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Biodiesel Motors Toward the Mainstream
Biodiesel is the fastest growing liquid fuel in America, says Biodiesel America author Josh Tickell.
“The market is growing by more than 50 percent a year,” he says. “So you could say biodiesel is going mainstream as we speak.”
For Tickell, it’s easy to see why this veggie fuel is catching on. “It works in current vehicles, it fits into the current infrastructure, it’s domestically produced, and it’s a renewable solution people can use right now,” he explains. At its current rate of growth, Tickell and others in the biodiesel industry predict that widespread adoption of the fuel is just five years away.
However, experts contend biodiesel still has some hurdles to overcome. Although the National Biodiesel Board reports that U.S. biodiesel production increased from 25 million gallons in 2004 to an estimated 75 million gallons last year, it still represents just a fraction of the overall diesel market.
All the right factors ... almost
Like petroleum diesel (dino diesel) these days, commercially made biodiesel isn’t cheap. But consumers can buy biodiesel processors and make their own. Rudi Wiedemann, president/CEO of Nevada-based Biodiesel Solutions, has seen a ten-fold increase in the sales of his FuelMeister home biodiesel processor in the past year. He says the price of commercially made biodiesel is a driving factor, especially for high-consumption users like truckers and fleet operators. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 gives biodiesel producers and blenders some help on that front, with a tax credit through 2010 that puts biodiesel on par with the price of petroleum diesel.
That could give the industry enough time to plant firm roots, Wiedemann says, but there are still things that can be done to make biodiesel even more cost-competitive.
“More than 80 percent of the cost of biodiesel is the feedstock, so that’s where we need to concentrate our economic efforts,” he says. “Inedible oil crops such as neem can be cultivated at a fraction of the cost of food crops, and can use land not normally good enough to grow food," notes Noes Wiedemann. “Plus, they yield much higher oil content.”
Galen Bowen, inventor of the BioPro 190 home biodiesel processor, agrees that the historically higher price of biodiesel at the pump compared to petroleum diesel has hindered its growth. “However,” Bowen says, “we did get a glimpse of things to come after Hurricane Katrina, when the price of diesel was about $3.50 a gallon, and biodiesel was actually cheaper in many places.”
Biodiesel's time has come ... again
Yokayo Biofuels President Kumar Plocher observes that when inventor Rudolph Diesel presented the first diesel engine at the Exhibition Fair in Paris in 1898, it was fueled by peanut oil. “Diesel hoped his engine would provide for the smaller industries, farmers, and common folk a means of competing with the industries that controlled energy production at that time, as well as serve as an alternative to the inefficient fuel consumption of the steam engine,” Plocher says. Vegetable oil was used to fuel diesel engines into the 1920s, but biofuels were almost abandoned in the United States in favor of petroleum-based fuels as the petroleum industry gained power in this country.
Today, the future of biodiesel looks promising. As Galen Bowen points out, change takes time. “As people become better educated, they’ll see the enormous benefits that biodiesel has to offer, and it will become the first mainstream fuel that is environmentally friendly.”
These efforts, along with the rising prices of oil, are positioning biodiesel to be the clear economical — not just environmental — choice when fueling up.