Category Archives: biodiesel

Fiber Optics and Algae


Our ninjas over at architecture.MNP recently brought us this post on Parans SP2, a technology that channels natural sunlight through fiber optic cables into the indoors. Interestingly, this reminded me of a technology that utilizes the same light-sequestering concept to grow algae from CO2. Algae, as many of you may know, has been deemed by some to be the future of the biofuels industry. Not only will algae eat up CO2 (and NOx) from power plants, ethanol plants or any other CO2 producing industry, but it is an ideal [non-edible] source of oil for making biodiesel. The stuff can also be fermented to make ethanol, gasified to make methane/syngas or dried to make solid biomass.


GC Clean Tech Corporation bought the rights to a technology developed by Ohio University’s Ohio Coal Research Center for a bioreactor that uses fiber optic cables to concentrate light and direct it into a chamber. Inside the chamber are stacks of plates designed such that the algae has maximum surface area to grow on. The CO2 source is also directed into the chamber for the algae to feast on. This sick video does a much better job of describing the process than I.


GS-CleanTech is currently partnered with an ethanol production facility and hopes to use their carbon quenching technology.

US-Brazilian Symposium on Biofuels


Scientists and policymakers from the US and Brazil met in Águas de Lindóia, Brazil May 30-31 for a biofuels symposium “to create sustainable research collaborations for improving biomass conversion into fuels and value-added chemicals and materials.” This comes after the March meetings between Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and U.S. President George W. Bush, which established a collaborative relationship between both countries’ burgeoning biofuels industries.

Chemical and Engineering News Senior Editor Stephen K. Ritter and Environmental Science and Technology Associate Editor Erika D. Engelhaupt spent 10 days in Brazil during the symposium and logged their observations from the symposium and their travels in a Brazil Blog. There are several interesting entries to the blog. One in particular covers the research of Lílian Lefol Nani Guarieiro, a Ph.D. student at the Universidade Federal da Bahia who’s research into unregulated emissions from biodiesel, “Determination of C1-C4 Carbonyl Compounds from Car Engine Exhaust Using Biodiesel/Diesel Mixtures,” won a student poster competition at the symposium.


Guarieiro’s project examined aldehyde emissions from various biodiesel blends made from soy oil. She found that some emissions tripled when the percentage of biodiesel in a blend was 20% or greater. Acrolein and acetaldehyde emission levels increased significantly, and formaldehyde also showed this pattern. Propanol and butanol had smaller increases.


The results point to an important issue, Guarieiro says, because these emissions could adversely affect air quality. The volatile organic compounds can contribute to smog formation, and formaldehyde and acrolein are mutagenic.

Guarieiro’s research identifies some troubling emissions data, but the tone of her research does not suggest this should mean the end of the biodiesel industry. On the contrary, Guarieiro hopes to continue with her research to “find ways to reduce emissions, perhaps by improving catalysts for biodiesel systems.”

Don’t miss the blog entry on making delicious Caipirinha (the Brazilian mojito, if you will) made with cachaça, a sugar cane brandy.



Biodiesel: No War Required

With gas over $3.50 a gallon here in California, many station owners must be relieved to have pumps with credit card readers. Better to cut out all interaction with the sullen customers.

But Jennifer Radtke has just one ancient pump, prices a few pennies above her competition, and lines that occasionally stretch over an hour long in this quiet corner of Berkeley. Yet customers clearly love the place, doubling the business each year and making possible a major expansion this summer.

How? She offers biodiesel, an alternative fuel that soothes so many environmental and political bugaboos it may some day edge out lattes as the Left Coast’s favorite liquid.

“Everything about [biodiesel] is really incredible. It’s nontoxic, nonflammable, it’s made from vegetable oil,” enthuses Ms. Radtke, who jointly owns and runs BioFuel Oasis with five other women. For her, biodiesel is about a feeling of independence more than politics. Oh, and it “smells great.”

For Oasis customers, one of the biggest selling points is that the fuel comes from a potato chip factory in southern California, not the Middle East.

“Pretty much every time I went to buy gas, I thought about what was going on in Iraq, and I was feeling awful,” says Aimee Wells, as she fuels up her VW Gulf, a diesel car she bought last year so she could switch to veggie power. A bumper sticker on it reads, “Biodiesel: no war required.”


