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Bullish on Biodiesel

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As a publication, Usedcarsalesman. com does not exhibit a great deal of editorial discipline. It seems to hopscotch across all sorts of subjects, rather than focus on one thing, say, for example, “cars” (what most people think it’s about). Frankly, I’d like to think it’s focus is on technology and media, but the reality is that technology and media are not a big enough “town” for Usedcarsalesman.com’s only writer. So he has to write about other things too. But, hey, at least it’s something new every 4 days, right? Anyway, the subject of this writer’s love, today, is kind of about “cars,” or at least their fuels. Namely, it’s about Biodiesel fuel, yes, the fuel you’ve been hearing about made of fryer grease, soybean or alternate vegetable oil which can power a converted Diesel automobile.

Biodiesel interests me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I’ve paid attention to the impact of the automobile on people’s lives. I was born in 1971 and my early formative years around Washington D.C. were the Oil-Embargo, gas crunch, and Jimmy Carter years of the 1970’s. The gas-lines, the ideas about electric cars, the human-powered vehicles that people were experimenting with, all of that was going on at the time and made me say, “why not? …”What’s the hold-up, why don’t Americans buy this clean-power, new-fuel stuff?”

Then, the Reagan 80’s rolled around and the environmental stuff politically took a backseat, not just in D.C. metro area, but seemingly everywhere in the U.S. outside of maybe, Oregon; it seemed that the general U.S. consensus about the enviro-transportation stuff was that it was “bad business,” that is was associated with “political weakness” or something to that effect. As for me, in 1980, I discovered Car and Driver and started worshipping -The 10 Best Issue- and that was that. I kind of stayed on that course through the 1990’s with the automobile.

Then the new millennium rolled around. Sure, I was and still am “taken” with the modern hybrid car. I first saw a drawing of a hybrid auto in 1985 in an issue of Popular Mechanics; it looked like it had two power plants alright, but nothing was said about regenerative braking or the complementary performance of the engines. So, in 1985, I kind of thought hybrids were like Godzilla vs Mothra, not something to be taken seriously :). Today, the value and operation of hybrids is fairly well known and I suspect that their systems will also work well with a Biodiesel powered diesel engine, too. Which is where we get in to Biodiesel fuel.

Now the thing about Biodiesel is that, though I had been reading car magazines for 25 or so years, I never new that you could use vegetable oil to power a diesel automobile. I just didn’t know about it; it never crossed my mind. What’s even more interesting is that the inventor of the diesel engine, Rudolph Diesel, was able to run his Diesel engine entirely on peanut oil at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. He even suggested in 1911 that “(the diesel engine) would help considerably in the development of agriculture in the countries that used it.” Understandably, in that time period, most people were running away from the countryside to cities, not vice-versa. So, Diesel’s vegetable oil-as-fuel-thing idea probably wasn’t able to capitalize on any latent urban dweller nostalgia for farm-life.

But, nowadays, it’s a different story. Not, nostalgia for farm-life, but you know, Biodiesel, or vegetable oil for fuel. We are in the midst of a second gas-crunch, so-to-speak, citizens want to reduce dependence on foreign oil, and citizens want to see a reduction in emmissions that cloud urban skys. Biodiesel provides those things. In fact, I, personally, eagerly await the chance to run Biodiesel in my hypothetical diesel-powered car. Whether I’m rich or poor, am 15 years younger or 15 years older, or whether petrol-gas is at 45 cents a gallon or $4.50 a gallon, Biodiesel sounds like a great, clean, domestically-produced idea. Which is why I think that Biodiesel is a good investment. It looks like a huge-growth area. It looks like Ben and Jerry’s meets Exxon.

