Biodiesel is diesel-equivalent, processed fuel derived from biological sources (such as vegetable oils, even waste cooking oil from restaurants such as fast-food establishments), that can be used unmodified in diesel engines. Biodiesel is biodegradable and non-toxic and produces significantly fewer emissions than petroleum-based diesel when burned. A recent article reported that chicken fat could be used, prompting major chicken producers such as Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms and Smithfield Foods to set up renewable energy divisions to sell the material mixed with soybean oil.7 It's possible that, sometime soon, the tag line for biodiesel may change from "smells like French fries" to "smells like fried chicken."
One benefit of using biodiesel is said to be lower engine wear. Most manufacturers release lists of the cars that will run on biodiesel. For example, Volkswagen determined that diesel fuel containing up to 5% biodiesel (B5 fuel) meets the technical specifications for its vehicles equipped with TDI engines in the United States.8 Biodiesel can be distributed using today's infrastructure. As a result, its use and production are increasing rapidly. For example, at the end of 2006 there were 635 biodiesel fueling stations in 46 of the 50 states, with South Carolina, Missouri, North Carolina and Texas having the most outlets. Early in 2007 the Safeway grocery chain began selling biodiesel at a store in Seattle, Washington, with plans to expand distribution if the market test proves successful.9
Just as fuel stations begin to make biodiesel available to consumers, a growing number of trucking fleets use it as an additive in their fuel. According to the National Biodiesel Board, US biodiesel production tripled in 2005 to 75 million gallons from 25 million in 2004, with 2006 numbers expected to increase to between 150 and 225 million gallons. One expert predicted that by 2012 it will exceed one billion gallons per year.10 This is obviously a small contribution to reducing petroleum dependence for transportation, but worth doing in any case because it converts waste material with high fuel value into a useful product.
For green builders, biodiesel can be used in construction vehicles and in diesel fleets maintained by large retail and manufacturing companies professing sustainability as a value. Consider the value of greening your operations with a focus on biodiesel fuel. For example, construction firms self-performing concrete work can convert their concrete trucks to run on biodiesel and also use it in their fleets of pickup trucks and other vehicles.
What can you do? Consider asking your firm, agency or institution to subsidize biodiesel conversions or fuel purchases to kick-start this new industry in your town or city. In this way you will be taking action to assure a more sustainable future, one less dependent imported oil.
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