November 16, 2005
Seattle Republican Tobias In Biodiesel Quest

He's an ex-Microsoftie and ex-Loudeye CEO, Ignition Venture partner, real-estate developer, blogger and yes, Seattle Republican. And Martin Tobias is featured along with his Seattle Biodiesel business partner John Plaza in Newsweek's Nov. 21 article "Ten Eco-Friendly Companies."

Biodiesel's obstacles have been its high price and the absence of a nationwide infrastructure to crush and refine oil-rich crops into usable fuel. Biofanatics usually have to drive to the back of a restaurant and beg for free waste oil to fill up their green machines. But Plaza and his partner, multimillionaire dot-com veteran Martin Tobias, plan to turn biodiesel into a viable national alternative. "Our mission is to make a gas that is so cheap and plentiful that consumers don't even have to know it's not made from fossil fuels," says Tobias, who invested his own money and has recruited investors such as Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen.

They're now trying to create a local agricultural economy around biodiesel, using their new refinery to convince Washington farmers there's demand for feedstock such as canola and mustard seed. Plaza and Tobias expect to begin crushing and refining local crops next year, which means they can cut down on the expense of importing soybean oil from the Midwest. The company has scored some minor victories. Sen. Maria Cantwell used the plant in April as a backdrop to introduce legislation to boost the nation's biofuel production.

COMMENTS POLICY: Instead of snide asides about Paul Allen, Maria Cantwell or unwashed, anti-Big Oil lefties, let's hear some intelligent discourse about whether biodiesel holds any promise in Washington state, especially at a time when fuel prices are skyrocketing. What about Seattle Biodiesel's idea of getting Eastern Washington farmers to grow biodiesel feedstock? Feel free to add relevant links. You've all risen to the occasion before, as in this string on Seattle's mayor and global warming. Do it again.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at November 16, 2005 01:33 PM | Email This
1. Personally I think it is a great idea. If government really wants to help this (which by all its rhetoric it does) it should fill all the busses with this product. That does, of course, depend on the price. There are enough diesel busses in this state to ensure decent demand. Hopefully it will not be ignored by the state as a Republican is involved.

Posted by: fred on November 16, 2005 02:04 PM
2. As much as we all wish that bio-diesel were the panacea to our energy needs, current technology has a long way to go before it is efficient. Various articles I've read on the subject over the past year report that the production of bio-diesel creates a net energy loss when one factors in the petroleum used to grow the crops, harvest them, take them to the bio-diesel plant, and convert them to bio-diesel. That whole process takes a lot of petroleum--or biodiesel. I wish I had a convenient link to one of these past articles--maybe someone else does.

Posted by: Scott Schmidtman on November 16, 2005 02:04 PM
3. Ford puts a 100,000 mile warranty on the Power Stroke diesel engine. What modifications, if any, have to be made to the engine to run bio, and what does this do to the warranty?

Posted by: Huey on November 16, 2005 02:07 PM
4. It would be nice to have links to reliable information about the purported benefits of biodiesel fuel.

The only thing I've looked up so far was the claim that it reduces "greenhouse gases," which turned out to be something I should have realized intuitively I guess. Maybe my intuition is also suffering from age. (No, I didn't bookmark those sites after reading through some of them; and I'm not going to go back and find them now. I'm old and lazy!)

The claimed reduction in CO2 emissions is the result of the source of fuel. Carbon goes into the growing plants, then comes out the exhaust pipe, then goes into the growing plants, etc. By comparison, "fossil fuels" contain carbon that was taken out of the atmosphere eons ago, so burning it adds to CO2 in the air.

Posted by: Micajah on November 16, 2005 02:11 PM
5. I also like the idea but where are we at efficiency. How many bushels of seed to make a gallon of Diesel? Or is it how many gallons per bushel? Everyone talks big but when it comes down to is can you produce it cheaper than current diesel prices. How much energy is used to make the fuel? There are going to have to be several different things looked at to see if it does save energy.
The cost to farm the product and the fuel used to get it to the factory/refinery. The cost to convert it to fuel. the cost to ship it to markets.
Also how fast is it produced. If you get bioseeds only once a year how much produce do you need to store to keep the process working year round.
Most of this you will not find on any website. I am not trying to throw cold water on the idea but if it takes more energy to produce the product than it provides in outpout to our trucks and diesel engines. Then it is not worth the effort until technology improves so that it is cost effective. But If it is Seattle I guess the City will buy it at $15/gallon because it is enviromentally safe and Paul Allen is a great salesman. It is only Tax Dollars. And it is helping the enviroment Right.

Posted by: David Anfinrud on November 16, 2005 02:20 PM
6. So far, I have found biodiesel to be a huge farce. I find it to be very expensive, and only 5 to 10% bio stuff the rest regular diesel. Don't find it a huge advantage at that rate. I don't want to drive around smelling like french fries so I can feel good that I am burning a little bit of organics and the rest the same old stuff. Also would be good if vehicle manufacturers would still warrantee a vehicle if you burn biodiesel, but they put strict limits on that too. Maybe I just haven't found the right place, but have been doing research. If these people can make a better biodiesel, and not charge too much for it, then that would be wonderful. Was thinking about making my own, but that is a huge and dangerous undertaking. Any one out there want to educate me and not propagandize me?

Posted by: cindy on November 16, 2005 02:22 PM
7. We'll soon have a Gregoire Road Tax on French Fries at McDonalds. Based on the fact that your continued consumption of them is creating Bio Diesel for road use.

Posted by: GS on November 16, 2005 02:33 PM
8. I just place an order for a high mileage diesel vehicle. The low maintenance, high mileage, high enough to offset the higher price of diesel fuel were determing issue in buying diesel. Another reason was the ability to use biodiesel.

However, as with all energy choices I looked at the total energy equation. Each step of a process has an energy price, whatever unit you choose to talk energy in, kcal, newton, joules etc. Energy is used to process an energy commodity.

The question becomes how many units of energy are used to produce the final energy unit. The closer to the source energy is used the better the equation. The less is used in production, with more in the product.

Right now ethanol is a net energy negative, it use more energy to produce than is contained in the ethanol.

Solar panels are close the same thing, it takes a lot of energy to make the silicon wafer that is the base of a solar cell. Then the solar cell needs to produce electricity for a long time before the energy used to make it is recovered.

Fossil fuel makes energy sense because the product is contain in the crude oil and is essential separated out. Ethanol must be converted from one molecular form (sugar) to another (ethanol). Biodiesel avoids the molecular conversion in separating out the oil from biological matter. Separation is more efficient than molecular conversion.

Nuclear is a whole separated equation, entering into the quantum physics regions.

I have spent some time looking into biodiesel and the details on the energetics is hard to come by. That makes me suspicious that biodiesel is a net negative currently.

That means like ethanol without a federal subsidy it would be priced higher than fossil fuel in a competitive market.

I think biodiesel holds more promise than ethanol, more energy per unit, With a more efficient extraction process.

