Why Alternative Fuel, Such as Biodiesel, is Important

The world is slowly being expended. All usable fuel already exists within the confines of the earth and once it is all used, there is no way of replenishing it. This, along with many other reasons, has caused countries to look towards other fuel sources, biodiesel. Biodiesel yields a variety of benefits as well as consequences that need to be surveyed when contemplating whether biodiesel should replace a portion of the petrodiesel market to alleviate the consumption of natural resources.

History of Biodiesel and the Diesel Engine

The diesel engine was invented in 1892 by a man named Rudolf Diesel. This video displays a Michigan Tech student demonstrating the logistics of the engine:

Originally, the diesel engine had been designed to run off of a variety of fuels, with the main fuel being vegetable oil. In the 1920’s, however, diesel engines were modified to accommodate petroleum-derived fuel for the sake of a cheaper fuel source. This new fuel source costed less and was more plentiful than vegetable oils, so it was appealing to the diesel engine industry (Schmidt 3). Disaster struck in 1973 during the Arab Oil Embargo where oil-exporting nations banned the sale of petroleum products to the United States for their support of Israel in the Arab-Israel war. Fuel prices surged nearly four times the original price in a manner of 24 hours and it sent the United States into a state of frenzy for fuel (Friedman 15). Many people began to look towards vegetable oil once again, but the oil was too thick for the modified engines. It was then concluded that the oil needed to be modified to meet the needs of the engines (Schmidt 3). This was the beginning of biodiesel in the United States.

Manufacturing Process of Biodiesel

Biodiesel is a fuel source that can be made from a variety of vegetable oils, animal fats, old cooking oil, and even algae (Pahl 2).The oil produced by these sources is too thick to
A vague representation of the production of biodiesel (picture taken from: R. Thomas, et al. "Biodiesel: A Renewable And Biodegradable Fuel." Hydrocarbon Processing 85.2 (2006): 103-106. Academic Search Complete. Web. 3 Apr. 2013.)

run in regular diesel engines so the molecules are made smaller to create a more viscous oil through a process called transesterification. This process was used by South Africans in World War Two to manufacture biodiesel for war vehicles (Schmidt 3). It involves mixing a catalyst, an alcohol, water, and a feedstock (such as vegetable or old frying oil) that will serve as the base for the biodiesel. The catalyst, which is used to make the reaction proceed faster, is added to the alcohol. Normally, sodium hydroxide is used as the catalyst and methanol as the alcohol because these chemicals are more cost efficient
A blend of B20 Biodiesel Fuel
compared to others. The sodium hydroxide, commonly referred to

as lye, mixes with the methanol to form sodium methoxide. The mixture is then added to the feedstock and agitated by heating or stirring to help the reaction occur more rapidly.
Two products are formed: methyl esters (the biodiesel) and glycerin. The glycerin and the left over reactants settle to the bottom of the solution and are able to be drawn off of the bottom after eight hours, leaving the desired oil. The oil is then ‘washed’ with water to remove any remaining methanol, glycerin, or sodium hydroxide. After several days, the water will separate with the oil and be able to be removed to leave the finished product (Pahl 3).Normally, a blend of biodiesel and petroleum derived diesel, commonly referred to as petrodiesel, is then created because unmodified diesel engines cannot be run by 100 percent biodiesel. A common blend is 20 percent biodiesel and 100 percent petroleum-derived diesel. This blend is commonly referred to as B20 (Houlihan 2). A multitude of people manufacture biodiesel from their home because the process is relatively simple and little technology is required (Pahl 2).

Diesel Consumption in the United States

The United States consumes an average of 58 billion gallons of oil per year (Pahl 4), causing the country to be the largest oil consumer in the world. However, around 64 percent of consumed oil is imported from foreign countries such Iraq and Iran, creating an oil dependency on foreign nations (Friedman 14). If the exporting countries should decide to withhold oil sales to the United States as they did in the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, it would create a chaotic clamber for fuel sources. The production and use of biodiesel in the United States would help to alleviate the country’s oil dependency on other countries. It would also create a better sense of security as many of the fuel-exporting nations are unstable and cannot be fully relied on to regularly export sources of fuel (Friedman 15). Another benefit to domestically producing biodiesel is that it would create jobs for American citizens. Currently, the United States produces only 30 million gallons of biodiesel per year (Pahl 4). This amount needs to grow in order for the United States to gain oil independence and security, an option that is becoming more appealing with the rising prices of petroleum products.

