Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Biodiesel Part I

My buddy "Pangloss" had an argument with his mother. His mother, "Eleanor," wants a Hybrid. Pangloss asked which Hybrid she wanted, and she told him. Forgot the model, but my Saturn gets better gas mileage than that Hybrid. Pangloss brought that up and she got upset. "It's the statement," she argued. Screw the statement, my Saturn gets better gas mileage than that stupid Hybrid. That means if everyone drove my model of Saturn, we'd have cheaper gas (basic supply and demand) than if everyone drove her Hybrid.

Pangloss also brought up a biodiesel. Now, for those who don't know, biodiesels simply take used fast food oil, filter it, and refine it into biodiesel. Eleanor doesn't want to do that. She wouldn't explain why, but she's still convinved Hybrids make more of a statement.

Of the three, her Hybrid, biodiesels, and my Saturn, her Hybrid depletes the world's supply of oil fastest. But I guess since Hybrids make a statement, it's okay to deplete our oil.

I'm currently selling my Saturn though. Going to miss it. Love that car. In its place, I just bought a diesel, of which I'll be running half-regular diesel and half-biodiesel.

I've heard that you good people in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Chicago, and Canada can't run straight biodiesel. Yup, biodiesel performs like a Sumo Wrestler on ice skates in the cold. You'd have to go half-biodiesel, half-kerosene.

I know absolutely nothing about diesels so I'll cut this story short and post more after I've been running this for a few weeks. By then, I'll learn a lot more about diesel engines. I've never in my life worked on a diesel engine, so I'm the wrong person to ask about diesels.


Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

From what I hear, biodiesel fuel emits a great deal of toxins into the atmosphere...?

12/28/2005 5:20 AM  
Blogger neal said...

That is the first I have heard of biodiesels.

What do you want to know about diesels? They run basically the same as any other engine except there is no ignition system. The engine has higher compression than a standard gasoline engine and the fuel is sent to the injectors by a fuel pump and then it is injected into the cylinder at the correct time. The higher compression in the cylinders creates higher temperature which ignites the fuel providing your combustion.

Other than some fuel systme components a diesel has all the same parts as a gasoline engine, ie. crankshaft, camshaft etc etc.

12/28/2005 5:38 AM  
Blogger Bearette24 said...

When I was growing up, my family had a Rabbit (diesel).

12/28/2005 6:05 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

I used to read a lot about alternative energy, about Peak Oil. It's scary, and I mean real scary. I'm not sure I believe the doomsday scenarios predicted by these scientists, but their logic is unshakable. Bascially they are predicting the total collapse of our society once oil becomes unaffordable. It doesn't have to run out, it just has to stop being cheap. The collapse of around seventeen societies have centered around the loss of their primary power source. However, we are not soley relying on oil for electricity, but pretty damn close. So we have to find another way to heat our homes and move us down the road. I found a blog a while back that is still going strong. I scanned it for biodiesel, but didn't find anything specifically. Start here. Zombie, if you are going to be a politician, there is not a single more important subject than energy, not border security, not civil rights, not even same sex marriage.

12/28/2005 6:51 AM  
Blogger exMI said...

Can you buy your fast food bio diesel out htere or are you going to be collecting it and filtering it for yourself?

Be prepared to have a car that smells like french fries all the time too.

12/28/2005 7:54 AM  
Blogger Notta Wallflower said...

H has a friend who has a huge bus that runs on leftover cooking oil. I don't know about what it does to the environment, though. H has a hybrid and it doesn't get any better gas mileage on the freeway than my little Toyota. However, it's better than those huge SUV's. If you want to question statements, question those damn things - they are way worse for us than hybrids, IMO. Plus, who can see around them? I wonder how many accidents have been caused because you can't see shit when one pulls up next to you.

12/28/2005 8:09 AM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Scott - Yeah, I understand the importance, and the scenarios are scary, probably along the lines of perpetual wars for oil. Gas prices shoot up and everyone talks of opening up the Artic.

