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The Future of Biodiesel Fuels

The Future of Biodiesel Fuels

One of the most heated environmental debates concerns biofuels. Using biofuels is nothing new and, in fact, diesel cars were originally designed to run off of peanut oil, but diesel fuel ended up being cheaper than peanut oil. Now with pollution and the very real threat of drying oil wells, car manufacturers and scientists are once again turning to biodiesel fuels in order to solve this problem.

Biodiesel fuel is generally made from vegetable oils (soy being the most popular) or animal fat, either way it is biodegradeable. Besides this, biofuels emit 60% less net carbon emissions than standard diesel and is partially produced from atmospheric carbon dioxide via photosynthesis [Source: Treehugger]. Sounds great, until you get to the gritty details. Since many of the biodiesel fuels are based on plantlife, increased production of these crops could lead to deforestation. Countries like Brazil are already experiencing these effects. While the expansion itself does not directly lead to deforestation, many of these farms displace ranches. These ranches then must move and build further in forestland. A recent report done by the University of Kassel stated that the expansion of biofuel crops contributes to 41-59% of indirect deforestation [Source: Treehugger] and has endangered species like the flat headed cat in Malaysia. Other than deforestation, another issue concercning biofuels is the food vs. fuel debate. Should biofuels become lucrative to farmers, there may be more crops like corn, soy and sugar grown to create biodiesel instead of feeding the populous. This could in turn lead to a decreased biodiversity in crops and forestlands [Source: The Green Car Website]. To combat many of the environmental and economic concerns, some of the newest biodiesels are made of either camelina or algae.

Camelina
While this plant may seem like a weed, it has grown in popularity for the creation of biofuels. In fact, the US Navy has contracted the use of camelina biodiesel for their new FA-18 Super Hornet [Source: Clean Technica] and Japan Airlines tested ablend of camelina, algae and jatropha blend on a B50 with good results [Source: Biofuels Digest] . The major player in both of these projects is the Sustainable Oils company. Based in the Great Plains region, Sustainable Oils is a partnership between Targeted Growth and Green Earth Fuels. The company focuses on giving farmers information on growing camelina. The company has been incredibly successful and has helped double the amount of camelina acreage in the Great Plains in 2010. Camelina itself is also very easy to grow and can exist in diverse climates. It also requires less fertilizer and pesticides and many insects to do not feed on the plant [Source: Earth2Tech]. Due to these qualities, the plant can be grown in rotation with wheat, helping to increase wheat yields 15% [Source: Ecogeek]. The oil also good for humans as it is high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants [Source: Wikipedia] and can also be used as food for livestock.

Algae
Out of all of the biodiesels, algae has influential supporters. In January 2010, the Department of Energy announced a $78 million stimulus for advanced biofuels research and fueling infrastructure. $44 million went to the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB), which is trying to commercialize algae biodiesel fuels [Source: CNET]. Even ExxonMobil has invested their money into algae biodiesel research, investing $600 million in Synthetic Genomes (the company that mapped the human genome) [Source: Gas2.0]. Unlike other biofuel crops (like corn) algae is extremely efficient at converting carbon dioxide into biomass and does not require much land but to compete with other biofuel crops, algae must minimize fertilizer and freshwater use. Growing algae around wastewater treatment plants or facilities that emit carbon dioxide could help increase the economic viability of algae [Source: Science News]. One company, Aurora Biofuels, has created an algae species that creates 25% oil content daily. With a 50-acre pond, the company could create 100 gallons of oil a day and offer diesel fuel for around $2/gallon to the public [Source: Green Tech Media]. Byproducts of the algae production could also be packaged into pet food in order to cut down on waste.

While camelina and algae are the newest superstars of the biodiesel fuel industry, the fact remains that there are flaws for both crops. Camelina still requires farm land and could lead to more deforestation. Algae is most cost-effective in areas that already exist. Algae grown in uncontrolled environments do not create as much oil yield, which would end up driving algae fuel costs. It’s unclear whether biodiesel fuels can not only replace fuel, but be environmentally friendly as well.

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Jasmine Greene

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106 comments

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12:41AM PDT on Apr 12, 2011

Thanks.

2:34PM PDT on Apr 9, 2011

This article lacks the full spectrum of available biofuel crops and therefore is very misleading and defacto ENDORSES the delay in the utilzation of biofuels.

