All liquid biofuels are controversial, and most can be sustainably produced under some conditions and be disastrous under others.
Biodiesel is a renewable fuel that can be easily used in unmodified diesel engines in equipment including bus and truck fleets, heavy equipment, and diesel cars and boats.
Pure biodiesel (B100) is a very clean burning, non-toxic fuel. Biodiesel can also be blended with any percentage of petro-diesel to meet a variety of purposes. A B20 (20% B100 biodiesel + 80% petro-diesel) blend is the most commonly used in North America, as it does not require any operational changes.
Biodiesel reduces air toxins, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and sulphur dioxide which causes acid rain. Vehicle performance, storage, and maintenance requirements are all comparable to petro-diesel except in very cold conditions.
Biodiesel is not the same as running a car on straight vegetable oil (SVO). Please follow this link to learn more about SVO.
Almost everyone agrees on the benefits of utilizing waste oils that would otherwise be thrown away. Biodiesel can be made from used cooking oils, and even oils recovered from sewer grease traps. However, waste oils can only provide a tiny fraction of the diesel oil now burned. It is biodiesel from crops such as oil palm, canola and Soya beans that is the most controversial. In the future, biodiesel might be made from algae or other sources but the feasibility of large scale production has not been proven.
The European Union's decision to increase the import of biodiesel and other
liquid biofuels, supposedly to reduce GHG emissions, has set off a storm of
controversy. One of the most often cited problems is that clearing and burning
forests to grow oil crops can produce as much as ten times as much GHG emissions
per liter of fuel as conventional oil. The other environmental effects of deforestation
are also very substantial.
There are also very serious human rights concerns over the forced displacement of small farmers in countries such as Columbia by government-supported biofuel corporations.
Presently there are no Canadian laws restricting the importation of biofuels from non-sustainable sources; and such laws might face challenges under the North American Free Trade Agreement or World Trade Organization regulations.
In North America, the two main crops that are used to produce biodiesel are soybeans (US) and canola (Canada). The oil is extracted from the soybean and the canola seed, which is then processed into biodiesel. Soybeans are grown both for their protein and oil. Both canola and soy oils are used as food for humans and animals, so there is controversy over the potential for wealthy car drivers in places such as Canada to drive the price of food up out of reach of low-income consumers globally. However, increased prices could benefit farmers in some areas, and could even lead to a reversal of the global exodus from farms to cities.
What's Happening in BC
In the 2007 federal budget, Canada committed to a 2% renewable fuel standard for diesel fuel and heating oil. This will create a market for ~650 million litres of biodiesel per year. The budget also announced $2 billion for renewable fuel production incentives.
In the 2004 budget, the Province of British Columbia amended the Alternative
Motor Fuel Tax Act, allowing the biodiesel portion of a biodiesel blend to be
exempt from the provincial motor fuel tax.
Although biodiesel is not yet being manufactured commercially in BC, we have one of the largest markets for biodiesel in the Country.
What Does it Cost?
In the past the biodiesel industry's lack of growth on a global scale was mainly attributed to the low cost of petroleum diesel and the high cost of vegetable based oils. The cost of these 'feedstocks' can be up to 70% of the manufacturing costs of biodiesel. For this reason, biodiesel has tended to be more expensive than petro-diesel, sometimes as much as double. With the recent increase in petroleum prices over the past few years, combined with tax incentives and production incentives, biodiesel is now being sold at the same price as diesel in many regions, and in some cases at a discount to diesel.
Vegetable oil is too viscous to be run in a modern diesel engine without pre-heating. The fundamental purpose for turning vegetable oil into biodiesel is to reduce its viscosity making it comparable to diesel fuel. This is done by removing the glycerol from the vegetable oil and replacing it with methanol (occasionally ethanol). The finished product must meet the ASTM D6751 standard for biodiesel before being sold commercially.
Biodiesel process technology is well proven; the processing technology used to make biodiesel has been around for over 100 years. Current technology has just improved upon efficiencies of scale and operation.
To make use of waste oils, and since biodiesel availability is limited in many areas of BC, some people are choosing to make it themselves in small batches at home. There are many online resources available to help you. (See the links below.) A word of caution, however: "homebrew" biodiesel rarely meets any of the biodiesel standards that have been developed, and by using it; you run the risk of voiding your vehicle warranty. Homebrew biodiesel is for personal use only and cannot be sold commercially as biodiesel.
BC Biofleet (commercial
suppliers, biodiesel station map, videos, case studies, emission calculator,
news and much more)
Bio Based News (global up to date news on biodiesel)
Biodiesel: Basics and Beyond by William Kemp (homebrew info)
Biodiesel Meet-Up (find others interested in starting a biodiesel group)
Biodiesel Solutions (Canadian biodiesel advocacy organization)
Biofuels Watch UK (campaigns against bioenergy from unsustainable sources)
Canadian Renewable Fuels Association (trade association representing biodiesel and ethanol in Canada)
EcoFuels Canada (online biofuels trading platform)
Journey to Forever (homebrew info)
National Biodiesel Board (the most comprehensive site for biodiesel information on the web)
Express quits biofuel experiment
One of Britain's leading transport groups has cast doubt over the green credentials of biofuels after pulling out of a trial amid fears that it was doing more harm than good to the environment.
vs. Fuel, Business Week Magazine
As energy demands devour crops once meant for sustenance, the economics of agriculture are being rewritten.
Biofuel gangs kill for green profits, by Tony Allen-Mills. The Sunday Times UK, June 3, 2007.
Lethal Solution, by George Monbiot. The Guardian, 27th March 2007.
We need a five-year freeze on biofuels, before they wreck the planet.
or Fuel, Journey to Forever
A common objection to biomass energy production is that it could divert agricultural production away from food crops in a hungry world -- even leading to mass starvation in the poor countries. True or not?
Page written by Eric Doherty for the BC Sustainable Energy Association, 2008.