Idaho Biodiesel Advocate Urges Wider Acceptance of Alternative Fuel

Researcher led team to review current status of energy source.

Published on: Dec 15, 2008

"Biodiesel is developing into a widely accepted alternative fuel," a new study finds. The industry continues to struggle due to high raw material prices, but reductions in greenhouse gas sustains biodiesel interest the report states.

A team led by Jon Van Gerpen, University of Idaho Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department dean, has prepared a commentary on the current status of biodiesel. The probe group includes experts from Purdue University and Iowa State University.

Van Gerpen, who wrote the commentary, says the team focused on presenting the facts needed to assess biodiesel's role in the nation's energy mix.

He briefed 65 congressional aides in Washington, DC, to introduce the document during a presentation of the report Convergence of Agriculture and Energy III. It is the third in a series of reports.

"We tried to emphasize some of the issues that will be of interest to Congress related to incentive programs, trade issues with Europe, and economics," he says.

Critics have faulted biofuels in general, arguing they directly caused a dramatic jump in corn and other commodity prices. But that's not the case, argues Van Gerpen, who says that a multitude of factors, not all of them biofuel related, influenced commodity prices.

Ethanol, the alcohol-based fuel useful in gasoline engines, is different from oil- or fat-based fuel used in diesel engines, he notes, adding that biodiesel made from soybean oil contains more than triple the energy required to make biodiesel.

"We still run into people who don't understand the difference between biofuel and ethanol," he says. "That's part of what we want to do: elevate the discussion about biofuels by giving people the information they need."

He lists three important points from the report:

  • There is a need to develop a sustainable biodiesel industry in the U.S. Legislation creating the renewable fuel standard will take care of a lot of problems in the industry.
  • The U.S. must find a way to create demand for biodiesel at domestically. Right now a lot of U.S. production is being exported to Europe where demand is greater.
  • Americans should recognize that biodiesel is not the sole cause of high food and commodity prices. It may contribute in some way, but there are other factors that are probably much more important, such as high oil prices and a weaker dollar in the world market.

For more information, Van Gerpen may be contacted at (208) 885-8182, or e-mailed at jonvg@uidaho.edu.