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Power Science

Breakthrough in Biodiesel Production 406

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the waiting-for-low-carb-fuel dept.
MGR writes "National Geographic is reporting that Japanese scientists have discovered a way to convert vegetable oil into biodiesel with a much less expensive catalyst (between 10 and 50 times cheaper) than what is currently used. From the article: 'Any vegetable oil can become fuel, but not until its fatty acids are converted to chemical compounds known as esters. Currently the acids used to convert the fatty acids are prohibitively expensive. Michikazu Hara, of the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Yokohama, Japan, and his colleagues have used common, inexpensive sugars to form a recyclable solid acid that does the job on the cheap.'"
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Breakthrough in Biodiesel Production

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  • Finally! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:36PM (#14120723)
    I hope we can finally dump our dependence on foreign oil. If this sort of thing really comes through, the Saudis are going to be PISSED.
    • The Saudi's may be pissed, living in a desert and all, but think about it, genetically modify corn based plants to grow in a well-irrigated desert (and this is possible, things do grow in the desert) and suddenly the Middle East becomes a place to grow fuel - hey, it could even help African countries. Of course, the USA also has lots of wasted space... But for me as a Brit, with very low spare space, I'd be happy to buy African corn based fuel, in fact I'd probably prefer it.
      • Re:Finally! (Score:4, Informative)

        by DrSkwid (118965) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @08:56PM (#14121092) Homepage Journal
        and using the desert as one big hydroponics setup would help global warming.

        Don't only a huge carbon sink but also all that nasty water vapour from the ice caps melting and the sea levels rising would be a huge water sink also.

        Australia could join in too.

      • Re:Finally! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Obyron (615547) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @10:51PM (#14121661)
        Everyone's always for helping the poor African citizens on principle, but they forget the African political climate. What money is netted from this is going to go to the Mobutu Sese-Seko, Charles Taylor, Robert Mugabe, King Mswati, Idi Amin, Omar al'Bashir, Sani Abacha, and Gaddafis of the world. Prosperity in Africa won't come about simply by giving them a new commodity they can use to make their dictators rich.
    • Re:Finally! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by _KiTA_ (241027) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @10:46PM (#14121632) Homepage
      Not really. The Saudis are more aware than most that their oil domination is rapidly going to run out. They even have a saying on the matter. "My father rode a camel. I ride a car. My son flies a jet. His son will ride a camel."

      No, what I would expect more than anything is the Saudis to invest heavily in BioD and other alternative energies once they see a winner and corner that market as it emerges.
    • Re:Finally! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Abcd1234 (188840)
      Ummm... you do realize that burning gas is only one way in which oil is consumed, don't you? Or did you forget about plastics, styrofoam, synthetic fibers, lubricants, fertilizer... hell, Cool Whip. In fact, gasoline comprises only 45% of oil consumption:

      reference []

      So, don't count on breaking that dependence on 'foreign oil' so easily.
      • Re:Finally! (Score:3, Informative)

        by JVert (578547)
        45%? No thank you, i'll drive my oil like an american.

        Thus, while oil continues to account for more than 95 percent of all the energy used for transportation in the United States, oil accounts for less than 20 percent of the energy consumed for other, stationary uses, down from 30 percent in 1973.
  • by ChrisGilliard (913445) <> on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:37PM (#14120727) Homepage
    with a much less expensive catalyst (between 10 and 50 times cheaper) than what is currently used.

    Note: the catalyst is 10 - 50 times cheaper, not biodisel fuel itself, while the breakthrough is meaningful, the headline is misleading. I'd be curious to know what percentage of the total cost of producing biodisel is related to the cost of this catalyst.
    • by bogaboga (793279) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:45PM (#14120761)
      Still, this is an important development. If it is true and workable, most 3rd world countries will be able to "grow" a very essential component of fuel. Right now, there is no way these countries can avoid paying their hard earned dollars to the oil companies of the world, most of which are from the west.
      • by TheGavster (774657) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:47PM (#14120767) Homepage
        It should also give the third world a new market for their agricultural products; while we may make it a pain for people to sell us food, it's easy as pie to sell fuel over the border.
        • by j-cloth (862412) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:54PM (#14120793)
          Not just the 3rd world -- farmers in general. I ran screaming from the prairies because there are no jobs and no money there. More markets for farmers are a Good Thing.
          • by Wyatt Earp (1029)
            No jobs?

