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Biodiesel: Growing a New Energy Economy

Biodiesel: Growing a New Energy Economy

by Greg Pahl
When Rudolph Diesel invented his engine in the late nineteenth century, he envisioned a device that could run anywhere on a wide range of local fuels. A century later, Greg Pahl recalls that vision and shows us it is possible with Biodiesel: Growing a New Energy Economy.
Biodiesel is:
  • more biodegradable than sugar and less toxic than table
  • Overview

    When Rudolph Diesel invented his engine in the late nineteenth century, he envisioned a device that could run anywhere on a wide range of local fuels. A century later, Greg Pahl recalls that vision and shows us it is possible with Biodiesel: Growing a New Energy Economy.
    Biodiesel is:

  • more biodegradable than sugar and less toxic than table salt.
  • produced from domestic feedstocks, reducing the need for foreign oil while boosting the local economy and supporting the agricultural community.

  • Biodiesel can:
  • reduce net CO2 emissions by 78 percent compared with petroleum diesel fuel, cutting greenhouse gases that lead to global warming.
  • be mixed with petroleum diesel at any level to produce a cleaner-burning biodiesel blend.
  • be blended with No. 2 oil for home heating, usually without any retrofits required.

  • As the politics of energy grow bleak, visionary entrepreneurs in the biofuels industry may very well become society's next great hope-heroes to today's energy insecurity the way astronauts were to the Cold War's space race. In Biodiesel, Greg Pahl delves into the history of the biofuels industry. He assesses its recent successes and current shortcomings, and stands well prepared to estimate its future. If the political, environmental, or financial woes of our current fuel industry have you concerned, it's time to take another look at biodiesel!

    Editorial Reviews

    From the Publisher
    Reviewed by David White for Academia

    The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that oil production will peak in 2037 - but theirs is one of the most optimistic assessments. Many experts are looking for production to peak by 2010, and one says it already peaked in 2004. With dwindling resources, and a rapidly growing demand fueled by increasing US consumption and the exploding economy of China, fuel oil and gasoline prices are heading for radical price hikes unlike anything we have seen before. With so much of the world's economy tied inexorably to energy costs, the resultant impacts could prove catastrophic.
    Biodiesel is both hopeful and alarming. Pahl does a great job providing a background to the Biodiesel story and its chances of addressing the looming energy crunch. He offers a ray of hope, while tempering his optimism with a real assessment of how much help a biodiesel component to the economy can actually provide.
    Pahl states: "Total global output of biodiesel is approaching 2 million metric tons (570 million gallons) annually…By comparison, the United States alone consumes approximately 58 billion gallons of middle-distillate fuels annually…" (Middle-distillate fuels include diesel fuel, heating oil, kerosene, jet fuels, and gas turbine engine fuels.) So how much help can biodiesel be?
    The book is divided into four sections - "Biodiesel Basics", "Biodiesel around the World", "Biodiesel in the United States", and "Biodiesel in the Future".
    "Biodiesel Basics" covers the invention of the diesel engine and the different fuels used historically throughout the world. Initial fuels used in the diesel engine were often biodiesels - until the cheapness of petrodiesel (petroleum derived fuel) locked up the market. The section also covers some of the various types of crops that can be used to create viable biodiesel - such as rapeseed, sunflowers and soy beans - and the methods of processing these crops into fuel.
    "Biodiesel around the Word" and "Biodiesel in the United States" cover the history of bio-fuel development in each of those regions. The Europeans have had a more consistent history of experimenting with production and utilization, and have higher percentages of actual biodiesel use than the United States. The U.S. development of biodiesel often spikes after energy crunches, with tax incentives and research funding drying up once the crisis is over.
    It could already be too late to implement a systematic biodiesel production and distribution network that will be able to shoulder some of the burden from the dwindling petrochemical supply. Such systems take time to put in place - and even IF we started now it would take several years before biodiesel would begin to flow. Farmers would need to changeover to growing appropriate crops; productions facilities would need to be developed; distribution systems would need to be created or converted. All of that takes time - time that is rapidly disappearing if we have any hope of avoiding serious economic consequences from the coming energy scarcity.

    Review of Biodiesel

    From Farmer's Market Online
    The potential of biodiesel to replace petroleum-based diesel (petrodiesel) fuel is not new. Farmers and alternative fuels advocates have been experimenting with and using vegetable oils to operate tractors, trucks, generators and all sorts of other engines for decades.
    "Other renewable energy strategies such as solar, wind, ethanol, and fuel cells have received most of the media attention," author Greg Pahl points out. "Many people still have only a vague idea of what biodiesel is, and fewer still understand that it can be used for more than fueling diesel-powered cars or pickup trucks."
    Most folks, for instance, associate "diesel" with petroleum and fossil fuels. Pure biodiesel has either; it is entirely made up of plant-based oils or animal fats.
    In Europe, Pahl reports, biodiesel has been manufactured on an industrial scale since 1992 and with strong government support from the European Union it has replaced 2 percent of the petrodiesel use in member countries. The goal there is to increase that percentage to 5.75 by 2010 in order to reduce dependence on foreign oil and to cut back on greenhouse emissions.
    Here in the U.S., where the petroleum industry exerts more control, there has been much less investment in and promotion of biodiesel? until recently. errorism, Middle East conflicts, global warming, rising petroleum prices and the steady depletion of proven reserves has intensified interest in alternatives. And of all the fuel alternatives currently available, according to Pahl's assessment, biodiesel offers the most feasible, cost-effective and beneficial option for the near future.
    "Biodiesel produces lower quantities of cancer-causing particulate emissions, is more biodegradable than sugar, and is less toxic than table salt," Pahl points out. "And because it can be produced from domestic feedstocks, biodiesel reduces the need for foreign imports of oil, while simultaneously boosting the local economy. No wonder there is so much enthusiasm, especially in the agricultural community, about biodiesel; farmers can literally grow their own fuel."
    Pahl's book recounts the story of Rudolph Diesel's late 19th century invention of an engine that could run almost anywhere using a wide range of local fuels. And he reports on the research of University of Idaho professor Charles Peterson who, nearly a century later, perfected the process of transesterification that produces biodiesel fuel from alcohol and vegetable oils or animal fats.
    As detailed in this book, biodiesel capable of fueling a modern diesel engine can be produced by the gallon at home or on an industrial scale in a plant located almost anywhere. Feedstocks for the fuel range from oilseed plants, mustard seed, soybeans and corn to used cooking oil, animal fats and even algae.
    If all these feedstocks are exploited and America's fallow fields are put to work producing oilseed, biodiesel may eventually provide 10 to 20 percent of the current diesel fuel used in this country. That's not enough to meet current and future energy needs, the experts quoted in this book agree, but it could help ease the transition away from our heavy reliance on fossil fuels.