It strongly leads the reader to believe that due to the sources of feed stock being either in competition with other envrionmental issues, deforestation, etc., or in competition with food sources, biodiesel is not as viable of a solution to the commercial consumption of fossil fuels.
If the author of this article did better research, she would have know about and mentioned Jatropha curcas, that is being grown in several countries, with the seeds being a very viable source of feed stock for the conversion to biodiesel. It grows in marginal areas where food crops cannot grow. These areas currently lie fallow so there is no carbon exchange benefit. The Jatropha curcas is deciduous and has up to a 40 year crop life, unlike currently used feed stocks which have to be re-planted every year.
Further, in relation to the fuel fesability for this plant, studies continue to show it's viability for aviation fuel.
In conclusion, if this crop were grown in arid, semi-desert areas it has the potential of eliminating ALL commercial and Military consumption of fossil fuels. Those being the major consumers of fossil fuel by which personal passenger vehicles pale in comparrison.

11:22AM PST on Dec 27, 2010

Sounds like great news! Thanks for posting!

4:43PM PDT on Jul 3, 2010

Jasmine, Hope you get messages left here even if it has been a while since the last ones. Who is the man in the photo and what company is he with? The photo at the top of your article? I would like to contact him and his company. Would hope to hear their progress and discuss with his the possibility of getting a movement to get people to donate small amounts of money, but lots of people that would get their business going fast to get the supply going. Better it be a company owned by the people, yes a sort of socialist movement, but people can get paid back on their return at some point and/or might be able to be a public sort of enterprise. Tired of the corporations of american running us and gouging us. Perhaps there is another way, and still not scare the "capitalist" which to me mean "cheat, pollute and steal". Can you supply his name and company? Would so much appreciate it.
Judith (countryoasis@comcast.net)

9:33PM PDT on May 10, 2010

it is really wonderful information.we must work hard to make the people revealed on it and make them to use.

9:46PM PDT on May 5, 2010

1) Ever wonder why tree paper is so cheap? It's because we are subsidizing the true costs of production by borrowing from our own future and that of our children: imagine a world without trees and you'll realize the full impact, significance, and costs of cheap paper from trees. Hemp, unlike trees, grows to maturity in 6-8 months. There is no need to cut down 100 year old trees to make paper! Not only can hemp provide us with top-quality archival paper that's beautiful & strong and leaves a light footprint on this fragile planet of ours, it can also single-handedly put a stop to Greenhouse Effect, soil erosion, dependence on fertilizers and toxic chemicals, blue baby syndrome, pollution of the air, water, and soil, and so much more!
Hemp can easily replace wood fiber and save forests. Saving natural wildlife habitat as well as producing protection against global warming by absorbing greenhouse gases. Hemps yield is four times what an average forest can yield.
Hemp can be grown organically (it must be certified to the USDA/NOP.) It is naturally resistant to most pests, eliminating the need for pesticides. It grows tightly spaced, out-competing any weeds. It also leaves a weed-free field for the following crop. Because of its unique ability to suppress weeds alone, hemp is an excellent rotation crop, especially in sustainable and organic farming systems.

9:46PM PDT on May 5, 2010

2) Hemp can be used as part of the environmental remediation process to clear impurities out of wastewater, such as sewage effluent, or other areas of land that have been contaminated with toxic chemicals.
The Opportunity
Currently more hemp is exported to the United States than to any other country. There is something quite amiss with that picture. We are importing an incredibly valued renewable resource that at one time in our nation's history it was mandatory that our farmers cultivate, and that and we relied upon for sustenance.
An important step in turning the American economy around will be to support H.R. 1866 the "Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2009" introduced by Representative Ron Paul. This Bill seeks "To amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marihuana, and for other purposes."
Let's get our American farmers back in the business of hemp, an efficient and economically viable crop. Let's also give businesses the opportunity to expand their Sustainability programs with products using U.S. grown hemp.
Can hemp solve the planets social, economic, and environmental woes? I don't know if any one single crop can do that, I do know that hemp is renewable, fast-growing and could allow the U.S. to reduce our dependence on nonrenewable, constrained resources and move us toward sustainable economic development. GOOGLE HEMP, GO TO WIKIPIDIA

1:29AM PDT on Apr 30, 2010

Thanks for the news. God bless...

7:37AM PDT on Apr 21, 2010

I can see the problem with "food versus fuel", but isn't there a lot of agricultural and food industry waste, i.e. corn stalks and silk, damaged fruit and vegetables, old cooking grease etc.
I don't think we can look to any one thing as the panacea to replace fossil fuels. We'll have to explore a whole variety of possible fuel and energy sources with open and creative minds.
Most people nowadays aren't very resourceful and that's a skill that will be of prime importance in the near future.

2:34PM PDT on Apr 19, 2010

I have seen articles around, here and there. Thank you for bringing it together. And posting.

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