28 May, 2009

About biodiesel

I've seen too many discussions about bio diesel that aren't about bio diesel at all. There's a lot of people confusing bio diesel with recycled fryer oil. Bio diesel is processed from vegetable oil (soy beans mostly) and ends up being, for the most part, like petroleum diesel. Fryer oil is a different story. The people burning old fryer oil (it has to be vegetable oil and not animal fat) are essentially burning it as it is. Of course, it has to be filtered properly and there's usually a fuel heater involved. Can fryer oil be filtered and then processed into bio diesel? Yes. Can vegetable oil be dumped straight into a fuel tank? Yes, but keep your mechanic on speed dial and don't bitch when he hands you the repair bill. A diesel engine will run on just about anything that's combustible. It won't run reliably, or for very long without breaking down, but it will run. A diesel will even run on the engine's lube oil. Just ask someone who's experienced a turbo charger failure about that one. If you're thinking that bio diesel is a wonderful thing and the answer to all of this countries oil dependency and environmental problems, you might be wearing rose colored glasses. Firstly, the manufacturing capacity for a major switch to bio diesel isn't up to the task. Yet. Secondly, 100% bio diesel does NOT mix well with winter in the northern climates. It CAN perform well in cold temperatures, but it has to be treated properly. Truckers are used to treating fuel in the winter, so this wouldn't be a major issue in big trucks. The average Joe (and I'm being honest here) won't treat the fuel. Average Joe wants the convenience of pulling up to the pump, swiping a credit card, filling the tank and driving off. Lastly, bio diesel when it appeared on a large scale, blended in with petroleum diesel (B5, B10, B20) it got a bad rap. Bio diesel also has the image of being a "tree-huggin' hippie fuel" (I actually heard a truck driver say this) and not a "manly-man" fuel like petroleum diesel. The biggest problem that I have seen with bio diesel is that the average Joe didn't bother to learn anything about it. Had they picked up a trade magazine or had done some internet searches, they would've found out that bio diesel is an excellent solvent. 100% bio diesel (B100) all the way down to a 20% bio/80% petroleum blend (B20) is going to cause some initial problems for the first few fill ups. Fuel systems using petroleum based diesel are always a bit grungy, especially at the bottom of the tank. Switching over to a B20 or higher blend is going to scrub the fuel system clean. Guess where all of the crap ends up? That's right, in the fuel filter(s) right where it's supposed to go. The catch is that the filter(s) have to be changed more often until the fuel system has been cleaned out (the switch from "low sulfur diesel" to "ultra-low sulfur diesel" caused a similar problem). When you mix alarmingly frequent fuel filter changes with a notoriously technology-fearing group like the majority of truck drivers out there, the fuel itself makes for a convenient scapegoat. The last thing I want to mention is cost as it relates to the people producing their own bio diesel. You can't realistically expect to produce bio diesel at home for personal use and expect to spend less money than you would if you purchased your fuel down at the corner Qwik Stop. At least not until Billy Mays starts selling the "Home bio diesel" kits for $19.99 on some info-mercial. My closing thoughts are these. Bio diesel is a good thing, and I'd like to see more people using it, even if it's only one of the blends out there. The manufacturers of both bio diesel and diesel engines will have to get things working well in cold temperatures without much, if any, involvement from drivers. Reliably. Finally, the general public needs to be educated about bio diesel.

Take a trip to www.biodiesel.org and read up.