            Far from it, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas all have very low unemployment rates and with the low cost of living it's much easier to own a home and live comfortably on the Great Plains than in the "successful" parts of the US.

            South Dakota's rate right now is 4 percent, with urban areas in the Great Plains seeing unemployment rates as low as 1 percent at times.

            I have a friend from High School in Sioux Falls South Dakota making 85K with a 2-year vo-tech degree right now, thats letting him build a 4,000
      • While this is interesting as you've pointed out, I still think we ought to focus on Solar power in particular for third world nations. Solar is the real solution to the future energy production issues. I've found quotes for Solar power setups (including batteries for storage) for "large" houses that cost about $25,000. If you roll this into your home mortgage (assuming 5.8%), the extra cost per month is only about $120. This is probably a little bit higher than the electric bill, but it's at least in the ba
        • by Tracy Reed (3563) * <> on Saturday November 26, 2005 @09:01PM (#14121127) Homepage
          Biodiesal *IS* solar power. Where do you think the energy present in the plant matter comes from? Not only that but it is probably more efficient on a $/watt basis. I'm all for photovoltaics and stuff but electricity storage for vehicles is still a tricky problem whereas chemical storage of energy has worked great for many decades now.
          • by syukton (256348) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @09:49PM (#14121366)
            I hate to burst your bubble, but most crop plants achieve only 1 to 2 percent efficiency, with sugarcane being an exception at 8%.
            Source: []

            Scientific-grade solar cells are about 15% to 20% efficient with some going as high as 24%
            Source: .html []

            Solar Stirling engines achieve nearly 30% efficiency at an installation at Sandia National Laboratories.
            Source: 04/renew-energy-batt/Stirling.html []

            So I'm sorry to say that plants SUCK at converting sunlight into energy we can use. As the first link states, the initial reaction in photosynthesis is nearly 100% efficient, but as biological processes consume that energy, the total efficiency for the system drops significantly. Work is being done to attempt to make "biological solar cells" which use the initial reaction in photosynthesis as their method of light harvesting, but to date nothing has been produced.

            Electricity storage for vehicles is a bit of a problem, unfortunately. I haven't got any links declaring that one solved. ;)
            • And that's why he said "on a $/watt basis."
            • You make a good point. I believe the efficiency of biodiesel is measured at the engine. The efficiency of photovoltaic is usually measured at the leads coming off the panel. After the losses incurred from transferring the electricity from the photovoltaic panel to a storage facility, putting it into a battery, and then transferring it from a battery to an electric motor what sort of efficiency do you get?
              • I'm not certain, but electrical systems are vastly more efficient than chemical systems. Electrical power transmission is > 80% efficient, batteries are > 80% efficient (Lead acid are less than this but NiMH and NiCd are > 90%), and electric motors are > 80% when in their peak operating range. 0.8*0.8*0.8=0.512 or 51.2% efficiency.

                Diesel engines top out at maybe 40% efficiency, and we've already discussed the other efficiency factors. So if we're looking at, say, 5% light->hydrocarbon fuel an
            • PV systems suck at storing and moving energy at high concentrations. Hence, biofuels contribute far more solar energy to transportation than does PV.

              I think alternative crops (like sugarcane or microalgae) can even out-compete PV in terms of energy contribution over the entire lifecycle.
      • Of course if you look at many 3rd world countries, growing is itself a problem. Take a look at Malaysia and Indonesia. The palm oil that they produce is in many products at our grocery stores, causing economic growth and development. However, the plantations are replacing rain forest, which the Orangutan and Sumatran Tiger need to survive.
      • 3rd world countries will be able to "grow" a very essential component of fuel.

        What, you mean like [] Nigeria, Angola, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Yemen, Belarus, Suriname, Nicaragua and Guatemala does today?

        OK, so most poor countries (why do people still call them third world?) haven't got any oil. But most of the rich countries haven't got any either.

    • If indeed the industrial revolution is the cause of global warming and this really began in the 1800's, then we better worry about what we are going to do that does not spew carbon into the atmosphere if we are going to target a one-world, closed-system ecology.

      The alternative is to plan on getting into space and not being limited to the resources on good old planet Earth. Unfortunately, such investments seem to be taking a back seat to things that have a more immediate payback, like making sure everyone c

    • Catalysts are not consumed in production (by definition). So, it's just a startup cost, not a production cost.

