Sep 7

Jesse Robbins

Jesse Robbins

Biodiesel @ Burning Man and beyond...

As Brady mentioned last week, Biodiesel use skyrocketed at Burning Man this year by both the organization and individual participants. Burn Green Express (posted to O'Reilly Radar)Groups like the Green Tortoise and the Burn Green Express even partnered with Bently Biofuels to provide on-site refueling for their vehicles and others (including mine).

Most diesel-engined cars and trucks can run on biodiesel without any modifications other than changing the fuel filter. I've been driving a biodiesel truck for over a year, and tell people that the only “conversion” it required was a sticker and a sense of moral superiority. I find fuel stations using NearBio, and if I need to I can always fill up with regular dino-diesel.

from the EPA Renewable Fuel Standard Program:
Biodiesel is a renewable fuel produced from agricultural resources such as vegetable oils. In the United States, most biodiesel is made from soybean oil; however canola oil, sunflower oil, recycled cooking oils, and animal fats are also used.

How It's Made
To make biodiesel, the base oil is put through a process called "esterificiation." This refining method uses an industrial alcohol (ethanol or methanol) and a catalyst (substance that enables a chemical reaction) to convert the oil into a fatty-acid methyl-ester fuel (biodiesel).
Bentley Biofuel refilling Jesse's Suburban on Playa
Biodiesel in its pure form is known as "neat biodiesel" or B100, but it can also be blended with conventional diesel, most commonly as B5 (5 percent biodiesel and 95 percent diesel) and B20 (20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent diesel). Biodiesel is registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is legal for use at any blend level in both highway and nonroad diesel vehicles.

Most diesel engines can run on biodiesel without needing any special equipment. If you are interested in using biodiesel in your vehicle or equipment, check with the manufacturer for any recommendations and information regarding engine warranties. In addition, once you have determined the proper blend for your vehicle, make sure to purchase your fuel from a reputable dealer selling commercial grade biodiesel.

For more information see, the excellent World Changing post on the Green Man and previous efforts, Inside:GreenTech, and the Official Burning Man Environment Blog. (any others I should be reading?)

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Comments: 8

  dave kebb [09.08.07 07:50 PM]

In England the price of dinodiesel is huge - a pound a litre or about 7.50 a us gallon. Veg oil (canola is the best) sells at about half that price. The aroma of french fries from car tailapipes is a common sensation around town.

I was tipping in raw oil from the market into a ten year old turbodiesel with 5 litres of dinodiesel once in a while and a shot of spirit every tank or two. Everything ran extremely well and I hear it is still going fine a year on.

In winter there needs to be a little finer mixing but it is a great (and more recently, legal) home brew hobby.

Brazilian alcohol prices are seasonal (cheap now) so that might be *another* equation to be wieghed apart from the soontobecritical foodcrop versus fuelcrop land-use dichotomy.


  Chris Blow [09.08.07 10:43 PM]

@"any others I should be reading?"

Yes: Lyle Estill's Energy Blog, which influential, educational and personal about an industrial biodiesel startup.

And it's really funny.

  Peter [09.09.07 04:02 AM]

"a sense of moral superiority"

What for? Biodiesel is obviously not the answer. Driving less is.

Did it ever come to your mind that some day people might starve in 3rd world countries because producing biodiesel is economically more interesting than producing food.

The naive equation 'renewable = good' already has some hefty side-effects on food production. Furthermore, for air pollution, it doe not matter if you burn diesel or biodiesel. Biodiesel only solves CO2-problems (partially).

Biodiesel is only a last-ditch attempt to prolong the old ways of the oil era. Stop driving, start thinking!

  Jesse Robbins [09.09.07 11:02 AM]


As both you and Dave Kebb point out, we need to give the "foodcrop versus fuelcrop land-use dichotomy" more attention. I'm hoping that non-foodcrop fuel sources such as Algae will help.

My understanding is that Biodiesel creates substantially less air-pollution than regular diesel. Is there something that I'm missing?

  Adam Fisk [09.12.07 09:55 AM]

There are so many problems with biodiesel and Burning Man from an ecological perspective that I don't know where to begin.

Biodiesel's potential as a fuel is limited due to

1) The second law of thermodynamics -- converting chemical fertilizers to fuel is inefficient.
2) If you're using restaurant oils instead of industrialized agriculture, the supply is so limited that it just makes no difference.

I could not agree with Peter more that the solution is to drive less. Live in walkable places with public transportation. Live in dense areas.

Burning Man is a complete ecological disaster. I find the whole "what goes in must go out" stuff and even the biodiesel efforts as almost comical. They're missing the elephant in the room -- you're creating an instant city in the middle of the desert, with people carting in generators, all materials, and people from all over the world. You could not possibly imagine something more unsustainable beyond lighting Saudi Arabia's oil fields and watching them burn. The most wasteful suburb of LA must have a lower ecological impact. The numbers are hard to run on this, but built in systems like insulation, roads, running water, electricity, etc etc are just so much more efficient that the Burning Man instant city approach.

Any association of Burning Man with ecological sensitivity reflects a major misunderstanding of the higher level systems that make a society sustainable or not.


  Michael [11.16.07 07:52 AM]

I can only agree to my previous speakers. Biodiesel is definitively no solution for the CO2-problem. Even if you crop the whole earth with rape seed you wouldn't get enough biodiesel to satisfy the demand. With one hectar rape seed you can get an amount of biodiesel, which only corresponds to round about 1600 liter normal diesel. And it is not true that Biodiesel is C02-neutral, because you need energy in the process of making Biodiesel from the seeds. Another point is that the ozone layer is damaged due to the excessive use of fertilizer and pesticides during the cultivation process.
So in my opinion biodiesel is just waste of money and research grants.

  Franz Garten Holz [12.03.07 02:06 AM]

The prevalence of biodiesel is a step in the right direction. But we need not only renewable fuels, We need clean energy!

The only way to stop global warming!

  Joseph Dunphy [12.20.07 08:14 PM]

One point I never see addressed - what is the energy cost of producing the chemicals used to produce the Biodiesel?

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