March 18th marks the 159th birthday of the late German inventor and engineer, Rudolf Diesel. Only 30 years after the first motor vehicles hit the market, R. Diesel introduced an engine that was not only more efficient and powerful than the previous model, but was able to run on unconventional fuel. The diesel engine was first demonstrated at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris, where Diesel showed its ability to run solely on peanut oil.
117 years has passed since then, and the diesel engine is still very much incorporated in a lot of vehicles, most notably service vehicles like garbage trucks and city buses. However, Diesel’s idea for renewable and sustainable fuel has been replaced by petroleum diesel, which is more similar to the fuel in your standard, non-diesel cars.
Let’s take a closer look at what else has been happening in the last century.
Since 1900, there has been a lot of talk (and some resistance) about a little thing called Global Warming. As the name entails, scientists, researchers, and professionals all over the map have been pointing out how we, as super-consuming humans, have been slowly releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and the result is a temperature increase. A 0.7 degree Celsius increase, to be specific. This may not seem like all that much, but in reality, it has some staggering effects on the weather, sea levels, natural disasters, and so forth.
A lot of blame has fallen on the amount of carbon dioxide emissions our vehicles produce with conventional fuel and diesel.
One of the ways to battle this is the re-introduction of R. Diesel’s initial material use: fuel made from vegetable oil and animal fats. These materials are the backbone of safe, biodegradable, and pollutant-friendly biodiesel. Experts argue that biodiesel can reduce greenhouse gases by up to 78%.
Biofuel in general is becoming more and more popular because of the looming effects of global warming. Al Gore may have introduced you to global warming, but it is no longer a narrative in a scary movie, and scientists are praising biofuel’s ability to combat these fears. Is it just me, or is The Day After Tomorrow looking less and less impossible these days…
Benefits of Biodiesel:
- Domestically grown and produced from renewable resources
- Produces less air pollutant than petroleum
- Proven to produce less harmful emissions of carcinogenic compounds
- Safer to handle, transport and store
- Cleans and improves lubrication in vehicle engines
- Profitable to crop farmers
- Can be used in most diesel engines
- Supports cleaner refinery processes
Does this mean you should be dumping all that used bacon grease into your diesel pick-up? Think again. Although that would be a great way to save a buck, biodiesel needs to be produced and tested just like its petroleum counterpart. Instead of using any old vegetable oil, most diesel fuel is a combination of biodiesel and petroleum diesel. The most common biofuel-petroleum blend is B20, which is 20% biodiesel and 80% petro, and B5, 5% biodiesel.
Limitations of Biodiesel
I know what you’re thinking. A blend?! If the CO2 emissions are what’s causing so many global problems, why not use 100% biodiesel? The answer to this is because, 1. B100 (100% biodiesel) may hurt your car’s engine and isn’t safe to use in all temperatures, and 2. It hasn’t been approved by many automakers yet.
Other factors that hold biodiesel back include:
- Has slightly lower fuel economy and power the more pure the combination
- Costs more than petro diesel
- Cannot be used in all diesel engines
- Can cause clogs in the engine
- Increases other environmental problems like increased energy usage, use of fertilizers and increased farming of crops that may lead to food shortages, water shortages and over-farming of the same crops
Biodiesel’s impact on the environment is deeply contested, and many notable professionals stand head to head to argue if biofuel benefits make up for its environmental downfalls. However, this debate does highlight one very important thing—Environmental issues are being talked about. The existence of biodiesel tells us that environmentally-sound products are being tested, created, debated, in order to make our future greener. So on March 18th, think about the positive impact you could have on the world! Large or small, everything counts.
So, Happy Birthday Rudolf, and thank you for your invention.