Biodiesel Pros and Cons

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Biodiesel has become part of the regular transportation matrix that is implemented every day. In the United States, biodiesel is quickly becoming more accessible to consumers every day. As with any fuel source, there are some pros and cons that should be evaluated when looking at the practical application of this technology.

What Are the Pros of Biodiesel?

1. It is a renewable resource.
Unlike fossil fuels, which have a finite supply, biodiesel is a truly renewable resource. The biomass that is used to create it can be continually replaced year after year. Some biomass products can even have two or three crops grown, depending on the season and the cycle of the crop.

2. It offers better lubrication.
The working life of an engine that uses biodiesel is extended thanks to the lubrication properties of the fuel. Because this fuel is a non-toxic substance and biodegradable as well, there are fewer overall risks to burning biodiesel when compared to other traditional diesel products.

3. It is easier to ignite.
The combustion cycle of biodiesel is more efficient, which means less energy is actually wasted when the fuel is burned. This results in less overall energy waste within the transportation industry. This efficiency also leads to fewer particulates being released when burned, which ultimately means fewer atmospheric emissions being released.

4. It can be used in all existing engines.
Existing diesel engines do not need to be modified in order to run biodiesel. It can be used in any standard engine that is already functioning in vehicles that are on the road right now. Engines designed to run on petroleum-based diesel may struggle somewhat with the conversion, but the overall experience is almost always positive.

5. Emissions are greatly reduced.
Because transportation is responsible for more than one-third of the total negative emissions that are produced every day, the reduced particulates of biodiesel play an important part in the quest to reduce the effects of climate change. The crops that are used to create biodiesel also absorb carbon from the atmosphere for food, which means many biodiesel options are close to being carbon neutral.

What Are the Cons of Biodiesel?

1. It has a lower overall energy output.
Biodiesel is an effective fuel source that burns cleaner, but it does have an overall lower output of energy production than traditional diesel fuels. This means more biodiesel must be consumed in order for the same transportation needs to be met.

2. It still produces carbon emissions.
Biodiesel does burn cleaner than traditional diesel, but it still produces a carbon footprint that may be negative to the environment. This is especially true when the entire production cycle is considered. In environments where biodiesel is heavily used, there may also be higher levels of smog during certain seasonal periods.

3. It has a higher initial investment.
Biodiesel must become more energy efficient to make the needed impact we desire of them, which means research and development must continue. To build new plants or create the needed quantities of fuel, we’re already paying more to create biodiesel than other fuels.

4. It impacts the food production cycle.
Many parts of the world are struggling with food resources. Biodiesel takes food products out of the production cycle to replace them with biomass that is grown specifically for fuel. When as much a 20% of the human population on the planet doesn’t have enough to it, there are ethical concerns about using croplands for fuel production. To replace 5% of the current diesel market, about 60% of the current soybean market would be required to be diverted to fuel production.

5. It does not store very well.
The thickness of biodiesel changes as it sits over time. This creates problems when the fuel is stationary within a vehicle. The thicker fuel would then struggle to pass through the fuel filter and the biomass element of the fuel may even corrode the fuel system if allowed to sit for long enough. The end result is higher maintenance costs and the potential to create more overall waste.

In weighing the pros and cons of biodiesel, the main debate comes down to one primary question: is it ethical to use croplands for fuel biomass when a good portion of humanity is either hungry or malnourished? The answer to that question will typically determine whether or not someone supports the development and use of biodiesel. Evaluate these pros and cons and you’ll be able to answer that ethical question as well.