The Environmental Impacts Of Production And Use Of Biodiesel

Jun 4, 2018
folder_opencategory: Technology

Today people are more and more concerned about the environmental aspect of using fuels. It is well-known that conventional fossil fuels cause a tremendous damage to the environment. In 2009, EU introduced a policy of expanding use of renewable fuels (Darlington et al., 2013). As a solution, such alternative fossil as biodiesel has been suggested. Biodiesel is a remarkable alternative to the traditional fossil diesel. Biodiesel, first of all, is highly valued because it is the only renewable fuel available at the moment. Additionally, biodiesel is the only kind of fuel which does not pollute the atmosphere with sulphur. The essence of biodiesel, the process of its production and its use in the context of environment will be discussed in details below.

What is Biodiesel?

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel that can be produced from animal fats, vegetable oils, or even recycled restaurant grease (US Department of Energy, n.d.). Plants contain energy which is accumulated in their cells as the result of the photosynthesis process. The chemical process of trans-esterification converts vegetable oils, tallow, animal fat or waste cooking oil into Biodiesel. Most biodiesel is produced using rapeseed, palm and soybeans. Biodiesel is a liquid fuel used for compression-ignition engines. There are several kinds of biodiesel; B100 ensures the best emission reductions while B20 provide less reduction, but still remains beneficial. New energy raw materials – such as Jatropha and Camelina are cultivated for the sustainable biodiesel production (CRL Press, 2009). Biodiesel itself does not include petroleum, but it can be added to it in order to create biodiesel blend.

The Environmental Impacts of Use of Biodiesel

The use of biodiesel as a fuel for a usual diesel engine ensures a significant reduction of tailpipe emissions including unburned hydrocarbons, sulfates, nitrated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide (CO), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (US Department of Energy, n.d.).

Biodiesel facilitates greenhouse gas emission reduction as carbon dioxide (CO2) released in the process of biodiesel combustion compensates by the CO2 sequestered when growing the soybeans and other feedstock (US Department of Energy, n.d.). Consequently,

B100 can reduce CO2 emissions by more than seventy five per cent in comparison with petroleum diesel.

Importantly, biodiesel is nontoxic; therefore, in case if it occasionally spilled it does not cause as much damage as conventional petroleum diesel does. In terms of handling, storing, and transporting, biodiesel is much safer than petroleum diesel. For instance, biodiesel’s flashpoint is more than one hundred and thirty degrees Celsius in comparison to around fifty two in case of petroleum diesel.

Considering vegetable oils, biodiesel can be manufactured using palms, rapeseed, soybeans, and sunflowers. Rapeseed and palm biodiesels are notable for higher emissions in comparison with soybean and sunflower biodiesel.

One of significant benefits from using biodiesel is its impact on conventional fossil fuel consumption. Obviously, the more biodiesel is used, the less fossil energy is consumed. This is the prime goal of biodiesel creators: to substitute fossil fuel with an alternative fuel. As biodiesel fuel itself is friendlier to the environment, the goal seems to be achieved. However, thoroughly considering the process of biodiesel fuel production, some significant concerns arise.

The Environmental Impacts of Production of Biodiesel

Although biodiesel is better for the environment than the conventional fossil diesel, the matter of biodiesel production leaves much to be considered. Methods of feedstock production have a considerable impact on the safety of biodiesel in terms of ecology. For instance, some fertilizers evoke nitrous oxide release which makes three hundred times more greenhouse effect than CO2 (5M Enterprises Ltd., 2012). Different crops have different gas saving rates; specifically, being is produced for ethanol, maize’s annual gas saving is 1.8 tonnes per hectare while switch-grass’s saving is 8.6 tonnes (5M Enterprises Ltd., 2012).

Importantly, biodiesel production implies that crop production is to be intensified with the following impact on soil and water resources. A biodiesel manufacturer needs a considerable amount of water for the purposes of washing plants and seeds and for removing soap and catalysts from the oils. In the process of biodiesel production, water is one of its by-products which need to be utilized in a certain way. The way by-products are utilized varies in every particular case and, therefore, is different in different places. In addition, it is possible that the conversion of non-agricultural lands to crop production will be accelerated by biofuels demand which is connected with feedstock production. It is necessary to conduct a thorough research concerning yield increase to make sure that this alternative is worth its production. Water resources consumption, as well as wastewater, should be taken in consideration while assessing the effectiveness of a particular biodiesel manufacturer.

The impact of biodiesel on the environment varies depending on which methods are used for its manufacturing. Biodiesel production involves significant crop yield extension can be justified only in terms of sustainable biodiesel production. Crop yield extension can be achieved with two means. First of all, various fertilizers can be used to obtain more raw materials from a limited territory. As it was mentioned above, fertilizers used for obtaining good crops, cause nitrous oxide release which is much more harmful for the environment that carbon dioxide. The second option is to prove new territories for agricultural activity. As it was mentioned earlier, biodiesel fuel can be made of various vegetable oils. To provide the raw materials, a manufacturer may employ deforestation and monoculture farming techniques for growing crops that have a negative impact on ecosystems and biodiversity (Berkeley Biodiesel, 2013). In order to extend the territories for agriculture, tropical forests may be destroyed to get cheap oil from that region. This contradicts the original goal of biodiesel: to improve the environment. If tropical forests are removed to enlarge the space for crops, some significant ecological problems will occur. Every school student knows that forests are the lungs of our planet.

Therefore, it looks unreasonable to create an environment-friendly fuel which damages the environment. Thus, both methods of the crop yield increase look harmful for the environment. Consequently, two solutions can be suggested. Firstly, in order to stay friendly for the environment, a biodiesel manufacturer may use minimum harmful fertilizers for agriculture territories. Secondly, to enlarge the agriculture territories, by no means priceless tropical forests should be destroyed. It seems quite more reasonable to use the territories with no trees for the agriculture purposes. Additionally, it should be born in mind that such plants as Jatropha bushes are resistant to unfavourable natural conditions, that is why there is no need in destroying forests for growing this plants.


Biodiesel is an alternative fuel manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats, and restaurant grease in the process of trans-esterification. There are several kinds of biodiesel fuels, for example, as B100 and B20. The first one ensures the best emission reduction; however, low-level blends have also proved to be efficient. In overall, the environmental impacts of use of biodiesel are positive. For instance, biodiesel significantly decreases most emissions, such as carbon dioxide. Moreover, biodiesel fuels are much safer for the environment in terms of transporting, handling, and storing because they are non-toxic. Although the use of biodiesel is environmentally friendly, the very manufacturing process may involve some significant threats for the environment. Firstly, growing the plants for biodiesel production requires new territories arranged which may cause forests clearing. Secondly, growing up the raw materials might involve fertilizers use which is very harmful for the environment. Consequently, it is recommended conducting a rigorous research concerning each particular case in order to make sure that the alternative fuel is worth its production.

Reference List

  • Berkeley Biodiesel, 2013, Environmental Effects of Biodiesel Fuel, viewed 3 December, 2013, <>.
  • CRL Press, 2009, Biodiesel in Europe, viewed 3 December, 2013, <>.
  • Darlington, T., Kahlbaum, D., O’Connor, D. and Mueller, S., (2013) Land Use Change Greenhouse Gas Emissions of European Biofuel Policies Utilizing the Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP) Model, viewed 3 December, 2013, <>.
  • US Department of Energy, n.d., Alternative fuels data center, viewed 3 December, 2013, < >.
  • 5M Enterprises Ltd., 2012, Environmental Impacts of Biofuels, viewed 3 December, 2013, <>.

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