Surviving the Climate Crisis

The Nation has a new issue out, with much of it dedicated to climate change and energy issues. Most of the articles are all available free of charge on their website (some are subscription only).

Topics include carbon offsets, green utilities, climate change, carbon taxes and trading, air travel, China, and more.

Follow the link below for more:

[The Nation]

Biofuels Index Would Aid Consumers, Market

With all the confusion out there, this could certainly be useful:

The debate over whether biofuels like ethanol are better for the environment than fossil fuels has left many consumers confused and unsure where to fill their gas tanks.

Much of this confusion could be eliminated with a biofuels rating system that would reflect the positive or negative environmental impacts of a particular fuel, according to a group of University of California, Berkeley, researchers.

A ratings system, like the Michelin stars for hotels and restaurants, would take into account all environmental aspects of biofuels processing and production, from the way biofuel crops are tilled and fertilized to the kinds of energy — coal, natural gas or biomass, for example — used to process them.

Such a system would not only help consumers make decisions about where to fuel up but, perhaps more importantly, stimulate competition among fuel producers to market the greenest fuels possible, driving the less-green biofuels out of the marketplace in favor of ones that really serve the planet.


Study: Biodiesel May Increase Greenhouse Emissions

Interesting, but as with all of these studies, the assumptions made by the authors can drastically alter the result. Without more information about their methodology etc it is hard to comment on it, but regardless, this article is definitely worth a read:

Biodiesel could increase rather than reduce greenhouse emissions compared to conventional diesel, says analysts at SRI Consulting, a chemical business research firm. They also cited that “EU legislation to promote the uptake of biodiesel will not make any difference to global warming, and could potentially result in greater emissions of greenhouse gases than from conventional petroleum derived diesel”, in a new study reported in Chemistry & Industry, the magazine of the SCI.

The analysts have compared the emissions of greenhouse gases by the two fuels across their overall life cycles from production to combustion in cars. The results showed that biodiesel derived from rapeseed grown on dedicated farmland emits nearly the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions (defined as CO2 equivalents) per km driven as does conventional diesel.

However, if the land used to grow rapeseed was instead used to grow trees, petroleum diesel would emit only a third of the CO2 equivalent emissions as biodiesel, SRI Consulting said.

Petroleum diesel emits 85% of its greenhouse gases at the final stage, when burnt in the engine. By contrast, two-thirds of the emissions produced by rapeseed derived biodiesel (RME) occur during farming of the crop, when cropland emits nitrous oxide (N2O), otherwise known as laughing gas, that is 200-300x as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2, according to the study.


“If we want to save the planet, we need a five-year freeze on biofuels”

George Monbiot, author of HEAT, has penned a new piece in the UK paper The Guardian, advocating a 5 year freeze on biofuel production:

It used to be a matter of good intentions gone awry. Now it is plain fraud. The governments using biofuel to tackle global warming know that it causes more harm than good. But they plough on regardless. In theory, fuels made from plants can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by cars and trucks. Plants absorb carbon as they grow – it is released again when the fuel is burned. By encouraging oil companies to switch from fossil plants to living ones, governments on both sides of the Atlantic claim to be “decarbonising” our transport networks.

First and foremost, Monibot warns, that biofuels will set up a “competition for food between cars and people. The people would necessarily lose.” Royal Dutch Shell agrees with such sentiments. An executive of theirs recently stated at a conference, “We think morally it is inappropriate because what we are doing here is using food and turning it into fuel. If you look at Africa, there are still countries that have a lack of food, people are starving, and because we are more wealthy, we use food and turn it into fuel. This is not what we would like to see.” Monbiot points to the recent events in Mexico as proof that such fears are indeed well founded:

Since the beginning of last year, the price of maize has doubled. The price of wheat has also reached a 10-year high, while global stockpiles of both grains have reached 25-year lows. Already there have been food riots in Mexico and reports that the poor are feeling the strain all over the world. The US department of agriculture warns that “if we have a drought or a very poor harvest, we could see the sort of volatility we saw in the 1970s, and if it does not happen this year, we are also forecasting lower stockpiles next year”. According to the UN food and agriculture organisation, the main reason is the demand for ethanol

Monbiot also rails against biodiesel, specifically from palm oil:

But it gets worse. As the forests are burned, both the trees and the peat they sit on are turned into carbon dioxide. A report by the Dutch consultancy Delft Hydraulics shows that every tonne of palm oil results in 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, or 10 times as much as petroleum produces. I feel I need to say that again. Biodiesel from palm oil causes 10 times as much climate change as ordinary diesel.