      Personally, I'm a little suspicious as to whether this is truly a catalyst or a consumeable.
    • by brontus3927 (865730) <> on Sunday November 27, 2005 @12:59AM (#14122246) Homepage Journal
      In the 2 stage reaction, which is the only time an acid is used as a catalyst for biodiesel, the ingredients are as follows per liter of vegetable oil:

      200 ml methanol. I'm currently paying $2.50/gallon for methanol. Which puts my cost per gallon of biodiesel at about $.50

      1 ml Sulfuric Acid. I'm currently getting this for a little over $1/oz Technically that's expensive, but so little is needed that it works out to only $.15/gallon biodD.

      31-37g Sodium Hydroxide (depending on pH of oil) Lye is what's expensive. Hopefully, this is the catalyst the Nature article is replacing. Every so often a good price on lye will show up, but it is usually between $.20-$1/gallon biodiesel. If this article talks about replacing the lye, I'll definately try it.

    • An acid wouldn't do it. You need an alkali to break the long fat chains down into shorter molecules. This turns relatively thick vegetable oil (even waste oil, which can solidify at fairly high temperatures) into a very thin yellowish oil with a similar weight to mineral diesel, and glycerine.

      Of course a lot of older diesel engines can run perfectly well on straight veg oil - I've had best results from PSA engines (found in Peugeot, Renault, Volvo and Citroën, among others) that use Bosch fuel pumps

  • Lye = expensive? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drkfce (932602) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:37PM (#14120733)
    Even though it is a good idea to reduce costs whenever possible, but from what I have seen, even when using lye (which is basic, not acidic), it is about 70 cents cheaper than regular fuel. Biodiesel = Used vegtable oil + lye + methanol + mixture motor, containers and filters.
    • Lye (sodium hydroxide) is made commercially through the electrolysis of brine, as a byproduct of chlorine production (the "chloralkali process"). The process consumes massive amounts of electricity (primarily produced by burning coal), and the chlorine compounds themselves include many nasty environmental pollutants.

      Methanol is produced from methane, AKA natural gas.

      So the 2 chemicals needed to produce biodiesel (and reduce fossil fuel use) both depend on fossil fuels for their production.

      The biodiesel prod
  • by Darlantan (130471) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:38PM (#14120734)
    Err, this seems backwards to me. Everytime I've seen bio available, it's been below standard diesel prices. Perhaps it's just a regional thing where I'm at, but I've been under the impression that the real problem with biodiesel was A) older fuel lines may be degraded more quickly by biodiesel, and B) producing enough to fuel the world's fuel needs was a big issue.

    Of course, I'm no biodiesel guru, but it is of some interest to me -- I drive an older diesel (which I plan on converting to run on SVO, as soon as I get the facilities to make this feasible.)
    • Bottlenecks (Score:5, Informative)

      by pavon (30274) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @08:10PM (#14120861)
      In many places biodiesel has been more expensive than regular deisel, until the recent jump in oil prices. In addition, there have been a couple of recent subsidies that have brought the price of biodiesel down at the pump. It wasn't too long ago when biodiesel was 2x the price per gallon, and not everyone has caught up to the fact that this has changed. Regardless any decrease in cost is still a great thing.

      For biodiesel created with conventional crops the bottleneck is like you said, that there isn't enough enough aritable land on the planet to create as much biodiesel as we currently use in gasoline and diesel. Algae based biodiesel solves this problem but is significantly more expensive to produce than convientional biodiesel last time I checked. Honestly though, I haven't heard about any new research in that field since the DOE Algae program was put to an end back on Clinton's watch.

      In reality there is no one solution to the problem. The solution will be a combination of an increase in biofuels, more efficient cars, more public transportation that runs off the grid, and even then transportation will likely be more expensive than we have become occustomed to transportation.
      • there isn't enough enough aritable land on the planet to create as much biodiesel as we currently use in gasoline and diesel.

