Biodiesel vs. Diesel: Fuel for the Future

by Kolton Ingles, Sustainable Plant Systems – Agronomy major

Diesel is an important fuel for many people. Farmers, truck drivers, train engineers, construction workers, and even your average everyday commuters depend on it to power their equipment and vehicles. But recently, alternative fuels such as ethanol and compressed natural gas have become popular. Biodiesel is one of these fuels gaining popularity. But why is biodiesel necessary when we still have normal diesel, and what are positives and negatives to this alternative fuel?

Biodiesel is a form of diesel that is typically created from vegetable oil or animal fat. It can be mixed with normal diesel or it can be sold as 100% biodiesel. Commonly sold mixes include B5 (5% biodiesel) or B20 (20% biodiesel).

But what do we need biodiesel for? There are 3 main reasons for it. First, fossil fuels are a limited resource and won’t be around forever, so making a new fuel based on something we can grow over and over (vegetables) is a good way to reduce our dependence on unrenewable fuels. Second, biodiesel has the potential to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases put into the atmosphere. Finally, the production of biodiesel creates many new jobs, with a good percentage of those in agriculture.

iowabiodiesel.org

Almost all modern diesel engines can use biodiesel, although the percentage of biodiesel varies by the manufacturer’s rating. Image: Iowa Biodiesel Board, iowabiodiesel.org

Biodiesel has its share of pros and cons. On the positive side, biodiesel reduces the amount of pollutants and carbon dioxide put out by diesel engines. Biodiesel is also non-toxic and biodegradable. A major benefit is that we can produce it in the United States using our own crops and animals.

On the negative side, fuel economy with biodiesel is lower than normal diesel, and the cost of biodiesel is higher as well. Also, it is not well known if 100% biodiesel can cause long term harm to diesel engines.

In the end, diesel won’t be around forever, so alternative fuels will need to arrive to take its place. Biodiesel still has a long way to go before it completely replaces diesel, so hopefully the list of advantages will grow and the disadvantages will disappear by the time biodiesel is the only diesel.

Sources:

www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/biodiesel.shtml

nuffieldbioethics.org/report/biofuels-2/biofuels/

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This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

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