Why Biodiesel doesn’t work

Most engines are drinkers, heavy drinkers one should say, as they cannot live without pouring golden liquid down their immense throats. But does it always have to be so shimmering golden? Can’t we change the engines’ taste to something more alternative than gold? Long ago, scientists and environmentalists realised that Diesel engines actually aren’t as picky about their fuel as previously thought. They can very well do with more healthy drinks such as animal fat or even cooking oil made from sunflowers!

Rudolf Diesel himself noted in 1912: “The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today, but such oils may become in the course of time as important as petroleum and the coal tar products of the present time.”[1] So where did all of this predicted potential go to and is there a way for Biodiesel to have a bigger impact on business mobility?

The three main issues of Biodiesel

Last week we reported about the 2012 “Company Car of the Year” award ceremony, which saw an utter celebration of the Diesel engine: out of the 17 winner models 13 were Diesel powered. Diesel engine productions have also increased over the years, yet the use of Biodiesel in company cars remains to be very low. But what are the issues? Firstly, there is the safety. Once Biodiesel is made it is said to be less toxic than table salt.[2] However, one key ingredient for instance is methanol, which is a very dangerous chemical component. Even when only inhaled, methanol can directly attack the nervous system causing dizziness and in severe cases chronic blindness.[3] If you love making your own Biodiesel at home, you will have to take profound safety precautions. Otherwise you may seriously put your family and yourself at risk. On the other hand, Biodiesel fuel stations are a rare: there are currently 1500 fuel stations across the entire US.[4] In Germany, Europe’s number 1 consumer of Biodiesel, there were only 200 Biodiesel fuel stations in 2011.[5]With such a poor infrastructure, it is not surprising why hardly any companies use Biodiesel for their fleet.

Secondly, there’s the environment, also an important aspect in today’s business mobility realms. Supporters long hailed Biodiesel for being extremely environmentally friendly due to less carbon dioxide emission compared to all other commercial fuels. Yet, in January 2012 the renowned science magazine Nature reported that Biodiesel actually causes more greenhouse-gas pollution than fossil diesel.[6] The problem is that scientists have repeatedly underestimated the pollution created when Biodiesel crops are planted: forests and wetlands must first be cleared out to provide the space needed for the crops. And as these carbon savers are scarified total carbon emission is not lowered in comparison to normal Diesel production and use. Thirdly and finally, there’s also an economic concern: the plantation of rapeseed, the most widespread type of Biodiesel plant, takes up enormous areas of land. This is because you need an awful lot of rapeseed to produce a tiny amount of Biodiesel. Buying the land and hence cultivating it therefore costs a lot of money. Even though a litre of Biodiesel might be cheaper than fossil Diesel it doesn’t take into account the investment that first needs to be made in order to produce it. Not to mention the long-term costs of the immense deforestation required for Biodiesel production.

Little business mobility benefit

When taking a closer look at the overall picture, Biodiesel today doesn’t really make much sense. Apart from if you’re a farmer yourself with a lot of space to invest. Then you can grow your own rapeseed to power the machines you use on an every day basis such as tractors. So far the only companies that use Biodiesel for their fleet are those that also produce it – and that has more of a promotional reason than one of convenience. Biodiesel then is a great idea, but only in theory. Reality shows that there are still too many issues to be solved. For now, this means we’ll have to fill our engines with gold still. Lucky them.

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