Biodiesel Is Bees Knees (For Big Soy)

It took hundreds of millions of years of ancient forests, marine ecosystems, and earth processes to create the fossil fuels that human civilization has consumed in less 200 years. Meanwhile, the use of fossilized carbon fuels has allowed our growth to exceed the natural limits of the "solar economy" of the Earth's biosphere, in which all primary energy comes from the sun. From the advent of the industrial revolution to today, fossil fuel exploration and use has been largely associated with environmental destruction, militarism, genocide of indigenous people, social inequity and global climate change. The petro chemicical industry has held sway over war making leaders, from Adolf Hitler to George W. Bush. Reducing our dependency on fossil fuels will be an inevitable step in our planetary journey toward global peace, justice and sustainability.

The Oxygen Collective tour bus is powered by biodiesel, which is made from vegetable oils. To make biodiesel, the fat or oil is first purified and then reacted with an alcohol, usually methanol (CH3OH) or ethanol (CH3CH2OH) in the presence of a catalyst such as potassium hydroxide (KOH) or sodium hydroxide (NaOH). When this happens, the triacylglycerol (fats, which vegetable oil is) is transformed to form esters and glycerol. The esters that remain are what we then call biodiesel, and the glycerol can be used to make soap. Biodiesel is considered a renewable fuel, as the carbon dioxide emitted by burning a gallon of vegetable oil is the exact amount needed by the plants to grow and produce another gallon of oil. Thus, renewable fuels like biodiesel operate within the energy flow of the solar economy at the surface of the Earth. This may sound like a radical idea, but Dr. Rudolf Diesel, who invented the diesel engine in 1895, ran his original prototypes off peanut oil. Diesel fuel sold at the pump today is a cheap by-product of gasoline distillation originally promoted by the petroleum industry after Dr. Diesel's death. Biodiesel can be made in small batches by individuals or communities or in large quantities through industrial processes, using freshly grown oil or used cooking oil. Diesel engines can also be run off straight vegetable oil with simple conversions to the fuel systems. Biodiesel is not the magic solution to all our energy problems. However, since diesel engines are already common, biodiesel may be a valuable alternative as we make the inevitable transition away from fossil fuels.

Information from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

"Biodiesel Handling and Use Guidelines". Available here: http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy01osti/30004.pdf

78.3% reduction in greenhouse gases
55.4% reduction of particulate emissions (black sooty cloud)
56.3% reduction of hydrocarbons
80-90% reduction of mutagenicity (cancer-causing agents)
100% reduction of sulfurs (a major component of acid rain. This reduction also allows for the use of catalytic converters in the exhaust system to further reduce emissions)
5.8% increase in NOX emissions (smog and ozone forming), NOX absorbors are under development and will most likely be brought to market in 2006 once ultra low sulphur diesel is mandated in the US (sulphur aparently has a very bad effect on these devices)

Some interesting information from the North East Sustainable Energy Association (nesea.org)

They credit, and link to, the Argonne National Laboratories for information on the methodology used to derive the data.

For each 15,500 BTU of heat output (about equal to the heat energy in one gallon of gasoline) the following number of pounds (yes, POUNDS) of CO2 are released:

Electricity, New England average power mix, 39.44 lb.
Liquid Hydrogen from natural gas, 36.12 lb.
Hydrogen gas from natural gas, 26.73 lb.
Petroleum diesel, 24.15 lb.
Methanol (M85), 24.10 lb.
Gasoline, 23.95 lb.
Liquified Petroleum Gas (LP), 20.42 lb.
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), 17.78 lb.
Ethanol (E85), 17.06 lb.
Biodiesel (B100) 6.05 lb.

Additional Resources

Where To Get It
http://www.afdc.doe.gov/refueling_mapsite.shtml
http://www.biodiesel.org/buyingbiodiesel/distributors/default.shtm

How To Make It Yourself
http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_mike.html

Discussion Resources
http://forums.biodieselnow.com (retail focused)
http://biodiesel.infopop.cc (homebrew & svo focused)