June 3, 2009

Biodiesel can result in no GHG emissions

Jim Harris
Magazine Article

By: Jordana Levine

Biodiesel can produce 100 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum diesel, depending on the components used to create it.[1]  The non-toxic diesel is a new way to decrease emissions from vehicles, without having to eliminate the concept of putting fuel in a car.

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel that is usually made from vegetable oil, reused cooking oil, animal fat.  It is most often created through a process called transesterification, meaning the oil is combined with alcohol and a catalyst.  This results in the production of biodiesel.[2]  The biodisel can be used in any diesel engine and blended with regular diesel in any intensity. While pure biodiesel can emit 60 to 100 percent fewer greenhouse gases than petroleum, a 20 percent blend, called B-20, which is more commonly used, still produces 12 to 18 percent fewer emissions. In fact, even a two percent blend (B-2) has a small impact.[3]

Biodiesel is kinder to the environment than regular petroleum diesel.  Not only is it a biodegradable fuel, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions, as well as particulate matter from tailpipes, hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide in many engines. Although lower concentrations of biodiesel are often used, pure biodiesel can eliminate 67 percent of unburned hydrocarbons and 48 percent of carbon monoxide compared to petroleum diesel.  The numbers change when using different concentrations of biodiesel, but they are still significant.[4]

It also helps fight against global warming because it has a closed carbon cycle, meaning that the CO2 released when biodiesel is burned is absorbed fully by plants that are growing.  The plants are then processed and used to create clean fuel again.  With fossil fuels, it does not work the same way and the CO2 is left to linger in the air.  Unfortunately, it still takes some fossil fuel use to create biodiesel, so the carbon footprint is not completely eliminated.[5]  Also, the crops that are grown to create biodiesel release emissions and take up land.

Montreal Biobus

Although it is not yet widely available, biodiesel has been tested and mandates have been proposed for increased use of the diesel. In Canada, biodiesel has been tested on buses in Montreal, Saskatoon, Halifax and Toronto: Toronto Hydro fleet vehicles are using B-5 (five percent concentrations) and B-20;[6] Saskatoon Transit Services is comparing two buses with B-5 with two non-biodiesel buses; downtown Montreal has 155 buses fueled with B-5 and B-20 to examine how biodiesel reacts in cold weather, and also to look at economic and environmental effects of biodiesel.[7]

The Canadian government also helped fund the construction of a demonstration plant in Oakville, Ontario that could produce one million litres of biodiesel.[8]  Other plants have been created as well.  Rothsay Biodiesel is one example of a company that has built biodiesel plants.  The company, which is a division of Maple Leaf Foods, recycles 6.7 million kilograms of food by-products from meat processing plants daily.[9]


Rothsay Bodiesel Plant in Montreal

The US is also jumping into biodiesel.  In early May of 2009, President Barack Obama instructed the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to form a group supporting the development of biodiesel.  The EPA has already started the implementation of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), which says there should be 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022 – enough to cut petroleum consumption by 11 percent.  Some states, such as Illinois and Iowa and Minnesota have passed biodiesel mandates.[10]

1  Natural Resources Canada, Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE).  http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/transportation/fuels/biodiesel/biodiesel-benefits.cfm?attr=16
2  Canadian Renewable Fuels Association (CRFA). http://www.greenfuels.org/biofaq.php?id=db0fb154-4132-102b-b3dc-0030488d2a96
3  OEE.  http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/transportation/fuels/biodiesel/biodiesel-benefits.cfm?attr=16
4  CRFA.  http://www.greenfuels.org/biofaq.php?id=c1fa7953-4285-102b-b3dc-0030488d2a96
5  CRFA. http://www.greenfuels.org/biofaq.php?id=f1397af8-4285-102b-b3dc-0030488d2a96
6  OEE. http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/transportation/fuels/biodiesel/biodiesel-availability.cfm?attr=16
7  OEE. http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/transportation/fuels/biodiesel/biodiesel-research.cfm?attr=16
8  Ibid.
9  Rothsay Biodiesel.  http://www.rothsaybiodiesel.com/about/
10  Delta Farm Press. http://deltafarmpress.com/biofuels/biodiesel-epa-calculations-0520/

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