Appeal of Biodiesel

Environmentally Friendly

The production and use of biodiesel is an attractive option to the United States for a multitude of reasons. The greater security and oil independence is a large factor in the gravitation towards the use of biodiesel, but many other benefits result, as well. When petroleum-derived products burn, they emit a brew of harmful gases such as carbon dioxide,
With the growing population, more cars consume more oil producing more and more carbon each year, causing harm to the environment

lead, sulfur, carbon monoxide, different forms of hydro-carbons, and other various chemicals called particulate matter or PM. These gases have been linked to cancer, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses and human diseases. The burning of biodiesel fuel could help to reduce these emissions and improve human health. In addition to the health benefits of burning biodiesel, the fuel exudes a pleasant smell when burned that is homogenous to buttered popcorn or salted french fries (Thomas 1). Using biodiesel can also help the earth. The gases emitted from petroleum-derived fuel products are harmful to the environment as well as humans because they create a strata around the earth and trap sunlight, an effect known as Global Warming. Global Warming causes glaciers and icebergs to melt in the Antarctic, raising the sea levels and causing the destruction of many coastal habitats. Some of the gases that cause Global Warming also dissolve into the ocean and into rainwater to create significant amounts of acidity that dissolves coral reefs and important structures such as monuments and ancient ruins. The use of biodiesel can help to mitigate the effects of Global Warming (Solomon 1). Studies have shown that the greater the amounts of biodiesel mixed in with petrodiesel, the greater the reduction of harmful emissions (Houlihan 1). Emissions of particulate matter (PM) in a blend of B20 fuel were proven to be 12 percent lower than the PM emissions of petrodiesel (Houlihan 2) and by using biodiesel, the United States Department of Energy and Department of Agriculture concluded that the carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by around 78 percent (Pahl 4). This is because the carbon that the plants that biodiesel is composed of absorb during their life span is equivalent to the amount of carbon that is let off during the combustion process. This phenomena is something known as being carbon neutral. In addition to being carbon neutral, biodiesel contains 11 percent more oxygen (measured by weight) than petrodiesel, allowing it to burn more cleanly and efficiently to create less toxic gases (Thomas 1). These factors are important to observe when looking at improving overall human health and curbing the effects of Global Warming.

Energy Efficient and Beneficial to Engines

Energy efficiency and engine amicability are also other benefits of using biodiesel fuel. When manufacturing the fuel from soybeans, the feedstock that leads the United States biodiesel market by 90 percent (Schmidt 3), 93 percent more energy is given off than is used to make it (Houlihan 2). Also, no mass is lost in the transesterification process meaning that 100 percent of the soybean oil that goes into the process will completely convert to biodiesel with no lost mass (Thomas 2). In addition to the efficiency in production and use, biodiesel yields many engine benefits, as well. The improved lubricity in biodiesel which is attributed to the greater viscosity can help prolong the life of an engine as well as keep parts running smoothly (Thomas 1). Biodiesel may also be used to fuel houses and would require no major modifications to the furnace. This is similar to the way that a biodiesel blend may be used in diesel engines with no engine modifications required (Pahl 4). The fuel may also be shipped in small quantities by mail-services such as FedEx or UPS because it is not considered to be a hazardous material (Pahl 4), creating easy distribution throughout the country. The benefits of using biodiesel are copious when observing the emissions, engine benefits, and energy efficiency.

