Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Technology: Biodiesel as an Alternative Fuel Source

Below is a paper I had written with a group about the use of BioDiesel as a contingency fuel source in the even of a spot fuel shortage similar to what occurred during Huricane Katrina. I felt I would post this due to the issue of rising gas prices and my personal opinion on BioDiesel as an alternative and renewable fuel source. While this does not address the consumers concerns, it does address keeping emergency, military, and commercial vehicles operating. The paper is an older paper, however I feel that the topic is still relevant since this rising fuel costs have brought this topic back to mind for me. I would like to thank Bobby Johnson and Tuputala Taele Jr for their contributions to the article. One thing to note, this was a touchy subject with the personal interviewees, so their indivudal names were removed from this article. I found it strange that noone wanted to talk about Biodiesel, I suppose that Big Oil has these guys scared. After all, Texas is Big Oil country.

With recent world events, we have been made aware of the shortcomings in the current fuel supply chain. Finite resources, changing political climate, and natural disasters threaten the readily available petroluem that we use as a source of fuel. It is time that we start to consider the use of an alternative source of fuel that is renewable, available for use and production in the State of Texas, and can work with existing vehicles in order to maintain our the critical infrastructure of this country. Fourtunatly there is an alternative already out there to keep our commercial and government vehicles running in the event of another disaster – BioDiesel.

Biodiesel is fuel made from renewable resources, is biodegradable and has significantly fewer emissions than petroleum-based diesel when burned (Wikipedia). In 1898, when Rudolph Diesel first demonstrated his compression ignition engine at the World's Exhibition in Paris, he used peanut oil - the original biodiesel. Diesel believed biomass fuel to be viable alternative to the resource consuming steam engine. Vegetable oils were used in diesel engines until the 1920's when an alteration was made to the engine, enabling it to use a residue of petroleum - what is now known as diesel #2, and is still used to this day. During the 1970’s fuel shortages, the Diesel type engine was incorporated into all sorts of technology. Vehicles such as cars, trucks, school buses, generators, farm equipment, construction equipment, emergency vehicles such as fire trucks can all run on diesel fuels or have some variation with a diesel engine. All of these can be run off Biodiesel or a Biodiesel blend with no modification.

Biodiesel is offered in any number of mixtures. It can be 100 percent Biodiesel, or can be blended with existing diesel to provide a diluted mixture. There are benefits to going both ways on the mixture scale. Mixtures that contain a higher percentage of Biodiesel are cleaner burning, more energy efficient, and has the potential for a larger long-term economic savings when more supply is available. Lesser percentage mixtures provide a higher compatibility with existing diesel vehicles, especially in older vehicles, and has a larger short-term cost. The most common mixture available on the market is B20, which is a blend of 20 percent Biodiesel and 80 percent regular diesel.

The largest benefit that Biodiesel offers is the reduced impact on the environment and human health. Regular diesel pollution has serious effects on the human health. In 2004, there was Diesel smog related 879 deaths in Texas last year (Diesel Pollution Suggested as Responsible for 879 Deaths in Texas Per Year). Less serious impact includes aggravation of respiratory problems. To illustrate this, in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex there are 63,758 children with asthma, 208,835 adults with asthma, 137,717 people with chronic bronchitis, and 36,099 people with emphysema (BioWillie Articles of Interest). The symptoms of all of the above diseases are stimulated by diesel pollution. Studies also show that there is a 70 percent risk of cancer caused by air pollution comes from diesel exhaust. Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel source to meet the 1990 Clean Air Act. The environmental advantages can be broken down into two major categories, the number of reduced pollutants that Biodiesel produces, and the fuel efficiency of Diesel engines over Petrol engines allowing for a reduction in the pollution per gallons. Lets look at the leading environmental contaminants produced by regular diesel and the amount of reduced pollutants Biodiesel provides.

Biodiesel has 78 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon Dioxide is considered to be one of the most abundant “Greenhouse Gases”. Since the industrial revolution, CO2 emissions have risen significantly. Things such as factories, automobiles, and other industrial machinery produce these gases. With the continued industrialization of our society, it will probably continue to grow. It is debatable how harmful the increase in CO2 really is, since CO2 is released by plants and is necessary for life, however it is known that CO2 is directly related to the increase in surface water temperature. (Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide). A 78 percent reduction can lead to a possible decrease of 585 Megatons of manmade CO2 emissions over a ten-year period, helping to reduce the rate in which global temperature is rising.