I see a number of areas of investment regarding Biodiesel. Obviously, you have the current and future stocks of Biodiesel processors and Biodiesel vehicle-conversion companies and perhaps specialized Biodiesel retailers. But, then you have commodity investments, such as soybean futures; when was the last time somebody thought about the Chicago Commodities Exchange unless you were a farmer seeking to hedge your investment in the crop you just planted? You also have real-estate development: a lot of money could suddenly start flowing to the U.S. farm-states, formerly subsidy-reliant; that money is going to draw people to it; those people are going to need places to live and commercial structures, too; that developed property will increase in value as more people move to said areas. And, because Biodiesel fuel, or essentially vegetable oil can be made wherever its vegetable of origin can be grown, you may see areas such as Africa or Russia become enriched by growing and providing vegetable-based fuel to highly populated markets such as China and India, not to mention to the “West.” Furthermore, China and India present their own opportunities for investment and development in the biodiesel arena: transportation, vehicle-conversion and retail fuel sales. So, in sum, I see reason to be unapologetically bullish on Biodiesel.

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  • Right now there’s some question as to whether biodiesel production can ever be made efficient enough to produce sufficient quantities of fuel to replace or significantly impact the need for gasoline. It takes so much land to produce usable amounts of the stuff that it’s been estimated that every inch of land in the US would need to grow biodiesel producing crops in order to eliminate the current demand for fuel oil.

    Of course, if you combine biodiesel with other alternative fuels then you might have something.

    BTW, since the 2004 model year Dodge diesel trucks have been able to run on Biodiesel, CNG, Ethanol, LP Gas and anything else you can put in them – probably even methane if you can find some bottled.


  • Carolyn

    I have been using 100% biodiesel in my VW golf since 2002. I drove my car off the lot, put in b100 and have logged over 30,000 miles. There were no conversions involved or added expense.

    I purchase my biodiesel from a local distributor who has recently partnered with a national natural potato chip company to provide it’s waste oil for biodiesel production. The waste oil is refined into an ASTM certified fuel which would have otherwise ended up in a land fill.

    Given today’s current demand for fuel we couldn’t grow enough feed stock to power all of the worlds autos, however, hybrid technology teamed up with diesel engines could help in the transition from fossil fuels.

  • Doug Parker

    Mr.Nalle may not be aware that American farmers are currently paid not to grow excess crops–and we still export(give away)huge amounts of grain.Worldwide,I certainly do believe biodiesel crops can be grown.As noted,lets not forget the hybrid.Diesel technology is also producing much more efficient engines.Locomotives have employed diesel electric power for some time,and nobody can deny their efficiency.I see diesel elctric heavy trucks and pickups in the near future..I’ve read that certain crops such as palm oil produce several times the fuel per acre as soybeans.Before we dismiss something as “can’t be done” let’s study it This is in an infant stage,just now starting.

  • I’m very aware of the farm subsidies system and like any sensible personthink they should be done away with. I’m all for biodiesel, and I know that it CAN be done and done profitably. The question is whether it alone can ever fill our need for fuel, which I think is genuinely debatable.


  • I think Dave’s point about the capacity available for biodiesel production is valid…to put things in perspective, the world currently needs about 5 billion tons of biodiesel per year to completely replace all petro fuels…but only 0.06 billions T of vegetable oils is produced worldwide right now, and most of it is anyway used for other purposes…that is only about a hundredth of the required volume is produced currently and land areas required for very large scale veg oil production could be considerable…however, there are some interesting developments…

    biodiesel production from algae is being tried out…the beauty is, the yield from algae is over 200 times the yield (per acre) from conventional oilseeds such as soybeans! So perhaps there is hope after all

    One web site you might want to look at it is the Biodiesel Encyclopedia

    Hope this helps

    Narsi, BPO


  • You are right…biodiesel is starting to become big business now…not just biodiesel, any form of biofuel…

    A lot of research is beginning to happen, with useful projects like biodiesel porduction from algae & related species, as well as experimentations on other feedstock ( see BDPedia.com for a list of latest biodiesel feedstock being tried)…I think this will all lead to something useful and who knows, perhaps even some breakthrough which can end our dependence on fossil fuels

    You are right…the interest in biofuels is having its effect on a whole lot of related fields, and demographies…this could also be an opportunity for poorer continents like Africa which are blessed with wonderful natural diversity to make a mark…

    CO @ Biodiesel from Castor Oil