An mass production industrial base will also increase efficiency.

All that said it should be a market driven initiative.

I hope Tobias can make it profitable, and econmical.

Where the government has a part is to get out of the way, tax wise and regulatory wise of those developing biodiesel.

Posted by: JCM on November 16, 2005 02:34 PM
9. I think David is on the right track...biodiesel is a good "bridge" fuel; it's cleaner than regular diesel but probably isn't worth the costs.

I would love to see more wind and solar farms in E. Wash and the Gorge, take that energy, split some water, and get some hydrogen fleets going.

No emissions and an East/West partnership.

Posted by: Ian on November 16, 2005 02:37 PM
10. They just announced a new bi-partisan bill focusing on Bio-Diesel. Lots of tax breaks, and mass transit corridors.....

Maybe Seattle will get that monorail after all........

Can Washington State resist the urge to TAX bio-Diesel into oblivion?

Posted by: sgmmac on November 16, 2005 02:40 PM
11. I just took another look around this was published since my last real search on the issue.

Cornell ecologist's study finds that producing ethanol and biodiesel from corn and other crops is not worth the energy

Posted by: JCM on November 16, 2005 02:48 PM
12. I would like to think it holds promise in WA and elsewhere. I'm appalled at the hideous belching of ugh black smoke/soot coming out of some older rattle-trap-looking work trucks (commercial). If anything like that came out of my car, they'd flunk me at the emissions test in a heartbeat!

Posted by: Michele on November 16, 2005 02:56 PM
13. This from the following web site:

It is a little more than half way down. Sorry, I forgot how to make the link live in the post...

Efficiency and economic arguments

According to a study written by Drs. Van Dyne and Raymer for the Tennessee Valley Authority, the average US farm consumes fuel at the rate of 82 litres per hectare (8.75 US gallons per acre) of land to produce one crop. However, average crops of rapeseed produce oil at an average rate of 1,029 L/ha (110 US gal/acre), and high-yield rapeseed fields produce about 1,356 L/ha (145 US gal/acre). The ratio of input to output in these cases is roughly 1:12.5 and 1:16.5. Photosynthesis is known to have an efficiency rate of about 16% and if the entire mass of a crop is utilized for energy production, the overall efficiency of this chain is known to be about 1%. This does not compare favorably to solar cells combined with an electric drive train. Biodiesel outcompetes solar cells in cost and ease of deployment. However, these statistics by themselves are not enough to show whether such a change makes economic sense.

Additional factors must be taken into account, such as: the fuel equivalent of the energy required for processing, the yield of fuel from raw oil, the return on cultivating food, and the relative cost of biodiesel versus petrodiesel. A 1998 joint study by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) traced many of the various costs involved in the production of biodiesel and found that overall, it yields 3.2 units of fuel product energy for every unit of fossil fuel energy consumed. [3] That measure is referred to as the energy yield. A comparison to petroleum diesel, petroleum gasoline and bioethanol using the USDA numbers can be found at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture website[4] In the comparison petroleum diesel fuel is found to have a 0.843 energy yield, along with 0.805 for petroleum gasoline, and 1.34 for bioethanol. The 1998 study used soybean oil primarily as the base oil to calculate the energy yields. It is conceivable that higher oil yielding crops could increase the energy yield of biodiesel. The debate over the energy balance of biodiesel is ongoing, however.

Some nations and regions that have pondered transitioning fully to biofuels have found that doing so would require immense tracts of land if traditional crops are used. Considering only traditional plants and analyzing the amount of biodiesel that can be produced per unit area of cultivated land, some have concluded that it is likely that the United States, with one of the highest per capita energy demands of any country, does not have enough arable land to fuel all of the nation's vehicles. Other developed and developing nations may be in better situations, although many regions cannot afford to divert land away from food production. For third world countries, biodiesel sources that use marginal land could make more sense, e.g. honge nuts [5] grown along roads.

More recent studies using a species of algae that has oil contents of as high as 50% have concluded that as little as 28,000 kmē or 0.3% of the land area of the US could be utilized to produce enough biodiesel to replace all transportation fuel the country currently utilizes. Further encouragement comes from the fact that the land that could be most effective in growing the algae is desert land with high solar irradiation, but lower economic value for other uses and that the algae could utilize farm waste and excess CO2 from factories to help speed the growth of the algae. [6]

The direct source of the energy content of biodiesel is solar energy captured by plants during photosynthesis. The website[7]discusses the positive energy balance of biodiesel:

When straw was left in the field, biodiesel production was strongly energy positive, yielding 1 GJ biodiesel for every 0.561 GJ of energy input (a yield/cost ratio of 1.78).
When straw was burned as fuel and oilseed rapemeal was used as a fertilizer, the yield/cost ratio for biodiesel production was even better (3.71). In other words, for every unit of energy input to produce biodiesel, the output was 3.71 units (the difference of 2.71 units would be from solar energy).
Biodiesel is becoming of interest to companies interested in commercial scale production as well as the more usual home brew biodiesel user and the user of straight vegetable oil or waste vegetable oil in diesel engines. Homemade biodiesel processors are many and varied.

Posted by: fred on November 16, 2005 03:07 PM
14. I am a huge biofuel supporter, in fact I've gone one step further and converted my diesel car ('01 VW Beetle tdi) to run on straight vegetable oil, without having to process it into biodiesel.

A seattle company, Frybrid, did the conversion and it works great. It's nice to both (a) do something good for the environment, and (b) get my fuel for free.

Check out for more information, they even have a biodiesel section on their discussion forum.


Posted by: Randy Mueller on November 16, 2005 03:33 PM
15. Has anyone bothered to look up the real cost of biodiesel in energy versus what you get out of it?

When someone is giving away the fuel, that's one thing, when you have to make a true economic case for it as a replacement for gasoline, that's something else entirely.

Rather like the electric car concept - you have to come up with a "clean" generator for all that extra electricity you need or you end up with even MORE polution than before.

Posted by: H Moul on November 16, 2005 03:40 PM
16. Hey Randy, i'm curious...I've heard people say when vegetable oil cars run, it smells like french fries. Are people just messing with me or can you actually smell it?

Also, what kind of emissions does it produce? I'm sure I can look it up at your link...but many of the readers here are too lazy to do it...

Posted by: Ian on November 16, 2005 03:41 PM
17. 50 years from now- I think it will be either bio diesal or hyrogen. W/out Nukes, hydrogen isn't viable.

If you invested in advances in nuke handling as has been done with advances in the CPU's in your PC, there's real hope for nukes.

Until then BIOD makes good sense- especially when you take into account what oil really costs the world in terms of wars and instability in the middle east.

Can we get china to dump biodiesal into our markets like the do steel? Let them crap on someone elses economy (saudi arabia, russia) for a change.

If not and I have to pay $4/gallon for fuel, I'd prefer the $80/barrel crude price component went to the farmer in Vantage, Othello or Chehalis.

I've been looking at some other alternatives myself- like using waste oil for heat.

