March 18th is National Biodiesel Day. What Makes BioFuel So Special?
Alex "Solar Girl" Steele
March 18th is the birthday of Rudolf Diesel, the man who invented the diesel engine in 1900. To commemorate his contributions to the world, we want to talk a little about his favorite type of fuel - biodiesel! Rudolf Diesel was a huge supporter of plant-based fuels, and his original engine prototype was designed to run off peanut oil. In fact, in 1912, during a speech, R. Diesel was quoted as saying “…the use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today, but such oils may become, in the course of time, as important as petroleum and the coal-tar products of the present time.” Mr. Diesel had no idea how impactful these words would become over time!
So, what exactly is biodiesel, and why was the inventor of the diesel engine such a big proponent of it? Biodiesel is fuel derived from natural materials such as animal fat, vegetable oil, or cooking oil. It is free of petroleum and emits 11% less carbon monoxide and 10% less particulate matter than diesel. It also does not contain carcinogenic elements, and is 100% non-toxic and biodegradable. The U.S Department of Energy and Agriculture found that biodiesel can reduce net carbon dioxide emissions by 78%.
In general, diesel engines offer 20-40% more fuel efficiency than gas engines, with more torque and lower RPM than gas to boot! Factor in using biodiesel instead of standard diesel fuel, and you’ve got a vehicle that runs cleaner, with more power and lower emissions. Sounds like a sweet deal, right? Biodiesel is definitely a powerful and innovative fuel type, but there are some pitfalls that make it a little difficult to apply to all vehicles. Regulatory standards for biodiesel have been developed over time, but for a while, engineers were unsure of how biodiesel would impact the long-term functionality of vehicles. Another issue is storage and temperature regulation. Because biodiesel is typically plant-based, it can be susceptible to mold if it gets too warm. It can also get too thick to properly dispense if it gets cold. There are concerns about biodiesel clogging fuel filters due to its increased deposition on tank walls and pipes as well, and most mechanics recommend that people frequently change their filters if they are going to be relying heavily on biofuel. Despite these challenges, there are a number of vehicles on the market right now that are compatible with biodiesel!
Biodiesel isn’t exactly hyper-visible for most people. After all, most of us fill up our cars with gasoline, or use an electric vehicle charger. However, biodiesel is actually very popular for use with government vehicles! The U.S military uses it for all of their branches, and it is also commonly used for state and city vehicle fleets. There are also some attractive incentives for working in the biofuels industry thanks to the government. The Energy Policy Act was amended to include biodiesel fuel as a way for federal, state, and public utility fleets to meet alternative fuel requirements. Vehicle fleets can earn credits for purchasing fuels with high percentages of biodiesel blended in to be used on large vehicles. There are also credits associated with using biofuel as part of the American Jobs Creation act - for every percent of biofuel that’s blended using agricultural products or recycled oil, distributors of these fuels receive a small payment. In turn, they can discount the cost of their fuels, making them more attainable for consumers! Finally, state and federal governments have begun mandating that certain percentages of biofuel be mixed in with traditional diesel. Over time, we should see biodiesel becoming more visible to everyday fuel consumers.
Would you power your car with biodiesel if you could? It is an incredibly innovative fuel type that is changing the way we think about power! It may not be super popular now, but as technology improves and government regulations change, we might see more and more people filling up with plant-derived fuels at the pump. Happy Biodiesel Day! Take a moment to thank Mr. Rudolf Diesel for his contributions to the fuel efficiency movement today!