The Issue of Biodiesel
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Biodiesel sustainability is an issue yet to be agreed upon.
Biodiesel is definitely RENEWABLE energy in the strictest sense of the word because crops used for the feedstock can always be re-grown, regardless of whether or not the practices involved are responsible. We can compare this to petroleum diesel, which is not considered renewable because petroleum is made from the remains of plants and animals decomposing within the earth’s crust over huge periods of time.
Since this is such a two-sided issue, with no easy way to determine who is correct I will simply expose you to each side of the issue.
Those Who Say it IS Sustainable Claim:
• It reduces carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, particulate matter, and benzene, thus slowing the pollution of the earth.
• Using biodiesel decreases carbon dioxide emissions to half that of petroleum diesel.
• The feedstock crops consume carbon dioxide during photosynthesis making up for any carbon dioxide emitted when the fuel is burned.
• It biodegrades quickly and is non-toxic.
as a feedstock crop is not competitive with food since it is poisonous and can be grown in marginal lands where many food crops can not be grown.
• Producing biodiesel from waste vegetable oil is sustainable since the oil would have otherwise been disposed of.
• Sustainability seems especially promising with algae (if it works out) since it doesn't have to use farmland and of course consumes greenhouse gasses as it grows.
Those Who Claim it’s NOT Sustainable Say:
• It increases nitrous oxide emissions when made from straight vegetable oil. Nitrous oxide causes almost 300 times more of a warming effect per unit of weight than carbon dioxide.
• Biodiesel produced from food crops or crops that replace food crops competes with food supply and raises food prices.
• Some fear if it comes to food vs. fuel, those who own vehicles and have more money will cause the crops to go towards fuel production rather than food and this will cause people to starve.
• Not all feedstock crops are sustainable, for example if biodiesel were made from only soybeans, it would take about four times the current cropland in America to replace the diesel needs in just this country.
• Feedstock oil demand contributes to deforestation in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia where they are clearing rainforests to make room for palm plantations. These rainforests once took in massive amounts of CO2 and released oxygen. Removing these forests is much worse for the environment than biodiesel is good for it.
A Summary on Biodiesel Sustainability:
• Biodiesel is a great way to gain more energy independence in America, create new jobs, and for home-brewers to save a few bucks.
• Not all types of feedstock crops are sustainable or environmentally friendly. Algae is an exciting feedstock alternative which may one day end the biodiesel sustainability debate once and for all. Hopefully technology will allow for algae biodiesel in the near future.
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