Posted by: Andy on November 16, 2005 03:45 PM
18. Fred, thanks for linking to the Wikipedia entry. Note the gallons per acre for the base oils. Soy is 40-50, palm oil is 650, and algae is 10,000-20,000. When agribusiness -- like soy, corn, and rapeseed growers -- talks about biodiesel, they're just begging for more subsidies.

Algae?! Yea, a couple of different outfits make bioreactors for efficiently growing algae. Like Greenfuel Technologies. My house uses heating oil. Been researching how to switch to biodiesel. With one of those reactors, maybe I could grow my own. Right now, the bioreactor vendors are selling their stuff as scrubbers to fossil fuel plants. Go where the money is, I suppose.

Possible next steps are biodiesel hybrid cars, introducing ceramic engine parts (burn hotter for better energy conversion), and engines that run on the base oils themselves (reducing production costs). Note that the original diesel engine ran on peanut oil.

Posted by: Zappini on November 16, 2005 03:49 PM
19. Zappini

you may want to look at heating with waste oil- it's free.

Posted by: Andy on November 16, 2005 03:57 PM
20. For every $3 you spend at the pump, the government is spending $3 to subsidize it. I am against corporate welfare. Microsoft wasn't created with government subsidies, let's let the environmental energy companies come up with their own successes WITHOUT government help!

Posted by: Cryptometaphor on November 16, 2005 04:01 PM
21. Bio diesel is a cleaner fuel, yet is not as widely available as diesel and quite costly. I have a old Mercedes diesel which could run on the stuff but it is not economically feasible for me at the current price. Waste vegetable oil(WVO) is a cheaper alternative but requires a little more to make it usable. For instance, in can clog up your fuel lines in cold weather. This system usually requires that you start the car on regular diesel and have a second WVO tank that is switched to once the car is warmed-up.

There are a some marinas and a few stations in this area but it is still relatively easier to find biodiesel in Eastern WA. I think once the government gets involved it will become cheaper at the pump and more readily available. Then all the gov't vehicles will be required to run on it and it will be touted as the green thing to do.

But the actual cost to produce it will probably never be cheaper than petro diesel.

Pros: cleaner emissions, less reliance on petroleum, smoother running

Cons: poorer mileage, less power, poor availability, more expensive

Posted by: Rob on November 16, 2005 04:02 PM
22. Huey--

To answer your question about warranties and modifications, biodiesiel will run in any stock diesel vehicle. Most warranties (such as those offered by Volkswagen, which seems to be particularly popular with biodiesel drivers), however, are invalidated when you use the fuel because it comes from local, independent producers who aren't able to convince manufacturers that they can produce a reliable product. Perhaps Tobias and others can overcome this with a rigorous quality control process.

Posted by: Driver on November 16, 2005 04:07 PM
23. How about all the energy lost when manufacturing
the batteries in a hybrid car? What happens to the batteries when they lose their effect like all batteries do? I think all things balance.
Global warming=less energy to keep warm and
lower cost for water front property in Florida because of Bushes hurricane machine and New
Orleans levy bombs. JEEZ

Posted by: mark on November 16, 2005 04:37 PM
24. As well stated by JCM and the Wikipedia article. It's about energy yield. Individual cases of '81 Volkwagens converted over to fry oil are great anecdotes, but don't scale to the dimensions of the U.S. or world.

Fundamentally, the energy yield needs to be greater than other alternatives like ethanol and it's OK if they're not quite as high as petrol.

But the other part of the equation is that special interests shouldn't be allowed to skew that yield by artificial subsidies like there currently is with wind. I know, I know, the farmers of Eastern Washington would love more options to grow crops, but lets not make that market artificial.

Posted by: Matt W on November 16, 2005 04:42 PM
25. I am wondering if all the households are going to be mandated to recycle oil-refuse. Right now, all used oil that was used for frying goes into the drain, at least in my household. If there is a mandatory recycling on oil used for cooking, then there will be huge supply to the base material for biofuel.

This will also give another incentive to waste management companies, that can collect oil waste and sell it to the biofuel refinery.

Posted by: C. Oh on November 16, 2005 04:51 PM
26. First: I am a strong advocate of advancing to a balanced energy strategy where all forms of cost effective production are utilized. I beleive that ultimately we must and will arrive at a hydrogen based economy. That being said I would like to see FEVs (Fuel Equivalance Vehicle)here in the US as they have in South America (Brazil, Argentina, etc) that can run on any combination of Gas to Ethanol. I strongly support the use of Bio-D and the extension of regular diesel through the use of acetone (look these up on wiki) as an extender. I strongly advocate the advancement of fuel technology in all its forms and feel that none should be discounted out of hand.

A couple of things to add... I recall seeing a couple of years ago now a story that some bright folks at the UW had produced a means of rendering ANY biomass including such things as brush and blackberry bushes into useable ethanol fuel in a REALLY short time (like 15 minutes/ton). It would be interesting to learn where that technology is and what it's up to lately.

Secondly, I'd like to strongly encourage the other SoundPolitics readers and posters to educate themselves and to cease calling hydrocarbon based fuels "Fossil Fuels". (See Abiotic Oil) Doing so will give you a new and enlightened insight into the nature of fuel availability on our planet and why the change to alternatives has been so slow (and will continue to be). 1.2 Trillion barrells of reserves... does not equate to running out.

While that is the case, I still hold that we need to be looking for alternatives... after all... "The stone age didn't end because we ran out of rocks... We can do better."

Posted by: Jamie on November 16, 2005 04:56 PM
27. Microsoft wasn't created with government subsidies, let's let the environmental energy companies come up with their own successes WITHOUT government help!

That's good in theory, but in reality, it's not like the current energy companies (read: oil) arn't being subsidized. They are subsidized all the time, directly and indirectly.

Posted by: Cliff Smith on November 16, 2005 04:57 PM
28. BD seems like it will be a niche fuel. It will be useful for specific purposes in limited markets. I can't foresee it being the fuel that powers the vehicles of a nation of 300 million people. We don't eat enough french fries and the cost in colesterol would be horrendous. It's more likely that electric technology will improve or that some alternative fuel will be developed that can be used by millions of people.

Posted by: John on November 16, 2005 04:59 PM
29. Ian,

Sometimes you can catch a faint smell in the exhaust, but only if you're really trying to smell it. Depending on which batch I'm using, mine either smells like chicken strips and jojo's or oriental food.

It is true that there isn't enough waste oil to provide fuel for everyone. But what IS possible, and is the subject of the article, is that we could switch most of our vehicles to biodiesel if only the infrastructure existed to do so. Fuel crops can be grown and refined domestically, without the need to rely on foreign oil. The technology is here NOW and could be implemented quickly, if only the big oil companies didn't have such a strangehold on our political process (meaning BOTH parties).

Another thing we need here is a wider selection of cars and trucks with diesel engines. In Europe about 50% of the vehicles on the road are diesels, here in the states we only have about 5%. Why does Ford sell a diesel Ranger everywhere else but here?

