Biodiesel pros and cons (mostly pros)

CO2 is CO2—let’s cut to the chase

Photo Illustration by Mazi Noble

Some people argue that recycled-veggie-oil (RVO) biodiesel poses problems because it still contributes carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. C’mon folks—the products of any complete aerobic organic-combustion process, whether in our cars or our bodies, is the same: CO2 and water.

We exhale carbon dioxide as a byproduct of our own respiration, and plants need CO2 to make their food through photosynthesis. It amazes me how the significance and miraculousness of this relationship seems to be lost on many humans.

Face it, we are CO2 and CO2 is us.

So, of course, the burning of nearly any organic fuel for energy will release CO2. That is just how it is. A law of the universe. Chemistry. Destiny. Call it what you will. No way around it. Deal with it.

And, sorry, the Earth knows no difference between CO2 molecules coming from a Hummer and those spewed out by a bunch of environmentalists who drive and fly to conferences on climate change.

Still, Mike Bevard, Foothills Green Biodiesel, SpringBoard Biodiesel and so many folks like this are unsung heroes. Evidence indicates that RVO-based fuel is better for the environment than other fuels in wider use.

According to the Consumer Energy Council of America, RVO releases into the atmosphere as much CO2 as it took in when originally processed, and recycling it by grabbing it from buckets behind a restaurant does not add much more (especially if used-oil sources are local).

The National Outdoor Leadership School reports that vegetable oil burned as fuel does not emit sulfur dioxide, and that RVO fuel produces 78 percent less CO2, 48 percent less carbon monoxide, 48 percent less asthma-causing particulate matter and 80 percent less cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) than petroleum diesel.

Other benefits cited are improved public health, bolstered local economies and national fuel security. Biodiesel is nearly as biodegradable as a sugar, so it breaks down roughly four times faster than petroleum diesel.

Veggie-based biodiesel can be blended with regular diesel to stretch out a dollar and spare the air. As CECA explains, “a blend of 20 percent biodiesel will reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 15 percent, and adding biodiesel also reduces the amount of particulates (PM), carbon monoxide (CO), and sulfur dioxide (SO2) released as emissions.”

While RVO is considered one of the most efficient alternative fuels available, cons include higher levels of harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions when used in diesel engines. Biodiesel can also be a pain in the gas tank during the winter, as it can go solid on you at low temperatures, so it may not be as easy to use in colder climates.

Also, major biodiesel organizations are quick to mention American Society for Testing and Materials Standards, which mass-produced biodiesel must meet. These standards are something the garage-biodiesel folks may not be too worried about as long as the car starts up.