Why Biodiesel is not Widely Used Across America

Climate Issues and Diesel Engine Availability

Biodiesel may seem an attractive alternative to petrodiesel fuel, but there are many issues still regarding the product. One issue is the temperature range that biodiesel is able to be efficiently used in. Colder climates constitute a thickening or ‘gelling’ of the fuel that hinders the combustion process while warmer climates enable the growth of mold and bacteria (Pahl 4).
Biodiesel that has gelled up in the colder climate of Colorado
This is a prominent factor to mind when considering whether biodiesel should replace a portion of the petrodiesel market because the climate of the United States varies extensively throughout the span of the country. This perhaps is one reason why biodiesel is not made widely available in the United States. Another reason could be the low population of diesel engine vehicles. Petrodiesel emits large quantities of sulfur that harms the environment and causes several issues regarding public health. Many states including Maine, New York, Massachusetts, California, and Vermont have placed bans on the purchase and sale of diesel cars due to the large sulfur emissions (Schmidt 4). Rather than living in a state that allows diesel cars and paying a little more for the fuel, most people use gasoline cars because it is more affable due to laws and availability. This is an issue because biodiesel cannot benefit the world if there is nothing for it to run in. However, more vehicles are being specifically designed to incorporate the ability to burn biodiesel because of the multiple benefits that the fuel yields. The General Motors company announced that with the 2011 models, the new diesel engines would be able to run with B20 fuel. They were the last company out of the three main vehicle manufacturers (which include Dodge and Ford as well as General Motors) to announce this (Houlihan 4). This proves that the United States is willing to work towards the gradual incorporation of biodiesel fuel in the petrodiesel market.

Nitric Oxide Emissions

Another major problem with transitioning to biodiesel fuel in the United States is the emission of nitric oxide gases (Houlihan 2). These gases cause respiratory illness in the general public and contribute to the progression of Global Warming. The nitric oxide emissions from biodiesel are roughly two percent greater than that of petrodiesel fuel gases (Schmidt 4). If there were a way to reduce the nitric oxide emissions, biodiesel would be more strongly considered as a fuel source and would be 100% environmentally friendly. Yet biodiesel is still considered to be the healthier alternative to petrodiesel because lacks the emissions of PM and other harmful gases. For this reason more than fifty school boards across the United States are requiring their bus systems to burn biodiesel because it is safer for children to breathe in (Pahl 6). Many national parks such as Yellowstone and Universities such as Harvard and Purdue are also using biodiesel for their transportation needs (Pahl 6). Even though the nitric oxide emissions of biodiesel can be harmful to the general public and the environment, biodiesel is still regarded as the healthier alternative fuel when compared to petrodiesel.

Attraction of Commercial Manufacturers

Biodiesel generally yields a higher revenue than the cost required to manufacture the fuel. This makes the biodiesel industry an attractive business to people looking to make a fair amount of money off of a small investment. For this reason, many commercial manufacturers have turned to the production of biodiesel. However, some are only in it for the money and care nothing for the quality of the product. This causes the process to potentially be sloppy and unsafe as well as produce a low-quality biodiesel (Thomas 4). The people who buy and use biodiesel do so because of the engine and environmental benefits among others and if the biodiesel was produced as a low-quality fuel, it could potentially produce unwanted effects for consumers, making them less apt to buy. This harms the biodiesel market tremendously. The National Biodiesel Board, however, has introduced a set of standards to prevent the production of low-quality fuel called ASTM D-6751. These standards are designed to keep the production of biodiesel safe and make sure the ending result is energy efficient and beneficial for engines and the environment. To meet these standards, the biodiesel product is run through a variety of tests. These tests are designed to assess the amount of alcohol remaining, the viscosity, the sulfur content, the acidity, and other various things that will help to maintain the safety, energy efficiency, and engine compatibility of biodiesel (Thomas 3). If the biodiesel industry were to continue growing, these standards would have to be more harshly enforced. Overall, the standards will help the biodiesel industry to produce quality biodiesel and create a good reputation for the growing industry.