        Who says we need to put the manfacturing plants and facilities on earth? Growing algae requires what, minerals, sunlight, and water. Surely the moon or similar body up there contains enough minerals, the water might be a bit tricky but if we can divert a comet or something similar, you can put a massive orbital facility around the earth and drop the refined biodiesel into the sea

    • As I rememeber it's vegitable oil that doesn't burn as cleanly in older diesels. Biodiesel is fine in any diesel engine. There's a lot of confusion over what the defination of biodiesel is. Technically biodiesel is a blend of tradtional diesel and vegitable oil that burns cleaner than diesel by itself and if you have a free or cheap source of vegitable oil, used generally, it can be cheaper. Most real fanatics run the car briefly on biodiesel when they start the car then once it's warm they switch over to p
    • Everytime I've seen bio available, it's been below standard diesel prices.

      I just fueled up three hours ago. Regular diesel was $2.79 a gallon; biodiesel was $3.06 a gallon. But anyway, even if biodiesel was half the price of regular diesel, wouldn't you want it cheaper still?

  • Cheap Fuel (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Thunderstruck (210399) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:38PM (#14120737)
    I was unable to tell from TFA, though I did not read it closely, whether this will make soy biodiesel as cheap or cheaper than standard diesel is now.

    Not that it matters, I just bought a nice, fuel efficient gasoline powered car... It should be wearing out about the time the patent expires on this new process.
    • I think that biodiesel is great in terms of support for legacy internal combustion engines, but I suspect that the cars of the future will be moving toward electric technology more and more as time goes on. The two main forms that I can see this taking now are:

      1) Hybrid engines and
      2) Fuel cell engines.

      The main reason is that electric cars are just more energy efficient. You can do things with them to increase that efficiency that you just can't (easily) do with internal combustion engines. Things like
  • Vegetable fuel (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kelson (129150) * on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:38PM (#14120738) Homepage Journal
    This reminds me of an article I read a few months ago about using corn to produce ethanol on a large scale as a renewable resource. Follow-up articles pointed out that corn (maize, specifically) isn't a particularly efficient crop, which meant that the environmental impact of drilling for oil and depleting oil reserves was just being shifted to depleting topsoil. Very much a "no free lunch" reaction.

    If this biodiesel process can be applied to enough different types of plants, then it should be possible to pick and choose crops based on what does well in a given area -- after all, we don't have to worry about market pressures and what people want to eat, it's just going to be converted into fuel -- which should minimize the effects of choosing hihg-impact crops.
    • Re:Vegetable fuel (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Fnkmaster (89084) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:58PM (#14120811)
      Nobody except corn farmers has ever proposed using corn ethanol as a fuel on a meaningful scale. That is just a farming subsidy scam and a straw man used by confused or malevolent opponents of ecologically sound fuels, or those with political agendas in line with the fossil fuel industry.

      Bioethanol is ethanol made from cellulose feedstocks. These should, in practice, be much lower in terms of energy input required than corn or similar crops used for human consumption. The economics of bioethanol produced by SSF (simultaneous sacharination and fermentation) bears almost nothing in common with corn ethanol.

      Furthermore, if you get rid of farm subsidies from the equations, then the market should take care of making sure energy costs are fully reflected in all prices. Carbon impact is another story, but shouldn't be too hard to measure (and probably is closely correlated with the portion of costs attributable to energy use).

      As for biodiesel - I am under the impression that the major costs are associated with the feedstock itself, not with the acid used in processing. From memory, I think that the feedstock cost is responsible for at least 60-70% of the final cost of biodiesel, so I wouldn't expect a 10x reduction in acid costs to save more than a few percent in total cost. Genetically engineered bacteria seem to provide the most reasonable way to make an oil feedstock for bioethanol production efficiently. The reason that some people think biodiesel is cheaper than diesel is that in Europe they get huge tax breaks on biodiesel, so they are comparing apples to oranges.

      Bioethanol is by far the most promising alternative fuel available today, with attractive envrionmental impact and economic characteristics, and only modest incremental cost to make Flexible Fuel Vehicle engines that can burn either ethanol or gasoline. It's too bad there is zero governmental support for this here in the US. We could greatly reduce our foreign oil dependence within 5-10 years with just a bit of political willpower.
  • not a catalyst (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fuck_this_shit (727749) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:38PM (#14120739)
    catalysts? acids? expensive? the definition of a catalyst is that they do not get transformed in an reaction but simply speed it up. In this case it rather sounds as if the acids are a simple consumed reactant.
    • Re:not a catalyst (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wfberg (24378) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:44PM (#14120756)
      catalysts? acids? expensive? the definition of a catalyst is that they do not get transformed in an reaction but simply speed it up. In this case it rather sounds as if the acids are a simple consumed reactant.

