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The SVO vs biodiesel argument
There's quite a lot of mis- or disinformation on the Web about the merits of SVO vs biodiesel.
A gent from the Netherlands sent a message to the Biofuels mailing list which caused widespread derision and amusement, and some anger. He was pushing the use of "pure plant oils", but ignored all the caveats on using SVO, and added some serious nonsense about biodiesel to strengthen his case for pure plant oils:
"Biodiesel is a chemically altered plant oil. However the process to chemically change the structure of Pure Plant Oil is a very costly operation and requires a lot of energy, as it removes the glycerine substituting it by methanol as well as adding other chemicals, making the end-product poisonous and equally hazardous as fossil diesel fuel."
He was referred to the comprehensive, much corroborated tests in the US that found that biodiesel is "less toxic than table salt, more biodegradeable than sugar", to the U.S. Department of Energy study at the University of California at Davis, which found a 93.6% lower risk of cancer from biodiesel emissions than from petro-diesel, to life-cycle and economic studies of biodiesel production that found the opposite of his cost and energy claims, and to this picture at our website.
Asked to support his claims, he descended into accusation and denial and then unsubscribed from the list, only to appear at other lists saying terrible things about Journey to Forever. It turned out he was about to open a factory producing "pure plant oil" fuel.
Stories of the alleged horrors of biodiesel are not uncommon, especially on websites selling SVO kits, and especially in Europe.
It seems partly to stem from an apparent misclassification of water pollution standards in Germany, where the risk from rapeseed oil is not even classified, while biodiesel is rated as a class 1 hazard, and fossil diesel is in class 2 (worse). It only refers to water pollution and no other aspects of toxicity or hazard.
A biodiesel spill is less of a problem than a spill of vegetable oil, which coats everything, like fossil oil does. In fact biodiesel is used to clean up marine oil spills. In North America it is not classed as hazardous.
"All the biodiesel fuels are 'readily biodegradable' compounds according to EPA standard (EPA, 1982) and have a relatively high biodegradation rate in the aquatic environment... Biodiesel can promote and speed up the biodegradation of diesel. The more biodiesel present in a biodiesel/diesel mixture, the faster the degradation rate. The biodegradation pattern in a biodiesel/diesel mixture is that microorganisms metabolize both biodiesel and diesel at the same time and at almost the same rates... Neat rapeseed oil and soybean oil have slightly lower percent degradation. Their higher viscosity may limit their solubility, therefore limit their biodegradability." -- From "Biodegradability of Biodiesel in the Aquatic Environment", by Xiulin Zhang, Charles L. Peterson, Daryl Reece, Gregory Möller, Randall Haws, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, USA. Acrobat file, 1.1Mb.
This is corroborated by other studies.
Here's another anti-biodiesel yarn:
"Biodiesel is chemically produced and substantially more expensive than vegetable oil. Except for a few new vehicles, most are not suited for using biodiesel. The majority of diesel vehicles must first be converted, in order to guarantee they will operate on biodiesel. The problem is the durability of the plastic and rubber components, which come into contact with the fuel. If biodiesel is used in a system that has not been adapted, the fuel can leak from places where it frequently backs up, which weakens and dissolves the fuel system's components. When using pure, untreated vegetable oil, these problems will not occur." -- From Diesel-Therm.
That it's "untreated" is a myth -- most oils have to be de-gummed, deacidified, and usually winterized, it also involves chemical treatments, and there are centralized factories in Europe that process fuel-grade vegetable oil, much the same as for food-grade oils. Very few types of oil can go straight from the oilseed crusher to the fuel tank. (See "Straighter-than-straight vegetable oils as diesel fuels".)
The introduction of low-sulphur diesel fuel in Europe about 12 years ago caused severe problems for fuel systems and all manufacturers hastened to correct it, which also made the vehicles safe for biodiesel. In effect, no European cars made in the last 12 years have fuel-system parts that are susceptible to rot from biodiesel use. All French diesel fuel now contains 2-5% biodiesel (partly to make up for the lack of lubricity in low-sulphur diesel fuel), and European diesel cars can and do use it safely, as with Japanese diesels. See: Stanadyne White Paper on diesel fuel -- "Low-Sulfur Diesel Fuel Requires Additives to Preserve Fuel Lubricity"
If you're in any doubt about this check the resources linked from our Biodiesel resources on the Web page and make up your own mind. See also Compatibility: Rubber
A German professor compared Plant oil (SVO) and Biodiesel (BD), including these comparisons:
|Comparison of pure plant oil and bio diesel as fuel
decentralized small oil expellers
central, big industrial units
|danger of water pollution
regularly no or small
|regional income generation
|-- From "Comparison of pure plant oil and bio diesel as fuel" by Prof. E. Schrimpff, Fachhochschule Weihenstephan, University of Applied Sciences, "the largest 'green' university of applied sciences in Germany".
It's simply nonsense. Biodiesel production is not confined to "central, big industrial units" as thousands of small, local, high-quality operations can attest. SVO cannot be used straight from the expeller and is often produced in big centralized factories in Europe. SVO does not biodegrade "very fast", biodiesel biodegrades faster, it's not "delayed". Biodiesel poses less danger of water pollution, not more. It is no more toxic than SVO.
In some real applied science, a different professor concludes: "So dear friends, please be careful when you compare that lovely (but already refined) SVO with biodiesel." -- From "Straighter-than-straight vegetable oils as diesel fuels", Michael Allen, Visiting Professor, Prince of Songkla University, Thailand
A Biofuel mailing list member put it in perspective: "SVO versus biodiesel is a pseudo argument that should not exist. It creates a false competitive situation between two good things and distracts from the real issues on how we can minimize the use of fossil fuels."
Quite so. They're complementary, it's a choice.
Back to Straight vegetable oil as diesel fuel
En español -- Biocombustibles, biodiesel
Biofuels supplies and suppliers
Make your own biodiesel
Mike Pelly's recipe
Two-stage biodiesel process
FOOLPROOF biodiesel process
Biodiesel in Hong Kong
Nitrogen Oxide emissions
Biodiesel resources on the Web
Do diesels have a future?
Vegetable oil yields and characteristics
Biodiesel and your vehicle
Food or fuel?
Straight vegetable oil as diesel fuel
Ethanol resources on the Web
Is ethanol energy-efficient?