Since the production of biodiesel fuel requires the expenditure of energy some have claimed that the environmental benefits of biodiesel fuel are being unfairly presented. That, in fact, the production and use of biodiesel fuel actually creates more environmental pollution overhead than is commonly acknowledged.
Typically, these allegations focus on one or or more of the following:
Uncounted environmental pollution occurs in the cultivation of the source crops used as the basis for biodiesel fuel including fertilzers, farm equipment operation, electricity, etc.
Uncounted environmental pollution occurs in the conversion of the source crops to biodiesel fuel including harvesting, drying, storage, adjunct chemical additives and their production and the actual conversion process itself.
Uncounted environmental pollution occurs at the electrical generating plants that typically supply the heat energy used in the conversion of source crops to biodiesel fuel.
The short answer to this is that these allegations are fundamentally true and that the environmental pollution overhead is seldom counted when benefits of biodiesel fuel are being touted.
That being said (some would say admitted), this type of allegation which is usually used in some sort of comparative analysis of biodiesel and fossil fuel, is generally a selective context argument that fails to make a true apples-to-apples comparison. For clarification, let’s address each of these allegations in turn in a proper context.
The first allegation while true, fails to make a corresponding connection between the environmental overhead cost of crop production and the environmental overhead cost of fossil fuel location and extraction. Ask yourself, when is the last time you saw the environmental overhead cost of fossil fuel gasoline or diesel location and extraction included in their pollution figures. And, this question generously ignores the mega-environmental overhead costs of oil spills, habitat and wild-life destruction, etc.
The second allegation is also true but likewise also fails to make a corresponding connection between the environmental overhead cost of crop conversion and the environmental overhead cost of operating fossil fuel cracking and refining plants as well as storage. For a valid comparison, the environmental overhead cost of operating these plants and the energy they consume should have to be included. Again, even this comparison generously ignores the mega-environmental cost of having a hazardous chemical and pollution generating plant. Any resident who lives near such a plant can tell you stories of repeated hazardous waste alerts both in the air and ground water; fires, etc.
The third allegation is true; but in this case there are two context offsets to be considered:
Biodiesel fuel production is not alone in its consumption of electrical power. Certainly, fossil fuel cracking and refining plants use megawatts of electrical power and I have yet to see this source of environmental pollution overhead included in any fossil fuel pollution calculations.
Electricity generating plants typically have carefully controlled environments with high efficiency fuel consumption; smoke scrubbers, etc. so pollution created by electrical generating plants is almost certainly far less per watt of power than pollution generated by on-site or rolling-stock engines. And this latter point generously ignores the fact that large amounts of electrical energy comes from hydro-electric plants with near zero pollution production.
So the next time you hear these allegations regarding biodiesel; be sure to point out the selective “factual” source of these allegations and hold any such alleger to a proper presentation of all evidence in full and complete context.