Biodiesel on a smaller level
Can you imagine filling
up your car with fuel made from soy beans and corn oil?
What about getting a car to start on a cold day by pouring
hot coffee into it? Well, many people are using an alternative
fuel made from vegetables.
What makes this possible?
Biodiesel. Where does it come from? The biosphere, according
to David Williamson, manager of the Ecology Center in
Berkeley, California. During photosynthesis, plants consume
the carbon dioxide already existing in our atmosphere
as they release oxygen and produce oils stored in their
seeds, he said.
Does biodiesel really
work? Yes. In fact, all 180 vehicles belonging to the
city of Berkeley run on one hundred percent biodiesel,
including the Ecology Center’s fleet of recycling
In 2004, about 30 million
gallons of biodiesel were sold according to Jenna Higgins,
spokesperson for the National Biodiesel Board. That number
is up from 500,000 gallons sold in 1999. Higgins says
the reason for the tremendous growth is the reduced emissions
produced by the alternative fuel and the fact that little
or no modifications need to be made to a diesel vehicle
in order to use it.
Biodiesel can be used
as a fuel all by itself (B100—meaning 100% biodiesel)
or in a blend (B2, B20, B80—it can be blended it
Using biodiesel does
reduce greenhouse gasses according to a report by the
U.S. Department of Energy in 2001. It says that biodiesel
produces 78% less carbon dioxide than diesel fuel, and
lists biodiesel’s impact on other emissions as well.
David Williamson, manager
of the Ecology Center in Berkeley, says using B100 in
their trucks has gone quite well since they learned what
the likely problems are. The most common cause of “biodiesel
tragedies” according to Williamson is mold and bacteria
in the fuel tank. He said they prevent that now by putting
a biocide in the fuel tank.
Williamson said other
problems to look out for include leaks and problems with
the electrical system and lift pump. Biodiesel also tends
to gel w
hen it’s cold, according
to Williamson. He said you can use a four point suppressant
to prevent this. He added that pouring hot coffee into
the fuel tank also works.
Higgins painted a rosier
picture of using biodiesel, but was generally speaking
of using a B20 blend. She admitted that using B100 would
amplify biodiesel problems. You can use B20 in the cold
as long as you buy it from a reputable dealer, according
Higgins also said that
B20 is used in even the coldest climates, and cited Glacier
National Park in Montana as an example.
Another option is to
make your own biodiesel. The Berkeley Ecology Center offers
classes on how to make biodiesel for small scale and individual
For more information,