Deforestation and Sustainability Issues

The appeal of the biodiesel industry also attracts foreign exporters. Many developing countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia are noticing the growth of the biodiesel industry in the United States and are using the palm oil extracted from palm trees in the rainforests. The issue with this is that in order to cultivate the palm oil, rainforests are cut down to make room for the palm trees to be planted (Solomon 2). This causes a multitude of issues such as erosion, air pollution, and loss of biodiversity (Schmidt 6). The
What deforestation looks like in the Rainforests. Typically the wood is also burned (as shown) which releases additional carbon into the atmosphere.

rainforest holds many various species that have yet to be studied and by demolishing them to near extinction, the true potential of the
species can never be known. There could potentially be a species in the rainforest that could hold the cure for cancer or the answer to
Dementia and Alzheimer's disease. By killing the species, the chances of discovering something that would help humanity become very slim to nonexistent. Deforestation also yields other problems. One purpose of using biodiesel fuel is to mitigate the effects of
Global Warming by reducing the carbon emissions and therefore reducing the amount of carbon in the air that attributes to the warming of the planet. By demolishing rainforests, the amount of carbon absorption by the various plants
and trees existing in the rainforest
decreases significantly, furthering the progression of Global Warming. This is an issue that is avoidable by relying only on manufacturers in the United States for the production of biodiesel. If the United States used only American-made biodiesel, it would prevent deforestation of the rainforests as well as prevent becoming oil-dependent on another nation. It would also provide many other benefits as well such as creating jobs for citizens and supporting local farmers and economies (Pahl 4).

The issue with solely using domestic biodiesel is that the country’s food sources would limit the production. The United States manufactures biodiesel from mainly soybeans and thus the amount of beans grown each year would have to be divided to also make fuel. This could cause fuel or food shortages in the country and cause an excess of one to always compete with the other. However, the United States does have options. The country produces three billion gallons of used frying oil per year and if half of that amount was able to be converted to biodiesel, the fuel product would make up roughly two and a half percent of the petrodiesel market.

Also, 11 billion pounds of animal fat is wasted per year in the United States and if half of that amount was converted to biodiesel, it would yield around 750 million gallons or one and a quarter percent of the petrodiesel market. The United States also contains 60 million acres of fallow land that could be used to cultivate plants specifically intended for fabricating biodiesel. The land would yield around 100 gallons per acre giving a grand total of six billion gallons produced per year. That amount would represent around ten percent of the petrodiesel market. If the United States used all of these sources, the biodiesel production would be around eight and a quarter billion gallons each year or around fourteen percent of the petrodiesel market (Pahl 5). This number does not account for the amount that could be made from existing food sources and also from algae. Algae is predicted to be able to
Various feedstocks able to produce biodiesel and the yield from each

produce 3,654 gallons of oil per year or more from one acre (Pahl 5). Algae would be a safe and beneficial fuel source because most of the natural oil existing today was formed by algae that was transformed by heat and pressure over millions of years ago. Algae also grows very quickly and oil can be directly extracted without any tedious processes. The production of biodiesel from algae is still being researched to test whether algae would be a promising feedstock to manufacture biodiesel from. One issue is that the growth of algae is unpredictable and relatively uncontrollable due to the fact that algae is easily invaded by other algal species (Schmidt 6). Also, due to the fact that the research is not thoroughly finished, the production of biodiesel from algae would require many large investments and several years. For this reason, many companies don’t believe that it is worth the time and effort and continue to manufacture biodiesel from soybean oil and other such feedstocks (Pahl 5). If the research being conducted could find a way to control the growth of algae and lower the investments involved in the process, the biodiesel produced from algae could replace a significant amount of the petrodiesel industry.


The benefits of biodiesel are plentiful when compared to the disadvantages. Most of the difficulties of establishing biodiesel as a country-wide fuel source can be resolved by simple solutions. For example, the issue with deforestation can be prevented by only using American-made biodiesel, something that contributes other benefits to the country in addition to alleviating the issue. The production oflow-quality oil from commercial manufacturers can also be regulated to eliminate quality problems all together and the fuel can also be made from frying oil and animal waste rather than from something that is used for food. Also, the United States is working on making diesel vehicles that can run on biodiesel more available to help the growth of the biodiesel industry. These solutions are all feasible. However, things become more complicated when one considers the nitric oxide emissions and ability to manufacture biodiesel from algae. Algae would prove to be a very high-yielding crop if it were able to be controlled. This would provide a secure back-up source in case not enough frying oil or animal waste was produced that year or rather, the other way around. Algae would most likely become the main feedstock used to manufacture biodiesel and the used frying oil and animal waste would provide a security blanket in case anything ever happened to the algae market. Research on algal biodiesel is being conducted, but it will take a while before a firm conclusion on a way to control the algae is reached. Biodiesel is also being studied to determine how to reduce or eliminate the nitric oxide emissions. This is something that needs to be done in order for biodiesel to be a completely environmentally friendly alternative to petrodiesel fuels.