Monbiot fails, however, to address biodiesel from other feedstocks, which are far more sustainable, such as agricultural crops like soy and canola. By only speaking to what is widely known as the most unsustainable form of biodiesel production, one must wonder whether Monbiot is really trying to provide a balanced and objective assessment of biofuels. In fact, a recent study by the USDA and DOE shows that biodiesel production is quite better than fossil fuels, “Biodiesel yields around 3.2 units of fuel product for every unit of fossil energy consumed in the lifecycle. By contrast, petroleum diesel’s life cycle yields only 0.83 units of fuel product per unit of fossil energy consumed.” (DOE/USDA “Biodiesel Lifecycle Inventory Study”)

He goes on to address deforestation in Brazil. But again, he fails to state why policies cannot be enacted to ensure sustainable biofuels production, instead arguing for the most extreme option. Moreover, as carbon trading schemes continue to emerge, forests may be worth credits (as they consume CO2), creating economic incentives to combat deforestation.

Suffice it to say, we’re not convinced a moratorium is needed. Sorry George.
Read the article for yourself:


-BiofuelsWatch (UK)

New Peugeot 308 to offer diesel hybrid powertrain

As predicted, diesel-electric hybrids are coming to market in Europe.  French automaker Peugeot is releasing a hybrid model of their popular 308 compact car, which will feature a 1.6 liter turbodiesel engine paired with an electric motor and batteries.  Like the new BMW 1-series, the 308 will also feature auto stop-start technology:

The model will also get stop/start idle technology – which cuts the engine when stationary in traffic – and a semi-auto gearbox. On top of this, the stop/start set-up will work even if the electric motor battery pack is completely flat, while an all-electric zero-emission setting is also offered, which will propel the car up to around 30mph.

Peugeot claims the hybrid 308 may get as much as 83mpg, and the company hopes the vehicle’s CO2 emissions will be 90g/km.  According to AutoExpress, “That’s enough to make the 308 the most fuel-efficient car in its class, ensuring it qualifies for a no-charge tax disc as well as exemption from London’s con-troversial congestion charge.”

Pour some biodiesel into the tank and give us the keys.

A step closer to biofuels for planes

A new biofuels technology developed by North Carolina State University engineers has the potential to turn virtually any lipidic compound—e.g., vegetable oils, oils from animal fat and oils from algae—into aviation fuel or other high-value fuels.

The technology, called Centia, which is derived from “crudus potentia,” or “green power” in Latin integrates a sequence of three thermocatalytic-reforming processes that are either extensions of current commercial processes or based on recent laboratory breakthroughs. Centia can also be used to make additives for cold-weather biodiesel fuels and holds the potential to fuel automobiles that currently run on gasoline.

NC State received provisional patents to use the process to convert fats into jet fuel or additives for cold-weather biodiesel fuels. The technology has been licensed by Diversified Energy Corp., a privately held Arizona company specializing in the development of advanced alternative and renewable energy technologies and projects.


Halophyte Biofuel for Airplanes

Illinois Man Fined Thousands and Threatened With Felony Prosecution For Using WVO

Via Daily Kos Diary:

“…David Wetzel, a 79 yr old retired chemist from Decatur IL had been using recycled vegetable oil in his 1985 Volkswagen Golf diesel car for 7 years. This January, ” the State of Illinois Dept. of Revenue sent 2 “special agents,” Gary May and John Egan to his house. The two agents threatened the couple with felony charges and asked them to post a $2,500 bond!” According to the Herald & Review, where the full story is explained, a Republican State Senator has introduced a State bill “…which would curtail government interference regarding alternative fuels, such as vegetable oil…”I would agree that the bond is not acceptable, $2,500 bond,” Watson said, adding that David Wetzel should be commended for his innovative efforts.” (His car) gets 46 miles per gallon running on vegetable oil. We all should be thinking about doing without gasoline if we’re trying to end foreign dependency.”"