      A catalyst not being used up is all good and well, but it doesn't do you very much good in the cheap department if you can't easily get that catalyst to stay where the reaction is taking place; i.e. if there's no way to get the catalyst out of the resultant biodiesel and into a fresh batch of vegetable oil, it's not getting consumed, but it's getting siphoned off (via the endproduct) none the less.
  • Well (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hug_the_penguin (933796) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:39PM (#14120745) Homepage
    It isn't going to solve the world's dependence on oil overnight, but it's perhaps a step forward.

    The next problem will be a shortage of arable land due to land used to produce the vegetables that are then going to become diesel. This could solve one problem and lead straight into another

    • It isn't going to solve the world's dependence on oil overnight, but it's perhaps a step forward.

      You are right, it is not and I seriously doubt it ever will. It just takes too much land/vehicle to be practical. Some parties [] indicate that this issue of oil dependence has already gone beyond critical mass (meaning supplies have peaked and will slowly not be able to meet demand in the near future causing all kinds of economic and social griefs--neither of which possibilites I had ever considered possible

  • In other news... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Kohath (38547) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:41PM (#14120747)
    Green fuel plan 'will destroy rainforests' []

    Forests paying the price for biofuels []

    Careful what you wish for.
    • In Brazil..... where you have to de-forest to plant anything else.
    • And how many trees die every year of acid rain (which the article mentions as being greatly reduced by this product)?

      But more importantly, if this product has a chance to avoids a war over oil, its worth a lot more than more acres of land being used. And as we make progress in agricultural technologies (and share that technology with the rest of the world), we may not even need more than the currently existing farmland to supplement 20% of the worlds disel with biodisel.
      • You do realize that many of the fertilizers that give us that technology-punch in agriculture are petroleum-based?

        Have we gotten anywhere if we are still trying to use the same amount of petroleum - but now we're just using it to grow more vegetables to make more fuel?
    • Yeah, great. The argument is that some of the diesel might come from Brazil, which means that it might involve cutting down forest. Not will. Might, in some sort of realm of speculation. Or it could come from places that already farm these crops, you know, where the necessary plants already grow.

      Of course, since biodiesel can also be made by refining wastes, there aren't really any needs for new crops anywhere at all.
      • Given that in the US the amount of gasoline used in one day is equal to the amount of vegetable oil consumed in one year, it is foolish to think that a meaningful amount of biofuels can be produced without large scale new planting.
  • Everone wins! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ThatGeek (874983) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:43PM (#14120755) Homepage
    If I were from one of those square-type states with lots of farms, I would be on this in a second. It would be the holy grail for farmers: a way to link national security with farm supports.

    If the government could help farmers grow soybeans and in return reduce dependence on foreign oil, both left and right wingers would be happy. Imagine that! Good for security, good for American jobs, good for the environment, and even good for business (cars would need some retooling).

    Where do I sign up? Oh, it's one of those "This technology will be really cool when it becomes available in 10-15 years" stories, huh?
    • by Burz (138833)
      Where do I sign up? Oh, it's one of those "This technology will be really cool when it becomes available in 10-15 years" stories, huh?

      Biodiesel is already a good business and has seen exponential growth in the US for the past 5 years (nearly doubling in output each year).

      Why aren't you growing it? I don't know. But I'm fueling up with it.

      In absolute terms, the volume is still but a dent in our energy supply. But then there is also that "square state" interest resulting in Minnesota mandating a 2% minimum bl
  • SVO (Score:5, Informative)

    by evenprime (324363) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:45PM (#14120759) Homepage Journal
    You still have to play with nasty chemicals when you convert veggie oil to biodiesel. If you are dead set on producing huge amounts of particulate emmisions [] (i.e. running a diesel) it might be better to use one of the conversion kits and run straight veggie oil.

    Don't mod me into oblivion for pointing out a negative to biodiesel. I know about the benefits: chines/Diesels_Clean_Green_Illegal.S196.A3569.html []

    • by kesuki (321456)
      Well, as you shouldn't be too worried, if biodiesel becomes extremely widespread, one can use a catalytic converter -- because biodiesel contains no sulphur or other chemicals to 'destroy' the converter a world where only biodiesel is produced would be one where diesel vehicles came with emision reducing catalytic converters.

      this is definitely a very good piece of news though :) breakthroughs like this one improve the economic outlook of growing algae and converting it to biodiesel for 'profit' which means
    • by Burz (138833)
      What does your link have to do with biodiesel? That whole article concerns running a different fuel, petroleum diesel.

