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Biodiesel – what's all the fuss about?

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Biodiesel – harnessing power from the soil below our feet

Why Biodiesel?
Rising levels of air pollution and their consequences have led to much concern about reducing fuel emissions.
Other than improved combustion in vehicles, the possibility of using fuel that leads to less carbon emissions has also been explored.
One of the options that has showed promising results is biodiesel.

biodiesel, alternative to fossil fuel

Biodiesel is renewable

What is Biodiesel?
In simplest terms biodiesel can be described as an environment-friendly fuel that leads to less harmful emissions.
It is made from oils extracted from plants and animals like rapeseed, soy, flax, algae, palm oil and so on.
Blended with diesel, it can be used without making any special modifications to existing diesel engines.
Biodiesel can also be used singly as fuel without changes to diesel engine designs.

Fossil fuels are not carbon neutral
Fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, diesel, natural gas, on the other hand,  are naturally formed over centuries from the remains of prehistoric animals and plants and so on.
Thus it goes without saying that these are limited in availability as against biodiesel which can be made from harvested crops.

biodiesel, fossil fuel diesel, diesel

Carbon Matters

Bio-diesel is cleaner diesel
But the major difference between the two is the impact that they have on the environment.
Diesel fuel is a leading culprit of carbon dioxide emissions along with sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.
However biodiesel gives out considerably less carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, with no sulphur dioxide at all.
This makes them more environment friendly though the amount of carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere is same for diesel and biodiesel.
We all know that we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.

This colorless gas is also emitted during combustion of fuel, generation of power, decay of organic material and volcano eruptions.
It is found in the atmosphere in low volumes and helps to maintain the needed temperatures for survival of life on earth.
The problem arises when increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to a rise in global temperatures.

Carbon dioxide or CO2 is described as a greenhouse gas because it absorbs heat and infra red rays from the sun and then releases them into  the atmosphere instead of letting it escape to space.
Unfortunately human activities have contributed to higher carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. This in turn has led to higher temperatures and global warming.

Nature has its own way of balancing out and traditionally excess carbon dioxide has been eliminated from the atmosphere through photosynthesis by plants and by absorption into oceans.
Some scientisits say  carbon dioxide emissions today far exceed nature’s capacity to remove it from the atmosphere. Thus, they argue, it is up to humans to make conscious efforts to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Among the several methods that can be used to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is planting more trees, arresting deforestation and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon neutral – what’s that about then?    Is Biodiesel carbon neutral?

Since a major portion of carbon emissions comes from combustion of fuel by diesel engines, a lot of emphasis is placed on fuel that is carbon neutral.
Carbon neutral does not mean that it does not release any carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It simply means that we try to eliminate at least the same amount of carbon dioxide as we set free in the atmosphere.

So how is biodiesel carbon neutral?
Biodiesel is made from crops which means that though on the one hands it releases carbon dioxide when it is burnt.
But on the other hand, the plants that are grown as crops to make biodiesel remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Thus, it gets balanced out.

Biodiesel may be a better option as far as the environment is concerned but a major concern for car owners is what effect does it have on a diesel engine. Biodiesel that is made to professional standards is as good as ordinary diesel. In fact, it acts as a cleaning agent and any dirt left in the engine by petro diesel will be cleaned out. There is one modification that has to be made and that is remove rubber parts that come in contact with biodiesel as it dissolves them. They can be replaced with synthetic rubber or teflon parts.

In all, biodiesel has come up as a great alternative to diesel and diesel engine manufacturers today have begun to offer the same warranty for their products regardless of whether consumers use diesel or bio-diesel.