Biodiesel Now Yielding 3.5 to 1?

Some folks are familiar with how we heat our home with biodiesel, with real success. The kind we use is made from vegetable oil that had its first life in restaurants, (and is usually discarded in places less funky and sustainable than Oregon). All of which is another reason I love living here.

My understanding had been that traditional (not recycled) biodiesel was not sustainable, i.e. uses so many fossil-fuel inputs it’s no improvement over just using, for instance, petroleum. But yesterday I read biodiesel yields 3.5 to 1 according to newer research.
I’d like to hear other people’s evaluation of this report, since the author is the National Biodiesel Board. They’re assuming soybeans as the source.

Biodiesel is different from ethanol, and it’s taken me awhile to understand the difference. Ethanol is made from corn, which strictly speaking is a renewable resource. However, agribusiness uses ENORMOUS fossil-fuel inputs to grow that corn. I think ethanol takes us down the wrong trail altogether.

For one thing, growing food to feed gas-tanks when millions in the world are either starving or without food security is unethical. For another, to think that ethanol can move us toward energy independence from the Mideast I’m afraid it is a wet dream born of addiction to the fossil-fuel-based way we are living in the U.S. As Thom Hartmann writes so lucidly in his book The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, we have to start living differently, consuming differently, than we are doing.

What I maintain is that in many cases, we can be happier in the process. More tomorrow.

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2 Responses to “Biodiesel Now Yielding 3.5 to 1?”


  1. 1 amazingdrx March 12, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    Hi Alison, saw your comment on Gristmill on relative happiness. I always term it quantity based life versus quality of life. Quantity of possesions and consumption is the modern measure of happiness. 10 loaves of agrichem tasteless bread are better than one loaf of real bread with real taste.

    Anyway, back to biodiesel. Biodiesel from waste good.

    Biodiesel from fuel farming bad. Fuel farming replaces an ecosystem that extracts and stores GHG from the atmosphere, like Brazilian rain forest with soy, or prairie with corn ethanol, with a crop that is then burned as fuel in a gas guzzler.

    So no, corn and soy, and switchgrass and crop waste, is not sustainable source of fuel. Sorry.

    The only source of sustainable “fuel” is wind, solar, water power and other renewables. Charging plugin hybrids through a distributed renewable smart grid, that’s sustainable.

    And heating your home with a geo heat exchange heat pump, that is sustainable heating. You could go to a generator powered by waste biodiesel that heats your home with waste heat and sends power back into the grid though, that would be better than sinply burning it. But the best use of precious liquid fuel is in a plugin hybrid, as a backup fuel after the 40 or 50 miles of battery range is exhausted.

  2. 2 Crafty Green Poet April 29, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    I agree with the previous commentator, biodiesel from waste oil – very good environmentally, but agrofuels are bad both because they take land out of food production and because they lead to deforestation.


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