Atanu Dey On India's Development


An email exchange with Reuben got me thinking about biodiesel. I wrote saying:

I am not sure what ‘biodiesel’ is. I am assuming that it is some sort of oil that is extracted from some plant that is grown for the purpose and which oil can be used to fuel a diesel engine.

The good thing about biodiesel (assuming my conjecture is correct) is that it takes care of the carbon dioxide problem. Growing the plant which produces biodiesel would remove an equivalent amount of carbon from the atmosphere as would be produced from using the diesel in an internal combustion engine. Essentially, it would be a ‘solar-powered’ engine with the plant working as the intermediate stage.

Then I figured that I might as well reduce my level of ignorance. So off to the web I went and found Here are some of the basics:

What is biodiesel?
Biodiesel is the name of a clean burning alternative fuel, produced from domestic, renewable resources. Biodiesel contains no petroleum, but it can be blended at any level with petroleum diesel to create a biodiesel blend. It can be used in compression-ignition (diesel) engines with little or no modifications. Biodiesel is simple to use, biodegradable, nontoxic, and essentially free of sulfur and aromatics.

How is biodiesel made?
Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification whereby the glycerin is separated from the fat or vegetable oil. The process leaves behind two products — methyl esters (the chemical name for biodiesel) and glycerin (a valuable byproduct usually sold to be used in soaps and other products).

Is Biodiesel the same thing as raw vegetable oil?
No! Fuel-grade biodiesel must be produced to strict industry specifications (ASTM D6751) in order to insure proper performance. Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel to have fully completed the health effects testing requirements of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. Biodiesel that meets ASTM D6751 and is legally registered with the Environmental Protection Agency is a legal motor fuel for sale and distribution. Raw vegetable oil cannot meet biodiesel fuel specifications, it is not registered with the EPA, and it is not a legal motor fuel.

If India can grow the biomass suitable for biodiesel in marginal agricultural lands, it would be wonderful. Of course, India also needs clean-burning modern diesel engines as well. This can be one of those technologies that create a partnership between the agricultural and manufacturing sectors: the former grows the stuff and provides the latter the induced demand for its output.

NOTE: I don’t have any expertise in biodiesel. So please don’t write a comment asking for information.

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