Again, for those of you looking to convert any diesel vehicle to VO, see Their system is the top of the line in VO conversions, and it does cost more than other less sophisticated products offered by competing companies. Their "Reference" section has plenty of documentation on VO and BioD, and the biodiesel section of their forum is quite informative.

And finally....a shameless plug for Republicans for Environmental Protection, check out for more info!


Posted by: Randy Mueller on November 16, 2005 05:06 PM
30. And we all must remember how oil got its start. The Standard Oil monopoly successfully lobbied the goverment to keep taxes on alcohol at a very high level. Henry Ford's original plan was to run automobiles on ethanol.

Posted by: M&M on November 16, 2005 05:10 PM
31. Hey Randy

It sounds to me like you see biodiesel like I do; a "bridge" fuel on the way to something else, like hydrogen (or something).

But maybe I'm using my "Jump to Conclusions" mat.

Posted by: Ian on November 16, 2005 05:18 PM
32. There is a difference between biodiesel and fryoil.

B100 bidiesel or 100% biodiesel and its related formulation B50, B10 etc. meet ASTM (American Society of Testing and Materials) D 6751 which is the same standard petroleum diesel meets. So functionally it is identical in how it performs.

Fryoil requires some modifications to the engine to run properly, the oil is filtered for particulates and used. It does not meet the same standards as biodiesel.

Since fryoil requires the engine modifications that would void most new engine warranties.

Biodiesel that meets ASTM D 6751 standards meets the manufacturers specification for fuel, and can be used without modification of the engine. Therefore most manufacturers honor the warranty, but I would check with the individual manufacturer.

For my vehicle the manufacturer supports the warranty as long as fuel specification are meet.

Posted by: JCM on November 16, 2005 05:31 PM
33. Don't really have much to add to the above since most of my comments have already been capably written.

I think biodiesel is a good fuel for when the shiite hits the fan so to speak. In case of a foreign war or oil embargo which threatens our oil supply temporarilly (or permenantly) having the option of biodieself for us to limp along on could wind up being an excellent solution.

Posted by: Reporterward on November 16, 2005 05:35 PM
34. Biodiesel facilities are fine to locate in agricultural areas, but it seems to me that it would make more sense to build a full fledged TCP
(Thermal Conversion Process)plant that can take almost anything (sewage, medical waste, tires, etc) as feedstock and convert it to fuel economically. See
for more information.

Posted by: Howard Epley on November 16, 2005 05:37 PM
35. Bio is better for your engine, pump, and injectors. The CO2 from bio can not exceed the CO2 from the plants it came from. CO2 additions = net zero, unlike diesel from oil. Bio can get waxy in cold wheather, but it rairly gets that cold here. They should look to Rape plant for farming production. Yield + about 100 gallons per acre. Go to for Ford info.

Posted by: John on November 16, 2005 05:38 PM
36. Tobias and all these guys are new age whackos. Sound like Joel Horn and the commons; come on, guy peddling all that crap is either smarter than all of us, or "the 2nd coming of the dot com arrogance".....

How many acres does he have to farm to have the net biodiesal produced exceed consumption on his tractor/delivery truck....I think that's the question....

Posted by: righton on November 16, 2005 05:55 PM
37. The biggest negative so far is the lack of diesel autos. The Mercedes is a bit out of my league, so that leaves 1.8 VW's or the Jeep Liberty. I had a '01 VW, never again with that POS company (see Once Honda, Subaru or Toyota sends a decent model over, I'm there.

Posted by: CandrewB on November 16, 2005 05:55 PM
38. I'm surprised there haven't been any legalize hemp types here who can give statistics about how much biodiesel can be squeezed from that crop.

"He, he. He said 'hemp'"

Better stop before Matt lays the hammer down.

Posted by: Reporterward on November 16, 2005 06:02 PM
39. Do what you want, just no subsidies. People who start yammering about indirect subsidies generally get off into bookkeeping that would get a CPA 20 years. There isn't anyone alive today who will see the day that $40/bbl oil [today's equivalent] is not available to satisfy all needs and wants.

Posted by: Walter E. Wallis on November 16, 2005 06:07 PM
40. When it comes to the next thing I'm a skeptic. You can't say what brains and determination will yield; I've been interested to see what some of these recycled MS employees can invent.

The market is there, if they can supply it.

Posted by: South County on November 16, 2005 06:30 PM
41. A few facts -

Searching for oil, drilling for oil, transporting oil, refining oil to gasoline, transporting gasoline and finally pumping the gasoline into a vehicle also creates a "net energy loss" as some biodiesel critics like to call it. I challenge anyone to produce 1 gallon of gasoline without consuming more than the energy equivalent of 1 gallon of gasoline in the process. It just doesn't work. Here is a simple example of how it works:

1. Oil company consumes the energy equivalent of 2 gallons of gasoline (through research, discovery, drilling, refining and transporting of oil).
2. Oil company charges a price the equivalent of 3 gallons of gasoline to provide you with one gallon.
3. The oil company recoups the lost energy by simply charging a higher price.

Biodiesel works the same way, whatever loss in efficiency is made up for in price.

Diesel refined from crude oil rather than vegetable oil just happens to be cheaper and is the only reason we use it.

The inventer of the diesel engine, a German named Rudolf Diesel, intended to use vegetable oil, but fuel producers switched simply on price- not on "net energy negative" or whatever explanation some naysayers (funded by Exxon and friends) try to give.

Posted by: saxa on November 16, 2005 06:34 PM
42. "There isn't anyone alive today who will see the day that $40/bbl oil [today's equivalent] is not available to satisfy all needs and wants."

Please explain further...

Posted by: CandrewB on November 16, 2005 06:35 PM
43. Since Diesel running cars are so rare. Could we develop regular gas from different resources.Also water is being considered as a resource. I hear there is an electrical car too.(might want to check that!)

Posted by: Laurie on November 16, 2005 06:43 PM
44. My only experience is with waste oils. A good friend owns a couple of hamberger stands and converts his fryer oil.

He has a small setup in his garage that consists of three tanks and associated plumbing. I'm not sure the exact process but he has to treat the oil before using it in an unmodified diesel pickup.

The only things I have noticed is that his truck does not belch black smoke like a normal diesel and it ocassionally smells like french frys.

All I can say is once the Democrats figure out there are no fuel taxes being paid all hell will break loose.

Posted by: Vince on November 16, 2005 06:44 PM
45. To expand on Saxa's post, it seems silly to burn more dino diesel than it takes to produce biodiesel. But eventually you will be able to run farm equipment off straight biodiesel or soybean/vegetable oil. Maybe then we won't have to pay farmers not to farm.

Posted by: CandrewB on November 16, 2005 07:01 PM
46. I was behind a VW Bug (go figure) that was running on biodiesel last week. You know what? That thing stank like hell. Smelled like someone set a tub of rotten potatoes on fire.