Overall, the benefits of biodiesel outweigh the consequences, but with further research, biodiesel can be made even greater for the environment and for America. If a firm conclusion were to be reached, replacing part of the petrodiesel market with this alternative fuel source would be a very feasible endeavor. Biodiesel would prove to be an advantageous fuel for America because of all of the benefits it yields but research needs to be more extensive in order for the fuel to replace a large portion of the petrodiesel market, a goal that is a step in the right direction for American society.


Friedman, Lauri S. Fossil Fuels. San Diego, CA: ReferencePoint, 2010. Print.

This is a credible source because it was published by a well-known printing press called Reference Point and it was made available at the MDIHS Library, a scholastic library dedicated to providing good and reliable books to students and teachers. Another main reason that it is credible is that the author lists the sources she used to write their book. This book was also published fairly recently in 2010 so information on technology is fairly up to date.
Houlihan, Thomas. "38 Knocking The Nox Out Of Biodiesel." Mechanical Engineering 134.5 (2012): 38-41. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

This is another credible source because it was published in the Mechanical Engineering magazine by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The author is credible because he is an expert and the senior engineer at the Alternative Petroleum Technologies and the environmental technology company in Reno, Nevada. He was also a ASME White House Fellow in the Clinton administration. The sources where the information was obtained and places to learn more on the subject are stated at the bottom of the article.
Pahl, Greg. "Biodiesel: Homegrown Oil." Mother Earth News 214 (2006): 65-71. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

This essay lists the nine resources that the author used at the end of the essay and was published in Mother Earth News magazine. The article was also obtained on the Department of Education-sponsored Marvel database which checks the credibility of each of the sources contained on the site.
R. Thomas, et al. "Biodiesel: A Renewable And Biodegradable Fuel." Hydrocarbon Processing 85.2 (2006): 103-106. Academic Search Complete. Web. 3 Apr. 2013.

The author, R. Thomas, makes himself available to be contacted at his website: <www. scientificsolutions1.com> making him credible. This source was also published in the Hydrocarbon Processing magazine. Another reason why this source is credible is that R. Thomas wrote this article with three other people who happen to be experts in alternative fuel sciences.
Schmidt, Charles W. "BIODIESEL Cultivating Alternative Fuels." Environmental Health Perspectives 115.2 (2007): A86-A91. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

This source is credible because it was published in the Environmental Health Perspectives magazine. It also states where the author found his information with citations of resources throughout the article. It is also credible because this article was found on an Academic Search Complete database which is a data base reviewed by Marvel--a database sponsored by the state of Maine--for the credibility of each source, guaranteeing that information is credible.

Solomon, Barry D. "Biofuels And Sustainability." Annals Of The New York Academy Of Sciences 1185.1 (2010): 119-134. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

This is a credible source because the it was published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Science magazine and the author also lists the multiple sources that he used when writing his paper. Another reason why it is credible is that the author gives his contact information. This means that he is available for questions regarding his work and therefore is taking responsibility for any information in his paper.
"How Does a Turbo Diesel Engine Work?" YouTube. YouTube, 16 Dec. 2011. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.

This source is credible because the producer is able to be contacted on youtube at his username: matts4290. He also is a respectable student at the well known college: Michigan Technological Institute.
"The Carbon Cycle : Feature Articles." The Carbon Cycle : Feature Articles. NASA, n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.

This website is sponsored by NASA (National Aeronautic Science Assembly) which is a well known space organization that was sponsored by the government to do research specifically regarding this subject.

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