Sunday, October 29, 2006

Biodiesel : Snake oil ?

Wikipedia defines Biodiesel as
Biodiesel refers to a diesel-equivalent, processed fuel derived from biological sources. ...biodiesel refers to alkyl esters made from the transesterification of both vegetable oils and/or animal fats. Biodiesel is biodegradable and non-toxic, and has significantly fewer emissions than petroleum-based diesel when burned. Biodiesel functions in current diesel engines, and could in theory supplement fossil fuels as the world's primary transport energy source.

Which loosely translated means that biodiesel is a fuel from vegetable/animal sources that does not need to be taken out from the earth's crust , is less polluting and since it is not extracted from beneath the surface , it doesn't add to the carbon in the system . And so it is being touted as the next saviour in our effort against global warming . Biodiesel can be synthesised from waste vegetable oils , vegetable oils , animal fat , waste agricultural produce and algae . So theoretically one can pop over to the local felafel/fish 'n chips shop , get all the waste oil which needs to be disposed off and through a simple process make it ready to be poured into the car !! Alternatively you can buy a load of oil from the supermarket . So if we shifted to biodiesel we would be doing a lot of good to the environment .

Wikipedia defines Snake oil as
a traditional Chinese medicine used for joint pain. However, the most common usage of the words is as a derogatory term for medicines to imply that they are fake, fraudulent, and usually ineffective. The expression is also applied metaphorically to any product with exaggerated marketing but questionable or unverifiable quality. In short, it refers to a product sold as part of a hoax.

As the title suggests I am pointing out to the discrepancies in the theory .

  • The local felafel shops can provide a very limited quantity of waste oil that can be used as a fuel .

  • If biodiesel is to be used extensively one needs to grow oil producing crops specifically for biodiesel . Since the arable land under cultivation is also finite , oil producing crop can come intead of food producing crop . shortage of food , starvation is a likely scenario. ..more

  • Or else forests could be cut down to make room for oil producing plants. This as we know is not a very smart thing to do as well

We can see the effect of deforestation here

The need is to regulate the production of biodiesel . Biodiesel from wastes or from industrial waste sites can provide a fraction of our needs .
According to an article by George Monbiot
In 2003, the biologist Jeffrey Dukes calculated that the fossil fuels we burn in one year were made from organic matter “containing 44×10 to the 18 grams of carbon, which is more than 400 times the net primary productivity of the planet’s current biota.”(1) In plain English, this means that every year we use four centuries’ worth of plants and animals.

Biodiesel as I see is not a sustainable option at all. In it's billed avatar as a solution to all our woes is not just snake oil , it is something much more destructive .

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