Biodiesel – Fuel for the Future
Diesel engines are an integral part of the economy and a part of our everyday lives. Accompany almost any of the goods we purchase daily and you will see a diesel engine in every step of its harvesting, manufacturing, or delivery. Take for example a shipment of American wheat that is destined for export overseas. Diesel engines power the tractors that are used for tilling, planting and harvesting. Diesel powered pumps are used to irrigate the fields and diesel trucks transport the wheat to a grain elevator for storage. From the grain elevator, diesel locomotives haul cars full of wheat to mills or even diesel powered barges that will in turn carry it to distant markets or ocean ports. At the ports, diesel powered equipment load the grain onto diesel powered vessels while diesel powered generators stand by to provide backup power to the docks and warehouses.
Diesel engines have been favored over gasoline engines or other sources of power because they are more versatile and cheaper to run. However, with these advantages come disadvantages; the effluent produced by the combustion of diesel fuel is one of the main contributors to worldwide environmental pollution problems. Diesel exhaust is a mixture of thousands of gases and particulate matter (PM), or soot. PM contains thousands of substances that are listed as toxic air pollutants by the Environmental Protection Agency. PM contains over 40 cancer-causing substances known as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), such as benzene, arsenic, formaldehyde, lead and mercury compounds. These substances can settle on water, soil and vegetation, or can be washed onto these surfaces during rainfall. Particulate matter in the lower atmosphere scatters and absorbs light, reducing visibility. These particles also lead to smog and the formation of brown clouds. Not only can the effluent affect the environment, but the entire cycle of fuel production, manufacturing, transportation, storage, distribution, and usage is harmful as well. Although the United States is the largest consumer of oil in the world, it does not have many reserves. This dependence on foreign oil, especially in the Middle East, causes a great deal of political tension and ultimately wars which are also devastating to the environment. In order to improve air quality, reduce environmental pollution, and improve our energy independence, alternative fuels and methods of power are needed.
There are many alternatives to diesel fuel such as natural gas, fuel cells, biodiesel, and electric power. Natural gas is the most attractive alternative to diesel fuel because it is cheaper and burns cleaner than diesel; but the base price of natural gas vehicles (NGV) are thousands of dollars more than a comparable diesel fueled vehicle. Even though the user would pay ten to twenty cents less per gallon when compared to diesel, the incentive is not there. The infrastructure needed to make refueling...