      OTOH if you had even Googled "biodiesel carcinogens" you would know that one of the benefits of BD is exhaust that is 90% less carcinogenic than exhaust from petro-diesel. One of the reasons its less toxic is because BD reduces particulates and unburned hydrocarbons.

      The main downfall of BD at the tailpipe is NOX, and even then only a slight increase. It can be argued that reducing unbuned hy
      • by evenprime (324363) on Sunday November 27, 2005 @03:34AM (#14122739) Homepage Journal
        You didn't even respond to the relevant point of my post: I believe SVO is more beneficial to the environment than biodiesel. Worse, you didn't seem to understand what you did respond to. You said

        OTOH if you had even Googled "biodiesel carcinogens" you would know that one of the benefits of BD is exhaust that is 90% less carcinogenic than exhaust from petro-diesel.

        I'm already aware of the benefits of bio-fuels over petroleum diesel. I'm even aware of the CO2 benefits of bio-fueled diesel engines over gasoline engines. It would be difficult to read slashdot without being aware of the benefits, but that's not what I was commenting on. I was pointing out a negative that is seldom mentioned on slashdot; diesel engines, even when they run on biofuels, have more soot particles in their exhaust than gasoline engines. If you google "biodiesel particulate emissions" you will see that even biodiesel advocates admit this.

        Those soot particles are the main reason [] why the EPA gives the 2006 Jetta diesel a horrible air pollution score [] even though it gets over 40 mpg. The difference in particulate (soot) emissions for diesel and gasoline engines is so great that it is very difficult - perhaps impossible - to get light duty diesel vehicles (i.e. cars) Tier II certified in California.

        Right now, every gasoline burning car that is replaced by a biodiesel or SVO burning car causes us to have higher levels of soot in the air. From my original link []:

        Diesel-powered cars will always produce more particulate matter. The particulate matter, now a known carcinogen, will contribute to immediate health problems if breathed in.
        Bad for lungs, better for the ozone layer
        Granolas are split: some think the soot from diesels does more damage to people and animals here and now, while others want to minimize reliance on fuel resources and oil drilling, and to slow climatic change.

        That was the problem I was commenting on, and you responded with something totally off topic (a comparison of biodiesel and petroleum diesel.) Now, it is actually possible to clean up the exhaust on diesels quite a bit. That same article goes on to mention a way to solve the sooty particulate emmissions:

        Diesel engines can be clean, as clean as comparable gasoline engines if the right measures are taken to reduce particulate matter. Advanced engine controls, particulate-matter traps, and new-design catalysts have helped all but eliminate particulate matter.

        Unfortunately, the article does NOT explain the drawbacks of this process; the extra emmissions control equipment costs a LOT, and it reduces the power and fuel efficiency of the diesel engine. That's a problem, since fuel efficiency is one of the main reasons we are considering diesels in the first place, which is probably why most of these methods are still not used on new diesel vehicles. Besides using oxidizing-type particulate filters to get rid of soot can even increase the levels of carbon monoxide: []

  • by (579491) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:47PM (#14120768)
    I don't understand what the big fuss about biodiesel is... almost all diesel vehicles can be cheaply and quickly converted to use straight vegetable oil as fuel. Granted, you have to start and end on diesel/biodiesel to warm up the vegetable oil. Used vegetable oil can be found for free at most restaurants and the process of filtering it to be used as fuel is relatively painless. Instead of converting masses of perfectly useable vegetable oil to another form, why not just use it as is?

    Oh... yeah, that's right... if people pushed the use of straight vegetable oil then they probably couldn't justify selling biodiesel for $4-$6 a gallon.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I don't understand what the big fuss about biodiesel is... almost all diesel vehicles can be cheaply and quickly converted to use straight vegetable oil as fuel.

      Since when was $800~ (without labor) cheap? SVO is a great idea if it flies. But there are more issues with SVO than bio-diesel, one of them being the additional parts required.

      Granted, you have to start and end on diesel/biodiesel to warm up the vegetable oil.