Biodiesel is definitely an alternative. I've heard we have enough to supply about 10%, which doesn't sound like much, but it's a good start.

Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.

Bearette - Funny, Rabbits are being bought by a lot of people who are running biodiesel. My cousin sold her car to some couple who wanted to convert the car to run straight vegetable oil.

Neal - Thanks. That's more than I knew. I just knew there wasn't an explosion like an internal combustion engine.

Saurkraut - All engines will emit toxins, but biodiesels emit considerably less than their diesel counterparts.

Biodiesel is registered with the EPA as an alternative fuel which emits considerably fewer toxins than its counterpart, and passes the Clean Air Act.

Another beauty of biodiesel is the fuel is grown in the U.S., so we won't have to depend on the stability of a foreign country for it. That's something I should bring up in Part II.

Exmi - I like that smell. :)
Yeah, I'm going to buy it initially, then eventually make it myself.

Notta - I'm all for Hybrids, don't get me wrong. The thing is she acted like she was the ultimate environmentalist when both my Saturn and the biodiesels we'll both be running are better. Yes, if you want to know why gas is so expensive, it's because of the SUV explosion. Simple supply and demand economics, which folks should know from high school.

12/28/2005 8:27 AM  
Blogger lime said...

i've been really curious about the biodeisel thing. i'll be interested in what youfind out.

12/28/2005 8:28 AM  
Blogger Notta Wallflower said...

I'd be interested to hear how you like your new vehicle - pros and cons. :-)

12/28/2005 9:41 AM  
Blogger Mybrid said...

I absolutely LOVE my 48mpg Hybrid. It sure as hell beats any other car I would have opted for if there weren't Hybrids around.

12/28/2005 9:42 AM  
Blogger Bo Salisbury said...

ZS, whenever I need a bit of sunshine, I know I can count on you.

"It's the statement," she argued.

As long as the folks in the Birkenstocks keep raising awareness, making statements, writing grants, etc., it keeps them from making substantial progress in forcing their nonsense on the rest of us. On the other hand, hats off to the kids in the armed forces who are projecting empire into the backyard of the looming energy sucker, China. They have bought my children another 20 years and, for that, I am grateful. At least there are a few adults out there.

A few random tidbits...

We owned a BMW for about a year and it was fun, but not the right time. I am smitten and plan to own another someday. My buddy runs a BMW service center and they get to talk to the engineers in Germany all the time. BMW's motors are works of art and the engineers feel they have finally brought the internal combustion motor to its optimum -- you can't get anything more from gasoline. They are putting out peak horsepower and fuel consumption with almost no emissions. So, they are ready to go either way in the future. I predict consumers and rapidly responding auto makers will lead the way... those who don't offer what people want will fade and disappear.

On the Peak Oil thing, here are a couple of our local guys with credentials who take on those kinds of issues... may prove interesting reading to you folks. They have a new site, but I don't think they migrated their older postings.

12/28/2005 9:53 AM  
Anonymous Jesse said...

Hey, Zomb!

Yeah, I did a little research on the biodiesels a while back. Really interesting concept, and it works pretty well in small, localized situations.

There are only a couple of limiting factors:

1. Infrastructure. There are only certain places where you can get it commercially. Obviously, with increased demand this is easy to remedy. (SoCal is one of the places where it IS available). Also, you can buy or make the equipment to manufacture the stuff.

2. Engines. Many diesel engines, especially older ones, aren't built with the proper tolerances to handle the less-refined biodiesel. It tends to clog the engines. Most late-model diesels are built with the correct tolerances, though. You have to make sure your diesel is built for it before you start using it.

3. Weather. Yup, biodiesel has an even higher clouding (?) temperature than standard diesel. So in cold-climate conditions it requires a proper mix.

