At the turn of the 21st Century, campaigns condemning environmental degradation dotted most places and graced the pages of most bio-safety journals, informed by the dire effects posed by pollutants on the environment. There has been a perceived backlash in the sustained usage of fossil fuels (petroleum products), in light of their contribution to environmental pollution and the speculative depletion of reserves in the not-so-far future (McCormick 87). The search for safer fuel alternatives has been sustained thus far, riding on the tide of efforts to go green and halt the rollercoaster ride towards irreversible consequences. This is the platform for the advocacy of biodiesel usage, considered a friendlier alternative, its shortcomings notwithstanding. Perhaps the most notable characteristics of this fuel are its derivation from animal fats, vegetable oils, and greases recycled from the gutters of restaurants, and the fact that it pollutes less compared to petrol-diesel. The chemical compound of the finished product consists of alkyl esters. B100 is its pure, usable form but it is usually blended with petroleum diesel to fit certain energy specifications.
Pros of this alternative source of fuel
As a substitute, sustained usage of biodiesel reduces dependence on petroleum products and other natural sources of fuel such as natural gas and coal. The advantage here is double-edged; while this reduced dependence boosts energy security of a country with elaborate plans for alternative fuel utility, it makes use of raw materials easily available and which can be replenished. Recycled greases also reduce pollution emanating from their disposal. Research is on-going on the uses of algae and the jatropha plant as sources of biodiesel that will boost production and increase availability (McCormick 60). This fuel presents a probable solution to the seemingly ever-propounding energy crises in the transport and farming sectors.
Research has been done extensively on its efficiency in driving diesel engines, and found to perform just as well as petro-diesel. This has been enabled by advanced technology in the automobile sector which has focused on addressing the perceived underperformance of biodiesel. Modern engines have been modified and tailored to run on this alkyl compound with greater performance results. Synthetic rubber has replaced some of the metallic components, blotting out the need for extensive modification of diesel engines to consume bio-fuel. Also addressing this concern has been the blending of the two types of diesel to achieve greater efficacy (Solway 22).
Biodiesel extends the lifespan of engines running on it. This is attributed to its improved lubrication capabilities that decelerate engine wear and lubricate fuel injectors. A 1% addition of biodiesel improves lubrication by up to 30% (McCormick 102).
Biodiesel blends conform to the requirements of most regulatory authorities that direct owners of vehicles and machinery consuming petrol-diesel to lower sulfur, carbon monoxide and ozone-forming hydrocarbon emissions to counter air pollution; Sulfur emissions have adverse health effects on plant and animal life. Its higher Cetane rating means a higher ignition rate that translates to lowering of noise pollution. It is evidently an environmentally safer option compared to its competitor (Schubert 77).
It is a clean and cost-effective fuel, usable with a wide range of machinery at the production level such as farm equipment and trucks used for transportation. The refineries for bio-fuel products emit less pollutants compared to petroleum refinery plants. The classification of biodiesel as non-flammable by the Occupational Safety and Health administration is a plus characteristic propping its usability as a safe alternative that is also bio-degradable (Solway).
The natural habitat stands to be affected the most in negative terms arising from the production of biodiesel. Large swathes of land are required for the growth of crops that produce virgin oil used in its production. There are concerns that natural habitats especially in developing countries will be cleared to make room for production fields, a situation that may pose lethal effects on the maintenance of biodiversity (Schubert).
There is the secondary effect of an increase in food prices when food crops are replaced with plants such as jatropha and rape seed which are used to feed biodiesel refineries. The challenge here is that farmers may find biofuel crops more lucrative than food production. Increase in food prices accompany rise in inflation, a situation that has gross negative macroeconomic effects (Schubert).
The uses of Biodiesel
Theoretically, biodiesel runs every diesel engine, including those of vehicles and plant machinery. It is used as heating oil in boilers, both commercial and domestic. There are electricity generators that also make use of this fuel (Solway 22). Other uses include lubrication additives and home heating.
Conclusion on Economic and Environmental feasibility
Environmental Impact Assessments have rendered most first-generation biofuels that make use of virgin oil unsustainable on both economic and environmental fronts. This has pushed further the quest for more alternatives such as compressed air and hydrogen. On a positive note, biodiesel has the potential of suppressing carbon emissions which possess myriad resounding negatives. However, its production poses long-term destruction of natural habitat if proper planning and regulation are not carried out. The replacement of food crops with the production of raw materials for this fuel presents a real economic challenge, and the food verses fuel controversy can only be quelled by substituting crop fuel with waste biomass. On the overall, it qualifies as a source of fuel that can replace its counterparts when the mentioned challenges and concerns are addressed.
McCormick, R. L. Empirical Study of the Stability of Biodiesel and Biodiesel Blends
Darby: DIANE Publishing, 2009.
Schubert, R. Future Bioenergy and Sustainable Land Use. Oxford: Earthscan, 2010.
Solway, Andrew. Energy for the Future and Global Warming: Biofuels: Easyread
Large Edition. Sydney: ReadHowYouWant.com, 2008.