August 29, 2007

Biodiesel's Mixed Blessings

Biodiesel shows promise as an alternative fuel, but it presents substantial challenges to produce locally, efficiently, and in quantities to keep prices down and sustain a budding industry.

Hawaii’s main electric companies have committed to using biodiesel in energy production by 2009, but are under pressure to make sure the soybean oil is locally grown to avoid driving clearcuts in Indonesia for soybean plantations, reports the Honolulu Star Bulletin.

The Associated Press notes six organic farmers in California’s Santa Cruz county are also taking a local approach, growing mustard seed instead of soybeans to fill school buses, tractors and three local biodiesel fueling stations.

Most of the soybeans would otherwise be grown in the Midwest and processed outside the state — not a very efficient use of energy.

The high cost of producing and transporting biodiesel and its components remains one of the technology’s biggest problems.

Dozens of new soybean processing plants are popping up across the Midwest, and provide jobs with benefits in economically depressed areas.

But the new facility in Lilbourn, Missouri, nevertheless struggles to make ends meet, reports the Southeast Missourian, as soybean oil prices climb due to high demand for biodiesel production and drought.

Scientists in India have developed a new process that may help keep prices down and make biodiesel production more efficient.

Wired News reports that researchers there used fungal enzymes produced in a lab — rather than the more energy-intensive method of heating a mixture of methanol, lye and vegetable oil to bond them into biodiesel.

Sources:

“HECO vows biodiesel effort will aid trees”
Honolulu Star Bulletin, August 22, 2007

“Fungi Make Biodiesel Efficiently at Room Temperature”
Wired.com, August 20, 2007

“Biodiesel’s challenge”
Southeast Missourian, August 22, 2007

“Homegrown biodiesel effort by Santa Cruz County farmers”
Associated Press, August 29, 2007

One thought on “Biodiesel's Mixed Blessings

  1. Most of the soybeans would otherwise be grown in the Midwest and processed outside the state — not a very efficient use of energy.

    The high cost of producing and transporting biodiesel and its components remains one of the technology’s biggest problems.

    I didn’t know that Hawaii had oil pumping and refining on it’s islands already, I thought all fuels had to be imported to the islands. I think you will find that as oil supplies dwindle and refining and drilling costs rise, importing biodiesel will be a real bargain. It is these type of attitudes that will keep us foreign oil dependent for a long time. I have been experimenting with biofuels for a couple of years now. In my experience if you do your homework and set up the vehicles or machines properly, biodiesel will do a fine job with much lower HC emissions, less/no smoke, CO2 neutral, and even a pleasant smell in comparison to petroleum. It also boosts the American economy and the farmer who has been in bad shape for quite some time now.