4. (This is the biggie.) Sustainable production. It takes an incredible amount of farmland to produce the vegetable matter that may be converted to biodiesel. I saw some statistics (from bio-proponents) that showed that the energy, resources, and land it takes to produce the vegetable matter to be converted to enough fuel to replace more than a few percent of US consumption. This is using traditional crops, though. There is some research into using certain algae that could be grown in special ponds (they can be built in unused desert land), with thousands of times the yield of traditional crops for biodiesel.

Basically, the biodiesel thing is cool, trendy, and can make a tiny dent in a massive problem. There are possibilities that it could be a more serious alternative fuel in the future, but even the users/proponents seem to be convinced that other technologies are more promising (hydrogen, fuel cell, etc.).

When they make adobo-powered vehicles, I'm in!

12/28/2005 12:36 PM  
Blogger Bridget Jones said...

Oh man. I'm a bio major, used to work with biofuels...hope you didn't really buy one? Ever sat behind a diesel-fueled anything in traffic?

Their emissions suck big time. Even biofuels. There has yet to be a good converter/trap for what comes out of the tailpipes. And being combined with organic compounds kind of guarantees that whatever the kerosene combusts into will be more quickly taken up (by lungs).

Sorry ZS, I think that the biodiesel has a way to go before it's not harmful.

The folks I knew were working on canola (yah you hear so much about that up here) and other oilseed products.

Jesse's stuff is right on. I'm holding out for battery power (they're sinking a fortune in the R&D up here). Infrastructure's a really big thing/gap, so is performance.....did I mention I worked in GM? Engineering?

12/28/2005 2:32 PM  
Blogger tshsmom said...

I've yet to see a Hybrid that will work in our area.
First, as you mentioned, is the cold. I was driving a diesel down the road in -40F temps when it "gelled up" and stopped cold! Most of the new Hybrids have only been tested in California and Florida. The exception is gasohol Hybrids, which, as Jesse mentioned, uses WAY too much farmland.
Another problem up here is the distance between gas stations. A LOT of these stations are "Mom and Pop" operations. Will they ALL be able to afford all the different fuels that the various Hybrids require?
I KNOW that our technology can overcome the fossil fuel problem. They just need to put more into it and find a solution that will work in ANY environment.

12/28/2005 3:49 PM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

For those of you who have reservations about biodiesel, there is no perfect fuel. Biodiesel is 5-7% less efficient than regular diesel. It emits less particular matter, but more Nitrogen. Plus, it's H*ll on the fuel system. That's why I'm mixing it and not doing it straight.

It's an alternate, and will never be a replacement for oil. There just isn't enough biodiesel fuel and there never will be. That said, I've weighed both the benefits and the problems and decided to do it for a year or so. We'll see...

Tshsmom - I KNOW that our technology can overcome the fossil fuel problem. They just need to put more into it and find a solution that will work in ANY environment.

Agreed. This should be a priority.

Bridget - You're right. But I want to try something different for a year. I'm also equity rich but cash broke, so until my investments start paying me back, I have to cut corners on living expenses. This is one way to do it. My new car is a whopping $1500 and gets 50 mpg.

Jesse - Man, is there anything you don't know? You amaze me how much you know about obscure stuff like this.

I kind of replied to you up above.

Bo - BMV is a luxury car. When I get rich, I'll buy myself one in cash. I love the high end ones. The low end ones are what everyone has and they're just okay. German engineering is amazing. They invented the diesel engine, the jet, the rocket, etc.

I'll have to check out those links...

Mybrid - Her Hybrid, or at least the one she was looking at, got very unimpressive gas mileage. Yours obviously is a different breed of Hybrid. Even my Saturn wasn't getting gas mileage like that, except on long, straight drives like I-10 through Texas.

Notta & Lime - I'll do another post in a few weeks after I've been running it.

12/28/2005 6:21 PM  
Blogger Bridget Jones said...

Zomb, cool on the operating expenses. The little sucker will save you a bundle.

and it sure beats the bus!!!