      This is part of the problem. Burning dino-diesel isn't that big of a deal to me
    • Normal diesel engines in their standard configuration can not properly work with vegetable oil. You need modified glow plugs (cheap and easy) and fuel injectors (not cheap and easy) to avoid premature engine failure from improper injection and combustion. Standard fuel filters also won't properly deal with straight vegetable oil (maybe easy, maybe a nightmare), especially at cold temperatures or during extended storage when the oil will crystallize. However, if you're willing to go that route, and install a
  • It's a breakthrough because the new catalyst is a more immediate part of the the carbon cycle than petro chemical catalysts.

    I have an SVO Blazer. It's a real pain in the ass getting that grease out of dumpsters. I worry about the health factor. It seemed like I was getting sick more often when I was doing it. My wife made fun of me for a year. I fought a defective system and had lots of problems. Yeah I don't listen to naysayers and neither should you. I got 15k mi. doing it, then I ran out of time

    • It's a real pain in the ass getting that grease out of dumpsters...

      When I was looking at a grease car kit I discovered recycled vegetable oil at a restaurant supply house for $1.20/gallon. My plan was to buy it in 55 gallon drums, which they'd deliver free.

      Just wondered if there was a reason recycled oil wouldn't work? Because dumpster diving in grease barrels for waste oil doesn't really appeal to me either.

      I'm happy to pay $1.20/gallon for someone else to handle the collection and filtering.

      • Who do they usually sell the recycled oil to? Surely it can't be re-used as cooking oil.

        I had a friend that was really into the veggie oil thing. Aparantly there are clubs around with like minded people who will help you do the conversion and set you up with an oil supply. $1.20 is nice, but the local burger factory might let you have it for free if it means they don't have to pay to get rid of it.

        also, apparantly you car will perpetually smell like fast food, so don't do the conversion until after you'v
  • by Jaywalk (94910) on Saturday November 26, 2005 @07:58PM (#14120814) Homepage
    The problem with biodiesel isn't that it's too expensive to produce. The problem is that there simply isn't enough oil to replace significant amounts of fossil fuel. And there is the issue of what happens to the price of food oil if too much vegetable oil is converted to fuel usage. According to this study [] by the University of New Hampshire, it is possible to make the necessary oil using oily varieties of algae which can be produced on non-arable land.

    Making soybean biodiesel cheaper won't solve the problem because the limited supply will only meet so much of the required energy needs. It might even cause more problems by creating economic pressure to convert food oils into fuels.

  • Not Invented Here (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tacocat (527354) <tallison1.twmi@rr@com> on Saturday November 26, 2005 @08:08PM (#14120850)

    Since this is an accomplishment not by American Industry and is contrary to the current powerbrokers of Dino-fuels it won't mean shit in America.

    2005: law is passed giving a tax credit for bio-diesel mixes. But this eliminates all B-100 biodesiel because it's not a mix. Tax rebates are not made available to the consumer.

    2006: law goes into effect which raises the bar on small diesel engine emissions (commercial vehicles excluded) making it impossible to sell a new diesel car in the United States because the fuel used in the Unites States is too dirty to pass the emissions test. It is not the engine, it is the fuel that fails the test. There are no American automotive manufacturers selling a diesel engine in the United States.

    2007: law is supposed to go into effect to introduce low sulphur dino-diesel which should permit diesel sales to go into effect. I'm a little suspicious that this law isn't currently under assault. But we won't know for another year.

    Go search the internet. The technology for production of bio-diesel and the studies identifying the environmental benefits have been in publication, on the internet of all places, since 1998. And what has been done about it?

    • Since this is an accomplishment not by American Industry and is contrary to the current powerbrokers of Dino-fuels it won't mean shit in America.

      Nonsense. If people can make money selling biodiesel, or save money using it, they will. The oil companies do not have the power to trump the law of supply and demand.

    • Re:Not Invented Here (Score:4, Informative)

      by MtViewGuy (197597) on Sunday November 27, 2005 @11:53AM (#14123886)
      Actually, the EPA mandate for low-sulfur (15 parts per million or lower) diesel fuel starts in Summer 2006, along with the same mandate for gasoline.