I mean Gawd, it just reeks to high heaven. People who ran their cars on the stuff would speed just to get away from that horrible stench.

Y'all can have it. At least petroleum exhaust doesn't stink like yer driving a compost heap.

Posted by: ERNurse on November 16, 2005 07:49 PM
47. And you wanna talk about black smoke? I see more coming from bunny-hugger BMWs (that's Broke-down Moonbat Wagons). Those old Volvos, Subarus, VW hippie busses and Beetles belch more soot than all the chimneys in Voctorian London. And you wanna know how much exhaust you see coming outta my big, bad SUV? Zero. Zip-a-dee-doo-da.

So you wanna save the environment? Impound the vehicle of every moonbat. Besides, they like the bus.

Posted by: ERNurse on November 16, 2005 08:05 PM
48. ERNurse,

My favorite was the car trailing a prodigous amount of blue (oil) smoke on 405 in Totem Lake, got up next to it (in may 5.9L Dodge Pickup at 15mpg that passes emissions by a huge margin) and under the thick layer of oil on the back of an ancient Datsun B210 wagon was at least 2 dozen bumper stickers like, "Save the Whales" "Make Love not WAR" etc...

Stinky biodiesel is WVO or fry oil, the B100 refined stuff has next to no odor.

My favorite bumper sticker, I am not sure it is environment or not, but in insults everyone in one bumper sticker.


Posted by: JCM on November 16, 2005 08:34 PM
49. The "black smoke" from diesel is a trivial part of pollution. It looks yucky, but it's not the real pollution. If we hid the black smoke and just produced other, less visible particulate matter, you just wouldn't see it but it'd still be there.

Biodiesel is a pipe dream. It costs more to make it than it produces in energy.

You're still left with some form of gasoline and/or diesel produced from oil as the most efficient energy source.

Posted by: steve miller on November 16, 2005 08:36 PM
50. I saw a commercial for beer, I think it was Coors, that said they were making some kind of fuel from the used hops.....

Can a gasoline engine be converted or we are just out of luck?

Posted by: sgmmac on November 16, 2005 08:44 PM
51. I own a diesel pickup truck and am very ready for Bio-Diesel. In Europe the Germans and Czechs use a plant called "Raps" which is a mustard family, yellow flowered plant that, when ground, provides an oil substitute used earlier by Hitler to provide crankcase oil for his tanks. See the Rapeseed discussion in the thread. Today you can often see vast fields of it being grown in Germany and other eastern European countries. Why not here in America? Lets have some Bio-Diesel!

Posted by: Bob on November 16, 2005 08:53 PM
52. Well, there is certainly a variety of opinion here. I do love a good discussion. I could write many replies to the false and mis-leading comments I have read here, but there isn't enough ink in my computer. Just a couple of points.

1. The Penmental study that says it takes more energy to make biodiesel than it produces is crap science. Penmental is working on a Texaco grant. There are 10 studies for his one that show the energy balance is VERY positive. The DOE did one for example that shows in Biodiesel for every unit of energy you put in you get 3.2 units out. Biodiesel has the HIGHEST positive energy balance of ANY FUEL on the planet. has a complete indictment of the non-peer reviewed flawed studies everyone here is quoting and taking as chapter and verse.

2. For about two months this summer 100% biodiesel was cheaper than diesel. Laurelhurst oil with a B100 pump right next to a Diesel pump sells more biodiesel every month than diesel. At one point Diesel was $3.39 a gallon and biodiesel was $3.09. Petit Oil had B20 for $2.60!!! Wake up guys, it CAN be cheaper. And the industry is just getting going with scale. I gaurantee you that within two years i will be consistently making biodiesel cheaper than diesel assuming crude stays above $40 per barrel.

3. This is about jobs. Jobs for the Republican farmers in eastern Washington. Farmers want to grow crops that have a solid price and growing market. Washington state sends $9.5B each year out of the state for it's fuel needs. What would be the economic impact if we kept 10% of that recycling in this state economy? Are you happy supporting terrorist who hate us? Are you happy paying for the war in Iraq. I support it, but I am not happy that we DON'T HAVE ANY OPTIONS to getting the oil. I don't think it is very American to be a drug addict. America is an oil drug addict. Americans are a land of very self sufficient people who have gotten ourselves into dependancy through slough and lazieness. Worse than welfare.

4. The Oil companies receive some of the largest subsidies on the planet. We pay them to search for oil. Look at their profits! Do they need the money or does the American farmer? Or a new industry that might actually create new jobs and new oportunities?

Posted by: Martin Tobias on November 16, 2005 09:15 PM
53. Martin,

Thanks for the post. One of the reasons I ordered a diesel van was the high probability of biodiesel being more economical in the long run over petrol.

I am all for alternative fuels, and the Penmental article was one I came across and tossed into the pile for discussion.

We hear all about wonderful things that will free us from foreign oil but too often a closer look reveals the energetics don't work out. I remain a skeptic until I see sufficent data from multiple sources to convince me.

My main goal is for us to be energy self sufficient, and economically viable, in a free market status.

I agree that we subsidize too many industries, oil being one of them. That the open market will naturally find the best, most economical and efficient solution.

Best of luck to you on your venture and soon I may be buying Tobias biodiesel for my van.

Posted by: JCM on November 16, 2005 09:58 PM
54. Good to see a reasoned discussion. To Mr. Tobias:

1. Even if the energy balance for Biodiesel is positive, it would have to be far more positive than it is to be a long term economically feasible fuel. Especially when we start thinking about fueling a large percentage of the existing petroleum based vehicles. Furthermore, on that scale, it would be difficult to attain the Fryoil wastes that many use today to power their vehicles. If Biodiesel was suddenly in hot demand, we would have to think about how to produce it en masse. There is no way that it can rival petroleum reserves in terms of the arable land required to make diodiesel in large quantity. There's a lot more volume in the three dimensional spaces containing oil under the land than in the two dimensional spaces where we can grow crops. Everytime someone predicts that we are about to run out of oil, etc. we find a lot more. There's a lot more oil under the earth than anyone can really imagine, and we have not even begun to get over our petty political differences that allow us to really exploit those deposits.

2. Arguments on price are most interesting for biodiesel. As it is now, a very large percentage of gasoline cost is due to tax. If those same tax percentages across all aspects of production, delivery, consumer, etc. were to shift on to biodiesel, which they undoubtedly would if it was produced on anywhere near the scale as gasoline is today, then suddenly the price is not so attractive. And what really matters in terms of the production of any large scale fuel is it's long term economic viability. We would do far better to pour our mnds and capital towards the development of much, much higher energy density fuels for both our automobiles and our electrical eneergy production plants. Many irrationally fear nuclear energy, but it has by far and away the highest energy density of any of the sources that we currently know of, is far more abundant, and with new advances in pebble reactor technology, etc. is safe and efficient. If we truly developed nuclear power to its full potential, we could even create enough cheap electrical energy to charge battery powered cars and make them viable at a far lower cost than current gasoline powered cars. And this would be far greener than biodiesel, assuming anything green even matters.

