March 18 is National Biodiesel Day. Biodiesel is a renewable and biodegradable replacement for petroleum fuel. It can be used in vehicles and building heating systems. Biofuels are made primarily from animal fats, inedible corn oil, recycled cooking oil, and vegetable oils. The primary source in the U.S. is soybean oil.
There are a few types of biomass-based diesel fuels in use. Most often, they are used in blends with petroleum diesel. These blends are referred to as B2, B5, or B20. The pure, unblended, renewable diesel is called R100. The renewable diesel and petroleum diesel blends are called R2, R5, R20. These numbers indicate the percentage of biofuel in a gallon of diesel fuel.
The boost in production started as a way to reduce the U.S. dependence on foreign oil. And it turns out biodiesels have some advantages, such as fewer tailpipe emissions and reducing the net carbon dioxide emissions by 78%. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas pollutant emissions, biofuels can reduce resource depletion and dependence on foreign suppliers. According to Car and Driver, biodiesel was the U.S. government’s preferred fuel type. Among states, California seems to be the leader in biodiesel consumption.
Biodiesel also has some disadvantages. Because of how it is produced, biodiesel has to be stored at the right temperature; otherwise, it can grow mold or become too thick. Biodiesel can also affect vehicles by releasing deposits on the tank walls and pipes, which can cause fuel filter clogs. And according to the EPA, because biofuels are made from the feedstock, they require land, water, and other resources. Ironically, biofuels’ production may cause changes in land use that could increase GHG emissions, put pressure on water resources, cause air and water pollution, and even increase food costs. A promising solution to the biodiesel drawbacks is using algae, but that is still too expensive to be commercialized.
So far, electric vehicles seem to be the better option to reduce emissions. However, since we have little time to reduce emissions, these two options will probably co-exist until we find ways to improve our chances.
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