Book Review – Biodiesel America

Joanna Schroeder

Since the biodiesel industry is in a struggle for the extension of its $1 per gallon tax credit, I thought I’d spend some time learning more about biodiesel. This week, I read “Biodiesel America,” by Josh Tickell, who also produced the award winning film, “FUEL.” While the book is a tad bit dated (it was published in 2006) the basic information is still good.

Many people perceive biodiesel as a niche fuel, but this is really not correct. Your clothes, food, electronics and toys were all brought to you through a transportation network that runs on diesel. Your children are taken to and from school on buses fueled by diesel. And diesel is highly toxic. According to Harvard University’s Alternative Fuel Vehicle Program, biodiesel emits no sulfur dioxide, 78 percent less life cyle carbon dioxide and as much as 50 percent fewer smog-producing compounds as compared to conventional diesel.

While Tickell notes that biodiesel cannot replace our country’s entire diesel market, and it does face a few challenges that must still be overcome (cold start problems, costs) he writes, “Biodiesel has a bright future as an alternative fuel, both as a fuel blend (B20) and on its own (B100)….While biodiesel does have drawbacks, its similarities to conventional diesel in terms of performance, low cost, and compatibility with our existing fuel infrastructure make it an ideal solution for meeting emerging federal emission requirements and improving air quality now.”

Biodiesel has a higher net energy value than diesel, the feedstocks used are grown or produced here in America, the fuel stays here in America, and it is more environmental friendly and sustainable (all aspects discussed in the book). So why are our legislators in Washington DC dragging their feet in support of this viable alternative fuel?

Education. More specifically, lack of education explains Tickell. Our political leaders, our communities, our neighbors need to be educated about biodiesel and the role it can play for our country. At the end of the book, Tickell leaves the reader with 50 things he or she can do to help increase energy security.

This is a great introduction to biodiesel and with the industry changing so rapidly, it would be very valuable for Tickell to publish an updated version. But until that happens, it is still a good tool in your alternative energy toolkit.

Biodiesel, book reviews