop more sustainable options now, rather than putting our heads in the sand and ignoring the problem.
Into the future, it does seem likely that Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) will come in and play an increasing role in transport. The challenge then is to develop electricity in a renewable way. And there are options there such as wind, tidal, hydro, geothermal...
In applications requiring large range and high loads, such as trucking, emergency vehicles, boating and aviation, BEV will be less practical. So it is expected that these applications will continue to need some form of combustion fuel. As fossil fuels dwindle, there will be a push for alternatives, and today, biofuels are the only one on the horizon that can in any way be sustainable.
Opponents of biofuels, some of them inadvertent mouthpieces for the oil industry, claim all biofuels are bad because they lead to deforestation. There are certainly examples of bad biofuels (such as palm oil from Malaysia), but there are also many positive examples. The key, as mentioned above, is for the feedstock to be from a sustainable source. This includes waste products (such as tallow and restaurant oils), and by products.
We are certainly not advocating we cut down rainforest to make biofuels. However, to label all biofuels as bad, simply because there have been some poor examples of them in the past is errenous.
It would be like saying wood products in homes are bad because some wood comes from the Amazon rainforest. Or labelling all people rapists because one man is a rapist. The fact is, some biofuels are good, and do provide a sustainable transport fuel option into the future, provided considration is given to the feedstock.