The point here is that you can't consider the price of biodiesel in a vacuum, or as a comparison to diesel with the incosequentially small quantities in which it is produced today. You might be able to run your company and produce biodiesel cheaper than diesel, but the same would not be true if it were scaled up to a market that was say, half of the current petroleum diesel market.

3. The jobs argument is also flawed. There's a reason why so many of our jobs are going offshore. With the high cost of the US employee, it's very difficult for companies to remain competitive while paying US employee benefits and wages. Thus we see a shift in our economy to more idea and white collar jobs and less blue collar work. While it might be beneficial in the short term to create jobs for the state of WA by building a local, or even national biodiesel economy, there are global economic forces at work. We can't just ignore these forces and remain competitive as a country. And, to create a large scale biodiesel economy that would rival our current petroleum economy, it would take a lot of land and a lot of farmers. Probably ending up pushing much of that farming to jobs in other countries. And why is the cause for farm jobs in WA any more valuable to the country as a whole than say drilling jobs in Alaska?

And the whole "terrorists hate us because we are in the Middle East for oil" argument is tired and does not sound at all Republican. Republicans know that the Iraq war is not a war for oil, that oil is a commodity traded on the open market and that our own environmental shortsightedness is in large part the culprit in limiting new refinery growth in this country and driving up refined gasoline prices. The demand for oil is great, and therefore the price goes up. This is nothing to be alarmed by or ashamed of. And we have already seen the market respond, as it always does, faster and more efficient than any government ever could. Gas prices rose, so people started using less, and the demand fell. Prices then fell. There's no evil plot. It's just supply and demand.

4. I'm with you on removing the subsidies that oil companies receive, and while we are at it, let's remove all of the farm subsidies too. They are also quite large, but oops that might have a big effect on biodiesel. And you are definitely not a Republican if you view oil companies as evil, or somehow undeserving of profits. We have capitalism here in the US, we are supposed to make profits, that's why we form businesses. Good for the oil companies, they sell something that we want. We should not begrudge them their oil profits any more than we begrudge Microsoft its software profits. I assume you would not like it if we took back Microsoft's profits, especially the ones that made it in to your pocket.

Bottom line, hey, if you want to sell biodiesel, fine, have at it. It's a marketable business in these times of poor energy planning and policy that gives some alternatives. But please, don't pretend that biodiesel is somehow scalable to the levels of fossil fuel or uranium, and don't go bashing big business and making lame left-like arguments about the war that simplify the 30 years of terror appeasement that we are now forced to address.

Most of your arguments sound like they are coming from someone who has invested a lot of his own time and energy into biodiesel and who stands to benefit. While I don't begrudge you your efforts or success in biodiesel, you are certainly not an objective reference. And no hard feelings, but frankly, to me, you sound a lot more like a Green Progressive than a Republican.

Posted by: Jeff B. on November 16, 2005 10:40 PM
55. I wish MORE Republicans sounded like Martin Tobias...

Posted by: Randy Mueller on November 16, 2005 11:45 PM
56. I have used all types of Biodesil in my 2003 dodge truck with NO ill effects I actualy works better in hot weather then cold.I will use it when I can find it

Posted by: Vern on November 17, 2005 06:51 AM
57. I think it's a great idea. Not only could it help reduce our reliance on foreign oil, but it could possibly lead to a reduction, if not the elimination of the billions spent on farm subsidies each year.
Many (especially those who receive the subsidies) believe that since they have always been farmers, they have a "RIGHT" to continue to be farmers, and that the government should use subsidies to prop up prices. This could create a new agricultural market, so that we could stop paying farmers to grow nothing, and the market could pay for their crops.

Posted by: Bill on November 17, 2005 07:29 AM
58. If we can make bio-diesel fuel in a matter of days, why is it assumed that it requires millions of years to add to the underground supply of "fossil" fuel? Is the label "fossil" fuel another double speak label from the liberals?

Posted by: Barry G. on November 17, 2005 08:15 AM
59. Two questions Jeff B
Why is the answer to our energy crises always digging holes in the ground? The supply of Oil is not limitless but you seem to think so.
I see conservation or more efficient use of energy, (conservative and conservation both have the same root word but Republicans never utter it. Could it be that many Republicans are not conservatives?) biodiesel, other alternative as a transition fuel to hydrogen.

Considering efficiency, here is an interesting fact. If the fuel economy of cars increased by 5% annually until 2012 and by 3% per year thereafter our country could save 1.5 million barrels of oil per day (MBD) by 2010, 4.7 MBD by 2020, and 67 billion barrels of oil over the next 40 years. This is 20% reduction from our current usage of 20 MBD. This is significant reduction.

Although I think we should invest more in nuclear energy you can't run a car on it.

And this question if the war in Iraq isn't about oil, why haven't we invaded North Korea. North Korea has WMD, it has a tyrant who has oppressed his people. He has allowed millions to starve. It is about keeping the oil flowing! I know this in person since I was over in the gulf protecting tankers years ago. Of course this was when Saddam Hussein was our friend and ally.

It is good to see that a Republican is taking an active interest in alternative fuels. It is about time. I applaud Martin Tobias.

Posted by: M&M on November 17, 2005 08:27 AM
60. I am having a problem with the number of negative comments regarding Bio. I think that the only reason Bio costs a bit more is that it is not made in huge plants like gas and diesel. Someone posted the question of how many gallons would it take the farmer to work his acre. That is not the right question. The question is, how many gallons to work his 1000 acres. In a recent Bio-diesel article, I read that they were using the rape plant in europe and yielding about 100 gallons per acre in a climate zone much like eastern Washington. My guess, and it is just that, would be 300-500 gallons max., for a crop that could yield 100,000 gallons of oil. Some diesels are being run on pure veg. To make home brew Bio takes some methanol, about 10%, and some caustic soda. It is easy and cheap. Check your favorite search engine for Biodiesel, or go to and use theirs. Get some real facts before getting down on a process you know nothing about. Is Bio the answer to "big oil", no. Is it a way to stick it to them, no. Will Bio make us energy independent, no. Will Bio help us to become less dependent, yes. Does Bio pollute less, yes. Can Bio help our Ag. industry, yes. Some plants, like the rape, can be a good rotation crop yielding better returns than more traditional rotation crops. It only takes a market. I am not one of those raving geeen radicals, but you can hardly argue the math. Fossel fuels return CO2 that was removed from the atmosphere millions of years ago in a totally different climate. Bio only returns CO2 from current climate. It can not return more than the plants took up. Net contributation to climate change, zero or less. If one really looks into it, Bio is a good step in the right direction.

Posted by: John on November 17, 2005 08:38 AM
61. As much as some folks like to hang on to the notion, biodiesel is never going to replace petroleum. It's too expensive, not abundant enough, and relies on crop yields that can fluctuate from one season to the next. What are you going to do if a killing frost hits biodiesel-devoted crops?

