The term 'biodiesel' refers to the fuel extracted from animal fats and plant matter, which is used to operate standard diesel engines. Though it's possible to produce it from animal fat, it is usually produced from plant oil. Popular crops used in this process include soybean, canola, cottonseed, peanut, and sunflower. Owing to the fact that it is biodegradable and pollution free, biodiesel is widely believed to be the answer to our dependence on fossil fuels. Though it seems promising, only the evaluation of its pros and cons can help us determine whether these claims really hold ground.
Pros and Cons of Biodiesel
Like its other counterparts, biodiesel also has its own advantages and disadvantages. That it can play a significant role in reducing harmful emissions is by far its biggest advantage. However, there do exist some drawbacks which may become a hindrance in its introduction as an alternative to the harmful carbon-emitting fossil fuels.
Biodiesel is non-toxic and biodegradable, which makes it one of the most environment-friendly alternatives of power generation. A study at the United States Department of Energy revealed that introduction of biodiesel can reduce carbon dioxide emissions caused by burning fossil fuels by 75 percent. This fuel doesn't contain toxic chemicals like sulfur, which are responsible for harmful emissions. In fact, hazards like acid rain can be eliminated forever by introducing biodiesel for our day-to-day use.
You don't even have to modify the engine, as this fuel can easily operate a standard diesel engine. It can also double up as a lubricant and help in lubricating various parts of the engine, thus making it less vulnerable to wear and tear. It is much safer than conventional diesel. More importantly, for a country like the United States, which is largely dependent on oil imports, tapping the resources available within the country can help in boosting the economic strength to a great extent.
The energy content of biodiesel is 11 percent less than that of petroleum-based diesel, which means the power generation capacity of an engine will decline considerably when it is used. It is possible to modify the engine to eliminate this loss of power, but this modification goes against the EPA guidelines and hence, cannot be executed. Owing to its poor oxidization qualities, biodiesel can lead to some serious problems when stored. When stored for long periods, biodiesel turns to a gel-like substance which may clog various parts of the engine.
Biofuels can also lead to microbial growth and thus, cause some damage to the engine. As the use of this fuel will increase, more and more crops will have to be produced to fulfill the demand. This will lead to severe crisis, wherein we will have to choose between food and fuel. The prices of various agricultural commodities will also soar. Due to over farming, the soil quality will start depreciating and creating new areas to produce these crops will lead to destruction of natural habitat.
We need to take all these pros and cons into consideration before coming to any conclusion. There do exist some issues with the use of biodiesel, but researchers from all over the world are working on these issues to make it more efficient. As of now, we can just hope that their research yields results and we get the best fuel as soon as possible.