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 The difference between ethanol and biodiesel

16/02/2008 (Sedona.biz) - An expert on biodiesel set me straight recently about the vast differences between ethanol and biodiesel. Jerry Robock of Community Fuels runs the Hudson Valley Biodiesel Cooperative in Cottekill, N.Y., and responded to my column on biofuels.

His Community Fuels Web site points out that ethanol is a gasoline replacement distilled mainly from corn while biodiesel is a diesel replacement extracted from vegetable oil and fat.

Also, it take just about as much petroluem to make ethanol as the amount of ethanol you end up with. Biodiesel is more efficient to make, requiring one-third less petroleum to make than it will displace as a fuel. The energy ratio is even higher when you factor in new sources of biodiesel that don't come from food crops - sources like algae, or camilina, an oilseed plant that grows in the winter, says Tom Herbert of Neely Green Solutions.

Many studies have been published recently citing the environmental devastation caused by using food crops like corn and soy for ethanol. Biodiesel crops have less of an environmental impact.

Members of the Hudson Valley Biodiesel Cooperative collect waste oil from nearby college campuses like the Culinary Institute of America, and from restaurants. It then processes it into biodiesel. The cooperative uses a donated hot water heater and a few dollars worth of chemicals to create enough biodiesel for their own household use. They even managed to do this using a solar-powered trailer borrowed from the Clearwater Festival. Biodiesel is produced for around $2 per gallon, which covers the cost of materials, but not the volunteer hours spent collecting and processing the used vegetable oil.

Many cooperative members, like Robock, mix the biodiesel with their regular home heating oil. Most furnaces can run a blend of 35 percent biodiesel without any alterations, he says. He also uses it in his Mercedes-Benz, as do many other members. Robock has driven more than 70,000 miles on biodiesel and says the mileage is comparable to regular diesel but the emissions are vastly less. A recent study by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture concluded that biodiesel reduces net carbon dioxide emissions by 78 percent compared to diesel made from petroleum.

Robock points out that "you don't really have to do anything to a newer diesel engine (1995 and since) to run it on biodiesel because manufacturers switched to synthetic rubber, which is compatible with biodiesel (a solvent). Older cars contain natural rubber which may eventually rupture, so you would have to replace some hoses and seals."

In 1997, Josh Tickell set up a biodiesel processor on a trailer pulled behind a Winnebago van fueled by discarded frying oil. He traveled across the country chronicling his adventures in the "Veggie Van." The van's Web site says "10 years, two books, two films and millions of french fries later, the Veggie Van Organization is a unique nonprofit educational service that promotes biodiesel fuel." The three-ton, biodiesel-powered vehicle gets 25 mpg on vegetable oil-based biodiesel fuel and emits a smell of french fries.

While vegetable oil-based biodiesel is a boon, it is not easy to find, and taxes can make it problematic. The federal government allows about 400 gallons per quarter to be tax exempt. Otherwise individuals would need to pay road and use tax. State governments have no means of processing taxes on home brewers unless they register as a fuel dealer and form a corporation. This motivated six women to create the BioFuel Oasis, a worker-owned and operated cooperative that sells biodiesel in Berkeley, Calif. The cooperative stresses the importance of local production and community reselling of biodiesel.


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