Are you going to grow the stuff in a great big biosphere? Where will you get the land for it? Will you have to take it from the farmers, or force them to grow what you tell them to? What percentage of the American agriculture will be devoted to growing this stuff? It's going to take a helluva lot of corn or whatever to fill up a hundred million cars at least twice a week, all year round.

And what about gasoline-powered vehicles? My hot red Eye-talian sports car does 150mph, gets 30mpg, and it passes Washington Soviet Socialist Republic emissions by a nautical mile. (Tell me about your Bunnyhuggin' Moonbat Wagon's performance again...?) Can my go-fast car go that fast on high-test Land O' Lakes? Or will my car's performance suffer from the effects of Acute Gas-tritis?

And just where the hell do we fill up on biodiesel anyway?

Seriously- I want to know if anyone has seen any oil fields closed down because the supply has run out. If you have evidence, gimme the link. Open up ANWR. Build the refineries. Process shale and sand. We have the resources. Force the moonbats who drive the smoking 4-wheel outhouses to use biodiesel. They need it more than I do.

I applaud Tobias' efforts. That's the cool thing about a free-market economy. But I strongly suspect that, in spite of Tobias' good intentions, this is going to be just another expensive, inadequate, scarcely-supplied boondoggle that the Washington Enviro-Freaks are going to slam down our throats. They'll force us to use this stuff and tax the hell out of it, and they'll add petroleum to the items covered under the 'sin tax.'


Posted by: ERNurse on November 17, 2005 08:54 AM
62. One acre produces a hundred gallons? How many acres per year will it take to fuel fifty million cars with an average tank capacity of fifteen gallons and bi-monthly fill-up? Dude, China doesn't have that much land mass.

What about the turnaround time for the soil? You can't just harvest the "gas-flower" and plant again right away. You'll turn the country into a great big friggin' dust bowl. You have to let the land lie fallow or recondition the soil by other means. That means more money to produce, which means greater expense at the pump?

How many billions of dollars per year will the government spend subsidizing gas farmers who are "encouraged" to participate? Or will they be forced to participate?

And think of all the starving people in China, or in Ethiopia, who desperately need the grain that we send to them? Are you willing to starve that poor child in the desert so you can drive to the PCC with a clear conscience because you did your part to save the environment?

And how does the plant feel about your viewing it as just so much cannon-fodder? You know that they can feel, don't you? You can hear them scream when you rip them out of the ground with your monster machine. "Nooooooo! I don't wanna be fuel for your Volvooooooooooooo!" How can you sleep at night, you heartless bastard!?!?!?!?!?

You wanna save the earth? Save the soil. Don't kill plants. Utilize stuff that's already dead and ready to convert. Feed the hungry. Save the whales. Free Tibet. Elevate your consciousness. Zip your fly. Stop picking at that. Sit up straight.


Posted by: ERNurse on November 17, 2005 09:22 AM
63. BioDiesel is a novelty, a hobby, nothing more. BioDiesel is about as relevant to the energy crisis as the guy in Popular Mechanics who built a trailer with a wood stove so he can run his car on the fumes. My reasoning? You have to have a lot of cars able to run on REAL DIESEL first! There aren't any. Walk through the Costco parking lot and count 'em yourself. Diesel does not require a big heavy engine to run --- but our regulators do! Yanmar makes Diesel engines that run pressure washers and lawn tractors. Diesel engines have been shut out of the domestic car market because of the smoke. Now I have to go do my part to reform the blogosphere by re-arranging my Beanie Babies.

Posted by: ConcordBridge on November 17, 2005 09:32 AM
64. 1) My recollection of the articles in Newsweek and other magazines is that it costs more to produce Bio Diesel than the energy that Bio Diesel provides.
2) I'm not sure how many BTUs a gallon of biodiesel provides compared to a gallon of regular diesel. (BTU = British Thermal Unit, a measure of energy produced)
3) Diesel is a dirty fuel compared to gasoline. The emissions are considerably higher. Given the considerably higher emissions of diesel, it can only be justified with a bus or train with many passengers. This may allow a lower per passenger "exhaust" when compared to a passenger vehicle.
4) If you read the Nov-2005 Consumer Reports article on midsize SUVs, CR came to the conclusion that the $5,000 premium charged for a diesel SUV would not be repaid over ten years.
5) Part of the reason gas mileage has not increased is the automakers have put their effort into increasing horsepower which has a side effect of decreasing gas mileage.
6) The other problem with diesels is the seals breakdown overtime and you end up "smelling like a bus"

Posted by: Green Lake Mark on November 17, 2005 09:49 AM
65. On off topic, but related came to mind about hybrid cars when Green Lake Mark mentioned about $5000 premium on diesel engine. That is precisely the reason I didn't buy a hybrid when I recently bought my new Subaru Outback. Toyota Prius with the same level of equipment would have cost me $6000+ more excluding the dealer mark-up they put on the Prius because of the high demand, and I could not justify the extra cost even with the high gas price. Besides, I still don't know what it will cost me to replace all those batteries after 10 years.

Posted by: C. Oh on November 17, 2005 11:04 AM
66. M&M,

Answers to your questions.

It's not that every energy solution requires drilling for oil. I agree with you, alternative fuels are great, but in order for them to become mainstream, there is a very high cost with a wholesale replacement of our gasoline fuel based infrastruture. At best it would take many years. Drilling oil from the ground is a great way to keep our existing system working, while we dvelop newer, better technologies. And we must be willing to submit to market demands. If there is not a strong market force, oil will remain, and it should. It is always bad for the strong force in a market to be the strong arm of government trying to push us one way or the other into new fuels, that are not actually superior to our current fuels. Obviously, oil has a lot of history in government strong arming, but two wrongs don't always make a right.

And as you say, nuclear power is a better option, and although it does not power cars directly, it could be used to charge battery cars, especially if it were implemented right, and thus reduced the price of electricity by an order of magnitude. But certainly, other alternatives are not any simpler. Biodiesel requires diesel engines, and it requires modified disiel engines to be officially supported. Making all those changes to the entire US auto fleet won't happen much faster than a proliferation of battery powered cars. Let's let the market speak.

As far as the war, we should be confronting North Korea and Iran too. Any of these despots that form a threat to the world should be confronted. If we do not confront them now, it will only be worse when we do later. You'd have to be pretty naive not to see the huge conflict between western and eastern ideas brewing in Iran. The younger students are pro west, and sick of being indoctrinated by the mullahs. The mullahs control Iran as a theocracy, largely support and fund the Iraq war and terrorist activities, and continue to dissimenate hatred of the US and Israel. Appeasement is not the approach that will work with such tyranny. History has proven that over and over.