12/28/2005 6:22 PM  
Blogger neal said...

There is an explosion but it isn't caused by a spark from an ignition system like a gasoline engine. The cylinder compresses the air higher which heats it enough to ignite the diesel fuel. The fuel has to be atomized, that is why all diesels run on injectors.

Some of the big diesels that used to run generators had constant pressure applied to the injectors and each injector metered the correct amount of fuel to the cylinder while others have a fuel pump that does the metering and it acts like an old distributor on a car that sends the fuel to the proper cylinder.

Diesels are alot easier to work on when it comes to tuning them up but they also tend to leak more than a gasoline engine.

Any other questions I would be happy to try and answer.

12/28/2005 6:54 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I don't know enough about biodiesel to know the full effects. Remember also, that hybrids get better gas mileage on highways than in city driving - so depending on what number your friend looked at and how much of each type of driving they'd do, it might be better. Also, hybrids in America aren't as efficient as they are overseas, even the imports. There's extra battery packs and all sorts of add-ons you can get to "hack" the engine and make it better. Gee, I wonder why they import them to the US that way?

Brazil is manufacturing cars that run on Ethanol produced from sugar beets. My friends have a Prius and they love it. I also think that hybrids are a better choice for most people since you don't have to muck around trying to find biodiesel or making it yourself.

We do need an effective alternative energies plan though. Oil is not only bad for the environment, but it causes waaaaay too many problems politically.

12/28/2005 7:05 PM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Bridget - Yup. 50+ mpg. :)

Neal - I'm sure I'll have a bunch for you. Thanks for the explanation.

Laura - 76 uses gasoline w/ethanol. They also don't use MTBE, which is hopefully California only. MTBE is an additive that will be illegal soon, which was added to get better air quality, but it turned out to be an environmental disaster.

12/28/2005 7:34 PM  
Blogger The Zombie Lama said...

My brother had a diesel.

Um, thats about all I have to say on that one. :o)

12/28/2005 8:16 PM  
Blogger Bo Salisbury said...

BMW... too expensive... Sort of. That's what I meant when I said the time wasn't right for me now. I found that, if you have someone else work on it for you, it can be pretty expensive. But, if you have time you can run down the parts yourself and usually find a deal. You can do a lot of the work yourself and, when you get under and around it, it looks like a real car... Right now I don't have the time. We got a beautiful 1989 525i for $3500, but it was just a little too old... small things were failing, but the trans and motor were unbelievable... the thing literally burned no oil. I just didn't have the time to take care of it. A '93 would've been a better choice for about $1000 more. They are affordable.

Til I buy my next BMW, I'm doing my part to save the earth by driving my Toyota Corolla.

12/28/2005 8:32 PM  
Blogger Vest said...

here in Oz deisel fuel cost runs on a par with pet/gas, bio D is cheaper, I prefer not to have deisel because of its high pollution levels.
We lived in a retirement village, (but only briefly) when the garbage truck stopped opposite our open bedroom window for a few minutes, its High Exhaust pipe filling the room nearly wiping us out.

I heard that!! did some one say what a pity.

12/28/2005 8:38 PM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Vest - Yeah, regular diesels stink big time, but biodiesel's smells aren't too bad.

Glad you don't live in a retirement village anymore. They don't sound too fun. I used to work in one for the Upper Class here in the San Francisco Bay Area and most of the folks inside were miserable.

Bo - Love the Corolla. Good cars, reliable, and yes, they emit less emissions and get good gas mileage.

ZL - Ah, I get it now. I forgot about your recent post. :)

12/28/2005 9:17 PM  
Blogger Shawn said...

I've been wondering about the whole French fry car thing for a while now. Now you've got me into the idea again. It might be a drag around here in the winter, but probably not a lot moreso than the piece cr@p Jeep I'm driving now. Plus if you get tired of smelling fries, you can always change to Chinese restaurant cooking oil.

