The Culture Artist

Green transportation: biodeisel

By Chuck Hall          Send a link to a friend

[April 23, 2007]  Did you know that the inventor of the diesel engine, Rudolph Diesel, intended it to run on pure peanut oil? His original vision for the diesel engine was as a steam engine replacement that could be run on fuels that farmers would have readily available. Peanut oil was one of those fuels. It was later discovered that his engine could run just as well on what later became diesel fuel, a byproduct of the gasoline distillation process. Since diesel fuel was less expensive than peanut oil, Diesel's original vision for his engine was cast aside.

Diesel vehicle owners worldwide are rediscovering Diesel's original intent as they search for sustainable fuel alternatives. A sustainable alternative to petroleum-based diesel, known as "biodiesel," is gaining popularity as more people learn about it. Even celebrities are getting in on it. Woody Harrelson of television's "Cheers" is a vocal supporter of biodiesel (www.voiceyourself.com) and guitarist and songwriter Willie Nelson even has his own brand of biodiesel, called "Biowillie" (www.biowillie.com).

Biodiesel can be used in almost any car or truck with a diesel engine. It is nontoxic and biodegradable. Certain types of biodiesel may damage gaskets in older vehicles, so before trying to run it in your diesel vehicle, you might want to check to see if yours is biodiesel-compatible. You can find a list of biodiesel-compatible makes at the National Biodiesel Board's site at www.biodiesel.org.

One drawback of biodiesel is that it tends to gel in the engine fuel lines in cold weather. A way around this is to use a heater on your engine in cold weather. This heater assures that the engine remains at a high enough temperature to keep the fuel from gelling in the lines. Another method of dealing with this problem is to mix biodiesel with regular diesel fuel. The problem here is that mixing it with a fossil-fuel based product reduces its sustainability factor, but since you'd only have to do this in the winter months, it shouldn't be much of a problem.

If you're a "hands-on" sort of person, you can even learn to make your own biodiesel at home from recycled fryer grease! The complete instructions are available many places online. A good place to start is http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_make.html.

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I personally know several people who have worked out deals with local restaurants to cart off their used fryer grease so they can make their own fuel at home. A word of caution if you go this route: You might want to let the local sheriff's department know what you're up to so they won't think you're making moonshine!

Another drawback is that if you're not the do-it-yourself type, it may be hard to find biodiesel in your area. The National Biodiesel Board maintains a list of filling stations that carry biodiesel, so you can check with them first if you're considering making the switch. The advantage to burning biodiesel is that if your vehicle will run on biodiesel, it will also run on regular diesel. This means that if you can't find biodiesel, you can always use regular diesel in a pinch.

If you don't have a diesel vehicle right now but are considering purchasing one so that you may use biodiesel, I'd suggest buying an older model first, after checking the National Biodiesel Board's list of compatible autos. The reason for this is that using biodiesel will void most manufacturers' warranties. An older vehicle won't be under warranty, so that won't be an issue. Manufacturers are slowly coming around, though. B20, a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent regular diesel, was just approved under warranty for some makes and models; however, progress is slow and it may be some time before B100 (pure biodiesel) won't void your warranty. If you don't mind taking a chance on an older vehicle, biodiesel might just be your key to sustainable driving.

[Text from file received from Chuck Hall]

Chuck Hall is a sustainability consultant and author. His latest book, "Green Circles: A Sustainable Journey from the Cradle to the Grave," will be available in July. You may contact him by e-mail at chuck@cultureartist.org or visit the Culture Artist site at www.cultureartist.org.

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