According British Government studies (Principles for Evaluating the Human Health Risks from Petroleum Hydrocarbons in Soils), Petroleum Hydrocarbons are a leading contaminate of soil and dependent ecosystems. Diesel engines output about 400 ppm of Hydrocarbons (Frequently Asked Questions About Diesel Emissions). Biodiesel reduces this type of pollution by 70 percent, bringing that number down to 280 ppm.

Carbon Monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that has toxic side affects. People can suffer Carbon Monoxide poisoning from the amount of Carbon Monoxide that is produced in modern fuels. Diesel outputs 500 ppm per cycle of Carbon Monoxide (Frequently Asked Questions about Diesel Emissions), increasing this potentially lethal threat. Biodiesel can give a 40 percent reduction in this, reducing that amount to 200 ppm.

The remaining pollution consists of particle matter that remains in Diesel engine smoke. Biodiesel produced 50 percent of the smoke that regular diesel does. Physical particles have the same effect as asbestos, causing internal cuts to the respiratory system.

Biodiesel has an unexpected positive side effect in that it provides a method to recycle grease used in restaurants. Normally, restaurant owners pay large sums of money to companies to dispose of grease and animal fats, which usually end up being dumped into a landfill or being used in animal feed. Biodisel provides a useful way to dispose of these byproducts. Kits that allow for animal grease and excess vegetal oil allow for another biofuel alternative for vehicles. When these kits are coupled with Biodiesel, which is used to provide enough energy to start the motor, a vehicle can be modified that will both reduce pollution, but efficiently recycle another form of pollution. (Recipe for Car Power: Heat Vegetable Oil, Flip Switch, and Go).

Today's diesel engines provide 20 to 40 percent better fuel economy and offer more torque at lower rpm when compared to their gasoline counterparts. (Diesel, Dirty No More). This increased fuel economy, when combined with the additional 20 percent energy efficiency of Biodiesel, goes a long way to increase fuel economy and decrease pollution. If we equate 1 gallon of regular Diesel to 1 gallon of gasoline, we limiting are Petrol consumption by 20 to 40 percent. With the reduced amount of fuel consumption, a B20 mixture of Biodiesel can significantly reduce the amounts even more.

Manufacturing of Biodiesel happens by a process known as Transesterification, which is a technique to distill vegetable oils in use since the mid-1800’s. It was originally used to distill out the glycerin used for making soap. The "by-products" of this process are wood based methyl esters and grain based ethyl esters, which is used in Biodiesel. Any source of complex fatty acid can be used to create Biodiesel and glycerin. Early on, peanut oil, hemp oil, corn oil, and tallow were used as sources for the complex fatty acids used in the separation process. Currently Soy is the most widely used virgin stock used to manufacture Biodiesel.

There are a number of alternatives to Soybean that are far more efficient. By comparison, crops such as Rapeseed and Palm Oil produce far more oil that is capable of being used for Biodiesel production than Soy. For example, Rapeseed can produce 1000 kilograms per Hector versus Soy’s production capabilities of 375. Palm Oil outperforms both with 5000 Kg per Hector. With appropriate subsidies, future Biodiesel producers can be enticed to use more efficient crops, allowing for cheaper production yielding higher returns. Research is being done into oil production from algae, which could have yields
greater than any feedstock known today.  
There are fiscal benefits offered to Biodiesel production on 3 levels: subsidies for the farmers, subsidies for the manufacturers, and subsidies for the distributors. For farmers, the federal government offers a Soybean subsidy for farmers with a Soybean crop. While Soybean is not the most efficient producer of Biodiesel, it is the most subsidized crop that can produce oil used to make Biodiesel.

The government also offers a subsidy to the Biodiesel producer by contributing to the purchase of a railcar of soybean, and is subsidized for the production of Biodiesel. For example, Greenstar Products received a $2.50 subsidy per gallon for Biodiesel production in 2004 (Biodiesel Subsidies).

And finally, the blender and retailer gets a dollar off each gallon of Biodiesel they sell. There is also an additional 1-dollar off Excise tax for each gallon produced and 50 cent tax break for Biodiesel made from recycled sources (US Biodiesel presentation before the Brazilian Institute for Petroleum and Gas).