    Piedmont Biofuels: Greg Pahl's New Book

    February 7, 2005

    Energy Blog
    I must say I was startled to see the arrival of Biodiesel: Growing a New Energy Economy.
    Apparently Greg Pahl had consulted some of the lists, but the lists I frequent responded to the news of his new book with comments like "Who is Greg Pahl?"
    Kumar promised to review it in Fueled for Thought, and while I have been waiting for his thoughts, I just finished the book this morning, and thought I would try my hand at being a book reviewer.
    I should say at the outset that in January I submitted a manuscript on biodiesel that is scheduled for publication next fall. My book is largely a chronicle of Piedmont Biofuels, and the folks we have met along the way, told from the same point of view as this blog.
    When I saw that Greg Pahl had beat me to the bookstore, I had a momentary flash of panic. At first I was afraid to read it, since I still have time to edit my manuscript. I didn't want to jinx my book, or find myself unduly influenced by Mr. Pahl. My publisher told me to relax, and to go buy a copy. I did that. In fact my copy circulated freely on the train to the NBB. I thought it was lost at one point, and bought another copy from the NBB bookstore.
    The book is published by Chelsea Green Publishing, which is a credible and authentic press that focuses on "the politics and practice of sustainable living." A post card marketing piece in the NBB binder referred to Pahl's "essential new book," and I think that is an apt description.
    Everyone should buy a copy of this book.
    He starts off with a wonderful tale of the mysterious disappearance of Rudolph Diesel, and then wades into the history of vegetable oil as a fuel choice. The book is journalistic, not dry and academic, but delightful to read. I found myself refreshed by his objective point of view.
    He tackles biodiesel around the world, and goes at it from a variety of angles. He's got the fear thing, "the end of oil is now" going, and does a good job on the history of research, and trials, and breakthroughs along the way.
    It struck me that Greg Pahl had to interview a ton of people for this book, and it seems that he did a good job of bird-dogging down the experts. As a result, it is not told from personal experience. If he has cleaned dozens of 55 gallon drums, he doesn't let that show. When he approaches fuel gelling issues for instance, it is from a factual distance, rather than from someone who has slammed to a halt at the side of the road while insisting on running B100 on a frigid day.
    I couldn't tell if he was a wrench turner or an academic. If he's made his own fuel, he doesn't cover the experience. There is no picture of him in the book, so you can't tell by his fingernails.
    The book is optimistic, and encouraging, and positive, and I liked it a lot. I would not call it a "critical" look at biodiesel, since he is quick to quote any NBB PR person when he feels the need.
    I did hear one dedicated backyarder say, "Tom Leue is the only guy in the whole book with a bucket…" and that is a legitimate gripe. But it's not a book on backyard biodiesel--it's about the entire industry, and backyarders receive scant attention. He does mention the tensions between the B100 Community and members of the NBB, but again, it is done as a distant observer--not from an author with a dog in the fight.
    Let's say Greg Pahl is a goalie on the hockey team. He is on the ice, in the game, but standing in the net observing. He gets to watch the whole matchup, without necessarily joining any brawls, getting any penalties, or having to make any fantastic saves. I mean this as a compliment. Ken Dryden was both a successful goalie and writer, and I think Greg Pahl pulls this book off in a similar "spectator" sort of way.
    I'm glad this book exists, it is a completely different beast from my own, and for anyone who can't afford 18.00, my two copies will be available at the refinery library by the end of this week.

    Product Details

    Chelsea Green Publishing
    Publication date:
    Slow Food City Guides
    Product dimensions:
    6.72(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.76(d)

    Related Subjects

    Meet the Author

    Greg Pahl is the author of numerous books on energy and also writes for Mother Earth News and various other publications on biodiesel, wind power, wood heat, solar energy, heat pumps, electric cars, and a wide range of other topics related to living in a post-carbon world.

    His books include Power from the People: How to Organize, Finance, and Launch Local Energy Projects (2012, Chelsea Green), Biodiesel: Growing a New Energy Economy (2005, Chelsea Green), Natural Home Heating: The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options (2003, Chelsea Green), The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saving the Environment (2001, Macmillan/Alpha Books), and The Unofficial Guide to Beating Debt (2000, IDG Books).

    Pahl has been involved in environmental issues for more than twenty-five years. In the 1970s he lived off the grid in a home in Vermont with a wind turbine atop an 80-foot tower that provided for his electrical needs. He is a founding member of the Vermont Biofuels Association as well as the Acorn Renewable Energy Co-op. Pahl attended the University of Vermont and was a military intelligence officer in the US Army during the Vietnam War.

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