      This is actually a good idea because removing the sulfur compounds from diesel fuel allows for the use for high-precision pressurized common-rail direct fuel injection into the combustion chamber and the use of a new generation of catalytic converters that double as diesel particulate traps. I've read that BMW has actually gotten their 2.0-liter I-4 and 3.0-liter I-6 turbodiesel engines to meet the 2007 California Air Resources Board diesel emission standard for automobiles using low-sulfur diesel fuel, a truly remarkable achievement considering the difficulties in reducing diesel emissions. This could pave the way for BMW to offer their highly-regarded 3.0-liter turbodiesel engine on the 3-Series and 5-Series vehicles along with the X3 and X5 "crossover" SUV's in all 50 states starting in the 2007 model year.
  • Comparable to E85? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jzarling (600712)
    How does this process, and biodesiel, compare to E85 in terms of production costs, energy density, and impact on food supply?

    Given that the H2O powered fuel cell is the holygrail of power systems, wasn't there a push awhile back to use Ethanol and its easy to break hydrogen bonds as the "fuel" for the fuel cell?
    • A couple of things.

      Firstly, for the purposes of combustion, biodiesel is a lot more like petrodiesel than ethanol is like unleaded petrol. It takes a lot of work to convert a petrol-powered car to run on ethanol without long-term engine damage, whereas diesel-powered cars can run on any mix of biodiesel and petrodiesel, which is why I prefer the biodiesel path to the bioethanol one.

      (As an aside: here in Australia, diesel-powered small cars are quite new and are all pretty expensive. For the most part, "

      • Just a little correction -

        Most corn is not raised for direct human consumption - much if it is fed to animals. Diverting corn to ethanol production leaves a product called distillers grain which is a very high quality animal feed - even better than corn. Distillers Grain info []

  • Waste oil (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2005 @08:24PM (#14120922)
    I've heard that assuming you can get your hands on waste oils (such as used vegetable oils) then biodiesel is pretty cheap to manufacture. The problem is, we just don't have enough waste oil to make a dent in our reliance on foreign oil.

    Well, I've singlehandedly come up with a solution to this problem. Legislation must be put in place that requires all foodstuffs consumed in the United States to be fried. Meats, breads, veggies - it all needs to be fried. Once all food is fried, there will be plenty of waste oil to go around.

    Are you doing your part? Step away from the grill - it's the law.
  • by wherley (42799) * on Saturday November 26, 2005 @08:41PM (#14121025)
    The acid catalyst they are talking about replacing is liquid Sulphuric Acid. Most homebrewers of biodiesel, like those using an "open source" Appleseed type reactor, are not using both an acid and base catalyst, only the base being Potassium Hydroxide or Sodium Hydroxide (along with Methanol or Ethanol).
    With higher Free Fatty Acid feedstock, such as really used grease, the acid cataylst helps convert those FFAs. You can read a little more on the chemistry of
    the news item here: e_eff.html []
    Nature abstract: Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=1628102 6&query_hl=3 []
    Another abstract: 0/cid/2/research/green_chemistry__efficient_cataly st_for_making__biodiesel_.html>

    Seems this process is five times more reactive than other solid catalysts, but still 50% that of the liquid acid - however sepearation afterward would be much
  • As recently overheard between two acids:

    "Hey fatty, don't eat that! Biodiesel Is People!"

  • by Wingie (554272) <wlmui&amherst,edu> on Saturday November 26, 2005 @09:08PM (#14121156) Homepage
    Should we really be trusting the research of someone from a place called TIT?
  • Has anyone ever looked at what would be the *real* solution, which would be reverse-engineering how these plants take in Sun + Co2 + minerals, and produce the oil?

    If this process could be reproduced in a lab, and then commercialized, maybe you'd be abl to generate lots of biodeisel without having to grow and harvest acres upon acres of land. If you do the math (lost trees, tractor fuel, time to harvest) many feel that biodeisel en-masse is actually more harmful to the planet than it is beneficial.

    But if bio
    • We are, generally speaking, horribly bad at that sort of thing. Building up any sort of relatively big molecule is a matter of trial and error and error. And even when we do figure it out, it's usually less efficient than letting some plants or bacteria do it for us.
  • Doesnt help (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mike_ya (911105)
    Sorry, don't see this as a solution for anything. Right now we have the tree huggers complaining about us using fossil fuels in our evil SUVs. At the same time other leftist groups complaining that farmers are growing grain to feed to cows so we can eat meat. If that food was used for direct human consumption it could help end world hunger, or something like that. With biodiesel the argument would be we are growing food to power our evil SUVs instead of feeding people. Some people would not like it.

Porsche: there simply is no substitute. -- Risky Business