There is nothing wrong with alternative fuels, but let's let them play out in the open market. If Mr. Tobias needs Senator Cantwell to offer some sort of green legitimacy to biodiesel and shuffling of subsidies, etc. are these true alternatives, or are they just influenced by the forces of government coercion? The best alternative fuel is one that will instantly be embraced by investors, consumers, auto makers, etc. because it is technically and economically superior in all ways. We don't know what this fuel is yet, but we will when vast segments of the US economy actively move towards it when it arrives. What we do know for sure is that it is not biodiesel.

Posted by: Jeff B. on November 17, 2005 11:23 AM
67. M&M - you can run a car on Nuke energy, indirectly. The power from nukes can produce a reliable and abundant source of hydrogen. (OK, not exactly what you meant but...)

ERNurse - how do you really feel about it? I agree that it should not be government forced/subsidized/taxed. I just do not want to condem an idea at the beginning. The Wright brothers were ridiculed for a silly, useless, impossible, dangerous vision. Can you imagine what life would be like now if they listened to the critics instead of persevering? The beginning is always ackward - give it a chance. It makes more sense than subsidizing wind power (except when it is placed in Ted Kennedy's view from his home - then it is a bad idea) which is a totally unpredictable source. In the mean time drill ANWR.

Posted by: fred on November 17, 2005 11:26 AM
68. Actually you can run your car off of Nukes- it's called Hydrogen.

W/out nuclear energy, producing bottled hydrogen is not a viable way to fuel rigs. I don't know why more "progressives" at the national level aren't proposing bigger investment in safer nuclear energy.

Too busy hating Bush to come up with a real solution?

Posted by: Andy on November 17, 2005 11:27 AM
69. I'm going to ask now the same ? as ERNurse &sgmmac that is if gasoline engines can be converted to enable them to use alternative fuels? I think It would be nice to make that our next opportunity!Ther are manny more on the road.

Posted by: Laurie on November 17, 2005 11:30 AM
70. From reading this thread, I've come to the conclusion that biodiesel still has a long way to go (if it will ever get there at all) as being the replacement for gasoline when I fill up my car.
However, maybe it is a good use for diesel engines in boats? Maybe the answer is not trying to use biodiesel to run everything, but to use it for a small number of industries, like the marine industry.

Posted by: lmk on November 17, 2005 01:04 PM
71. Laurie and lmk,

Gasoline engines can be converted to use some alternative fuels. Gasoline is similar in properties to natural gas, kerosene, hydrogen, methanol, and other lighter fuels. Those could run in traditional engines with modification. Many buses are powered this way. However there are big problems with energy distribution and fueling with all alternatives. You can't fuel up with scarce fuels on long road trips unless you carefully plan your trip to always be in range of the scarce fuels. And, the carbeuration modifications and sometimes fuel tank modification needed to run on other fuels would probably void most car warranties. So right now, these fuels are mostly useful for local fleets and as second commuter vehicles, etc. By far the biggest challenge with any short range 300 - 400 mile fuel is the filling stations. Imagine replacing or supplementing a large majority of all gas stations. And some fuels like hydrogen, are very explosive if handled improperly. So that creates probelms too. Our best hope for the future is for far greater energy density fuels that will allow us to run for much longer distances on the equivalent weight of fuel. But contrary to Biodiesel, all of the light fuel alternatives, don't require an almost completely different engine that is the diesel engine.


A very rational observation. Bottom line for alternative fuels is that they are nice additives to the market. The could be used for fleets, trucking, boats, and for those who really like to scavenge for their own fry oil. But as our primary fuel source, we need a much more coordinated and widespread replacement for gasoline when the time comes, which will probably not be anytime soon. When that time comes, a legitimate use of government will be in helping to phase in a newer technology fuel, in much the same way as we are phasing in broadcast HDTV. It's going to take some really impressive discoveries to create a fuel that is so much better, cheaper, more economically feasible, safe, clean, etc. to get through the current web of regulations and to truly motivate a large segment of our economy to migrate away from gasoline. I would say that it's relatively unlikely for that to happen in the next 25 years.

What everyone should expect as the likely scenario is the vast proliferation of hybrid vehicle technology. If all cars were hybrid gasoline / electric in the next 20 years, that would make a huge, huge dent in our oil consumption, emissions, etc. and pave the way for other electirc hybrid technologies of the future. Toyota is the leader here, Hondas are excellent too. Look for the Hybrid version of the 4-Runner soon. An excellent combination of utility, carrying capacity, and fuel efficiency and range.

Think of all of the benefits:

*No change to the existing gasoline fuel infrastructure
*Greatly increased fuel economy
*Lower gas prices because of the decrease in demand
*Effective doubling or tripling of the life of fossil fuels (to 1000s of years)
*Bridge to future electric vehicle based fuel technologies
*Enhanced research and improvement of electric vehicles
*Greatly increased driving range.
*No more whining about the war for oil
*Much less dependence on the Middle East

Bottom line, other than in limited markets it's not going to be Biodiesel, it's going to be Hybrids. And everyone should be very much against big money investors such as Paul Allen trying to use the government to legislate Biodiesel in to existence when the far more objective and less costly solution for all is the proliferation of hybrid technology and other much better energy density future fuels.

Posted by: Jeff B. on November 17, 2005 06:55 PM
72. Jeff B.

Hybrids have a huge untested hurdle.

The batteries.

Consumer Reports just did a five year analysis on the Civic Hybrid and Civic standard. The total cost of owner ship over five years had a positive delta for the hybrid of $85. Just $85.

Neither Honda or Toyota have published the price on the replacement battery pack. Industry estimates are in the $5K range.

For an $17 dollar a year benefit you have an additional outlay of $5K. At those economics hybrids will fall flat when battery pack replacements come due. You'll see used hybrids for sale cheap.

Additionally at this point it doesn't appear that the energy savings of a hybrid justify the energy to manufacture the battery.

Posted by: JCM on November 17, 2005 08:05 PM
73. Assuming that petroleum is of limited supply, it makes sense to seek other energy sources. Given current crop technologies, biodiesel remains in limited supply, and absent significant advances, will not rise higher than 'bridge fuel' status as we move on to other energy technologies, perhaps as of yet unimagined.
As repugnant as subsidies are to me, we may well need a new Manhattan project to achieve the next stage in the history of our use of energy.
I appreciate all the research. Even that which appears at present to be a dead end. I do not imagine myself to be possessed of omniscience, and am daily impressed by those who achieve break-throughs either by dint of effort or serendipity. No doubt more advances are made by the plodding of engineers than the artistic flights of visionaries, but we need both.

Martin, I wish you all the best.

Posted by: mark on November 17, 2005 10:14 PM
74. The use of human food stuffs as feedstock for motor vehicle fuel in IMMORAL as long as there are starving people in the world. At the very least it increases the cost to those who try to feed those who cannot feed themselves.

If I had my way about it, it would be illegal to make biodiesel from soybeans and ethanol (for motor vehicle use) from corn. A starving person in Africa can do quite well on corn meal but will die from drinking mineral oil.

This issue is black and white; no shades of gray.

Posted by: JC Bob on November 21, 2005 01:16 PM
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