Sunday, December 18, 2011

One Fuel Alternative Solution: But Alas, a Limited One!

As the oil prices become ever more volatile, and especially more subject to commodities market speculators - who almost always bit it upwards (despite claims from the Elite media this is false) other energy alternatives for personal transport are emerging. One of these is biodiesel in the form of oil tossed out by restaurants. It turns out that if a vehicle is properly modified, it can use this medium or fuel as a substitute for gasoline - and arguably, no longer be hostage to the Oil companies (especially since most restaurants are eager to find ways to dispose of their cast off oil from cooking burgers, steaks or what not.)

The process of a conversion to workable fuel begins with filtering (can't have all kinds of bread crumbs, etc. in the tank) after which the oil is warmed up by adding sodium hydroxide (Na OH) and methanol. This NaOH breaks the oil molecules into fatty acids and glycerol, while the methanol reacts with the fatty acids to form esters. The advantage of esters is that they substitute directly for petroleum -based diesel fuel. But with some modification many diesel engines will run on unestrified vegetable oil.

The glycerol is then drained away and the remainder is washed with water to remove impurities, including surplus NaOH.

That residual water is then drained and the remainder aerated with an aquarium bubbler to remove the last traces of moisture. The result can be up to 175 liters of some of the finest home-brewed biodiesel, or enough to drive a pickup truck for 750 miles. Since 4 lters is about a gallon that is about 17 miles to the gallon. Not too bad. The total cost for this process meanwhile comes out to about $44 or roughly $1 per gallon.

As with all good things, especially energy-wise, there can be too much of a good thing and soon every manjack discovers the benefits, then we hit the usual supply-demand wall. That evidently has already arrived, at least according to Miles Phillips of the Cowichan Energy Alternatives society, based in Duncan, B.C. He notes that already local demand for vegetable oil is outstripping supply.

Meanwhile, in places like Baltimore, The Economist (Dec. 3rd, p. 95) reports that "green-minded drivers are prepared to pay a premium of about 30% over the cost of petroleum based diesel to fill their tanks with biodiesel" - according to the Baltimore Biodiesel Co-op. The same Co-op reports sales are up 20% this year and there's no sign of it abating.

Amidst all the hoopla, it is well to remember two things: i) Eventually the law of supply and demand will see the costs of this biodiesel rivaling that for ethanol, and ii) ultimately the biodiesel solution can only be a limited one at best, and then largely for personal transport - since there is no way biodiesel will ever run glass factories and missile defense planets.

As noted in The Physicist's Desk Reference, in Table (C., p. 187) on 'Energy Supply' for future projections of energy by the year 2012, the only double-digit exajoule energy source contributors for general use are: oil (47), coal (77), natural gas (24) and nuclear (31). Oil shale is at 3, solar is at 2 and biodiesel- ethanol doesn't even make the 'cut' other than as a toss in for the category 'others.' (5)

In the important 'very aggressive' demand category, Oil is at 24 EJ, coal is at 16 EJ, natural gas at 9 EJ, nuclear at 6 EJ and the catchall 'other' at 2 EJ. This means it unlikely that the biodiesel- ethanol alone is even at 1 exajoule! This means it can never be used other than in very limited contexts, such as relatively uncommon cases of personal transport.

Still, so long as the price is right, it offers an affordable and "green" alternative to what the oil men and speculators have on offer!

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