And 10 percent is a lot if you think in terms of it being more than Iraq's contribution to the world petrol supply.

It would be nice if the government started tying their farm subsidies to something useful like crops for biodiesel production instead of just tossing out most of the excess we pay to grow.

12/28/2005 11:03 PM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Shawn - It would be nice if the government started tying their farm subsidies to something useful like crops for biodiesel production instead of just tossing out most of the excess we pay to grow.

Good idea. We could also use this for ethanol, for those unfortunate souls without diesel vehicles.

12/28/2005 11:55 PM  
Blogger vest. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12/29/2005 6:42 AM  
Blogger United We Lay said...

I thin you may have some of the information incorrect. Was she talking about the SUV hybrid? Our hybrid got 60 miles to the gallon. We drove from Phila. to Tampa on one and a half tanks of gas. Biodiesal is great, and does get better milage than a regular engine. No Saturn I've seen or owned (we've had 2) has gotten better milage than our Hoinda Hybrid (tragically crushed by an SUV), nor has the milage even come close.

12/29/2005 8:20 AM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

PC - Maybe she was. She just told me what she got and he compared it to what I got in my Saturn. I drive to get good mileage though, knowing a thing or two about cars.

I don't get anything near 60, so I'm impressed. :)
Even my diesel's getting in the low 50s.

12/29/2005 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Jesse said...


Forgive a slight tangent...

There are some interesting ideas that have been kicked around over the past few years on sustainable industry. One particularly interesting book is Cradle to Cradle by Michael Braungart (?). Basically, there is a movement to re-think front end design of products, manufacturing systems, etc. so that they are aesthetically pleasing, environmentally sustainable, and (importantly) capitalistically competitive. They do this by:
1. Mirroring natural processes as much as possible (biomimicry).
2. Keeping organic and synthetic elements separate and applying them separately so that an item can either be safely discarded or one-to-one 'up-cycled'.

Pretty interesting concepts, and they are actually applying them at places like Ford and Nike.

Where this intersects with the present discussion? One of the big elements that these folk bring up is that often seemingly eco-friendly solutions use more resources than their nasty industrialized counterparts. If you make lovely organic strawberry jams in Michigan, but ship them via truck to Colorado, you may be doing as much real damage as if you had just grown them locally. Essentially, in generating solutions to these things, we have to take in all of the real factors from start to finish, weigh them, and rethink them.

Too much thinkin' for this dumb cat.

(Oh, a good read is Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard -- founder/owner of Patagonia clothing)

12/29/2005 8:57 AM  
Blogger Vest said...

Believe it or not.
HOT AIR is now considered to be the most economical vehicle propellent. HOT AIR is abundant Everywhere, especially in the USA. Vehicle owners in the 'know' simply drive up to their local POLITICIAN and say "Fillerupgasbag".
SUPER is only available in Washington.

12/29/2005 3:00 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vest: That's funny! If only it were true. At least that would put the gasbags to good use, eh?

12/29/2005 3:49 PM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Jesse - You bring up two real good points, but I'll only address one of them because I'm ignorant about the other. When you buy locally, you not only help the local economy (and help yourself indirectly), you minimize environmental damage. The trucking stuff across states is an excellent example. Also, buying from far away, like a place like China requires both shipping + trucking, whereas locally made and grown stuff don't. So yes, you are absolutely correct that something non-environmentally friendly locally made could do less environmental damage than something environmentally friendly from far away.

Vest - That is because politicians are made from the same material as lawyers. If we can figure out how to isolate the gasses they spew, we'd solve much of the world's energy problem. The problem is you have them so full of hot air that they're highly combustable. Many scientists and engineers have died in the process.

Laura - What I said to Vest.

12/29/2005 6:09 PM  
Blogger United We Lay said...

60 was in the Hybrid, not the Saturn, but we're getting another Hybrid soon, and I can't wait!!!

12/31/2005 8:55 AM  

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