Texas is growing increasingly dependent on diesel fuel. Currently there are 793,852 registered diesel vehicles in the State of Texas (Texas Department of Transportation). Texas has an on-road diesel consumption rate of roughly two billion gallons per year. (Texas OK's Tax Relief for Water Portion of Diesel Fuel Emulsions). In 2004 alone Texas consumed 3.31 Billion gallons of diesel fuel, and YTD for 2005 we have consumed 299.5 Million gallons of diesel fuel. (Texas Production and Consumption). With the incentives, statistics have shown tremendous growth in Biodiesel production capacities over the past 6 years, paving the way for enough growth to meet the growing demand for diesel fuel. In 1999, less than half a million gallons of Biodiesel were being produced. In 2004, this number increase dramatically to 30 millions gallons of Biodiesel. And 2005 is set to break that number once again with the 150 new Biodiesel manufacturing plants underway under construction. Out of those, 36 of these were scheduled to go online in April of 2005, yielding an output capacity of 500 Million gallons per year annually. When complete, the 150 plants will be capable of producing 2 billion gallons of Biodiesel. While this is still a small percentage of the 55 Billion gallons of Diesel fuel consumed in the US, it can be used to produce a smaller mixture to help alleviate stress on the petroleum supply. Trucking fleets of about 31 trucks and trailers could carry the produced deposits totaling to 12 million miles a year.

Regionally in the State of Texas, several locations act as both manufacturers and distributors. Some key distrubution companies include DFW Biodiesel Incorporation (DFW, 2004) and Truman Arnold Companies (Truman, 2005). DFW acts as a retail supplier of biodiesel and biodiesel lends in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, serving to decrease the reliance we’ve carelessly put on the pollutanting fossil fuel derivatives.

Biodiesel works in any diesel engine with few or no modifications to the engine or the fuel system. Biodiesel has a solvent effect that may release deposits accumulated on tank walls and pipes from previous diesel fuel storage. The release of deposits may clog filters initially and precautions should be taken.

In conclusion, we have demonstrated the financial and environmental benefits of Biodiesel. When reviewing the high costs associated with other alternative fuel systems, many fleet managers have determined biodiesel is their least-cost-strategy to comply with state and federal regulations. Use of biodiesel does not require major engine modifications, meaning operators keep their fleets, their spare parts inventories, their refueling stations and their skilled mechanics. Currently, it is estimated that Biodiesel will cost about 10 cents more at the pump than regular diesel. But that is a small amount when you consider the increased energy efficiency, the reduction in air bound contaminants to the environment, and the reduced dependency on foreign suppliers. With backing from the State of Texas, this can be implemented on a much larger scale to help alleviate a potential disaster in the event of a spot shortage. With a State sponsored program, we can ensure that the critical infrastructure comprised of commercial and government transportation do not come to a halt in the event of a disaster.
- Texas Department of Transportation (10-2005) Request for Information
- (2004) DFW Biodiesel homepage. http://www.dfwbiodiesel.com/
- (2005) Truman Arnold Companies. http://www.trumanarnoldcompanies.com/contact.htm
- (2005) Wikipedia. http://www.wikipedia.org/
- Gene Murray (2005) Diesel Pollution Suggested as Responsible for 879 Deaths in Texas Per Year http://www.wh-m.com/mt/archives/2005/03/diesel_pollutio.html
- BioDiesel Emissions http://www.biodiesel.org/pdf_files/fuelfactsheets/emissions.pdf
- Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide http://www.oism.org/pproject/s33p36.htm
- (10-2003) Principles for Evaluating the Human Health Risks from Petroleum Hydrocarbons in Soils http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/yourenv/consultations/504965/?version=1&lang=_e
- Frequently Asked Questions About Diesel Emissions http://www.nett.ca/faq_diesel.html
- BioWillie Articles of Interest http://www.wnbiodiesel.com/articles.html
- (6-2001) OK's Tax Relief for Water Portion of Diesel Fuel Emulsions http://corporate.lubrizol.com/PressRoom/news/2001/0620-texas.asp
- Window on State Govt. Texas Production and Consumption http://www.window.state.tx.us/ecodata/prodcons1.html
- Dixon, Chris New York Times Recipe for Car Power: Heat Vegetable Oil, Flip Switch, and Go
- Mello, Tara Baukus (11-2005) Diesel, Dirty No More http://www.edmunds.com/advice/specialreports/articles/93338/article.html
- Fuel Economy Government Website 2006 Model Year Vehicles http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/FEG2006_GasolineVehicles.pdf
- Biodiesel Blog (3-2004) Biodiesel Subsidies http://biodieselblog.com/2004/03/biodiesel-subsidies.shtml
- (06-2005) US Biodiesel presentation before the Brazilian Institute for Petroleum and Gas http://www.unr.edu/coba/logis/executive_education/Jess%20Hewitt%20June27.pdf

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