Clean bill of health for biodiesel

It was announced on Capitol Hill last week that biodiesel – an alternative fuel made from renewable resources, such as soya bean oil – has become the first and only alternative fuel to have successfully completed the health effects testing requirements of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.

The tests show that biodiesel poses no health threats and its use results in a 90% reduction in air toxins. Biodiesel is non-toxic, biodegradable and can be used in conventional diesel engines with little or no modifications.

High vegetable oil prices and low diesel cost have limited North America use of biodiesel to certain niche markets. In the last 18 months, however, use has soared as bus and truck fleets across the United States have found it the most cost-effective option for meeting the alternative fuel requirements of the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPACT).

The original diesel engine, invented in 1894 by German engineer Rudolf Diesel was designed to use a variety of fuels, including coal dust, petroleum, and vegetable oil. Modern diesel engines require a clean-burning, stable fuel that performs well under a variety of operating conditions. Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel that can be used directly in any existing, unmodified diesel engine. Because the two fuels have similar properties, biodiesel can be blended in any ratio with petroleum diesel fuel.

It is claimed that biodiesel significantly reduces particulate (diesel soot) exhaust emissions and smells. Biodiesel also improves the lubricity of fuel with which it is blended, reducing engine and fuel pump wear. Biodiesel is non-toxic and fully biodegradable, and has been shown to accelerate the biodegradability of conventional diesel when the two are blended.

At a briefing by members of the House Energy and Power subcommittee, Representatives John Shimkus and Karen McCarthy, who co-sponsored legislation in 1998 that recognised biodiesel as meeting EPACT requirements congratulated the members of the National Biodiesel Board for being the first industry to complete the rigorous health effects testing requirements under the Clean Air Act.

“We know this was a costly process – more than two million dollars – but by funding and completing these tests ahead of all other alternative fuel groups the biodiesel industry has shown that it means business,” Shimkus said.

“I am pleased to say that use of biodiesel has increased more than 1,000% since our bill became law 18 months ago. By working together, we are providing communities across the country with the ability to meet alternative fuel requirements at the most reasonable cost. We are helping these communities improve their air quality.

At the same time, we are helping America’s farmers, while enhancing the nation’s energy security. With petroleum prices at an all time high the need for domestically produced alternative fuel is apparent now more than ever. This is a classic win-win situation.”

However, in Europe the economic and environmental advantages may be less compelling. Energy the changing climate a major report published in June 2000 by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution includes only a cursory reference to biodiesel. The Commissions Press Officer told edie “The report is enthusiastic about the prospects of growing energy crops for use in combined heat and power stations, but not enthusiastic about the prospects of growing energy crops for vehicle fuel.”

Reporting on EC funded research on producing biodiesel from rapeseed, the Royal Commission identifies problems in producing a consistent quality fuel and concludes that the production of biodiesel creates significant pollution and is neither energy nor cost efficient.

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