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Home > Feature Articles > Alternative Energy Solutions > Fuels & Renewable Energy

Biodiesel -- The History of Diesel

The original diesel engine ran on peanut oil, -- believed to be a viable alternative to the resource-consuming steam engine!

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peanut oil biodiesel history Dr. Rudolph Diesel invented his compression ignition engine in the 1890's in Germany. When it was demonstrated at the World's Exhibition in Paris, Dr. Diesel's engine ran on peanut oil, the original "diesel fuel". Diesel believed biomass fuel to be a viable alternative to the resource consuming steam engine. Vegetable oils were used in diesel engines until the 1920's when an alteration was made to the engine, enabling it to use a residue of petroleum - what is now known as diesel #2. Due to the prevalence and price of petroleum products, diesel fuel soon came to be accepted as a petroleum product as well.

Although straight vegetable oil will run in a diesel engine, its viscosity is too high for most of today's diesel engines and compounds in the oil can lead to injector "coking" and eventual engine failure. By chemically reducing viscosity and removing these undesirable compounds and replacing them with oxygen, a clean burning vegetable oil based alternative to petroleum diesel is now available.

Biodiesel has been widely used in Europe for well over a decade, and there have been hundreds of millions of miles successfully traveled using biodiesel. Biodiesel use in the United States started to become more prevalent in the early 1990's, and has been heavily supported and promoted by the biodiesel trade association, the National Biodiesel Board. During the last several years millions of dollars have been spent in the testing, demonstration, and promotion of biodiesel, and successful legislative effort has resulted in legislation and executive orders favorable to biodiesel and mandating the use of alternative fuels.

Standards for biodiesel intended to be used as a transportation fuel have been approved by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM D 6751), an organization composed of technical experts from most major engine manufacturers, petroleum companies and other interested parties.

Legislation went into effect in 2005 which included biodiesel tax provisions that essentially reduced the price of biodiesel by $1.00 per gallon, effectively putting it on par with petroleum diesel, increasing market acceptance and dramatically affecting the global energy paradigm.

Biodiesel is a safe, nontoxic and biodegradable substitute for petroleum diesel that is made from renewable vegetable oils, recycled cooking greases or animal fats and meets ASTM D 6751. Even in blends as low as 20% biodiesel to 80% petroleum (known as B20), biodiesel can substantially reduce the emission levels and toxicity of diesel exhaust. Biodiesel is designated under federal law as an ‘alternative fuel' and is registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a fuel and fuel additive. It can be used in any diesel engine without need for mechanical alterations and is compatible with the existing petroleum distribution infrastructure.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has recognized biodiesel as the fastest growing alternative fuel. Recent projections anticipate a one billion gallon per year market by 2010. The DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), US EPA and Department of Transportation (DOT) have all embraced biodiesel as a means of reducing diesel engine emissions, lowering our dependence on imported petroleum fuel, and boosting the agricultural sector for our country. With record high petroleum prices, the new clean diesel emissions standards, tax incentives and our society’s continued reliance on diesel technology and infrastructure, biodiesel offers a secure and compelling energy option.

For many years energy has been taken for granted, with a reliance upon nonrenewable petroleum, natural gas, coal and other fossil-based fuel reserves as a predominant source for transportation, power and home heating needs. Recent market conditions and energy security concerns have created an awareness and demand for non-polluting, domestically produced, renewable resources to supplement our reliance upon petroleum fuels.

There are thousands of fleets in the US currently using biodiesel, including:

  • the US Armed Forces, Postal Service & NASA;
  • Missouri & New Jersey Depts. of Transportation;
  • Yosemite; Channel Islands & Yellowstone National Parks;
  • Major cities including San Francisco, Santa Monica and Las Vegas;
  • Squaw Valley & Northstar Ski Resorts; and
  • Major utilities and hundreds of school districts, to name a few. In 2005 biodiesel consumption in California was approximately 7 million gallons and more than doubled in 2006. National US consumption has gone from 500,000 to 225 million gallons annually in just 6 years. In 2006 biodiesel usage in Europe exceeded 1 billion gallons (3 to 5% of all diesel fuel in France and Germany is already biodiesel).

The California Biodiesel Alliance, which is affiliated with the National Biodiesel Board, has been established to focus on California specific biodiesel issues and to work with CARB, CEC, AQMDs, State officials and environmental groups to facilitate the implementation of this clean-burning, domestically produced fuel which will lower the State’s dependence on petroleum fuels while improving air quality. The CEC released an Integrated Energy Policy Report in 2005 recommending that all diesel fuel sold in California contain a minimum of 5 percent non-petroleum content that would include biodiesel. Research, development, testing and demonstration projects are being carried out by and between stakeholders and state agencies, which will result in the rapid integration of biodiesel into California’s energy portfolio.

This history was provided by Tellurian Biodiesel, 228 Main Street, Venice, CA 90291

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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