US oil fieldBiodiesel: Getting the facts

By Rowan Hallett

Everything seems to happen slowly in Bermuda, including change. Sometimes the culprit is our laid-back island mentality or Black Seal, but when it comes to implementing change, it’s usually a lack of information that prevents Bermudians from making more sustainable choices. A great example of this cultural paradigm is biodiesel.


Biodiesel is diesel fuel that contains components derived from renewable raw materials, such as vegetable oils and animal fat. It has been available on island for at least three years, and yet most vehicles with diesel engines are still running on regular diesel. This traditional petroleum-based version draws on limited reservoirs of fossil fuels, as well as polluting the atmosphere with unnecessary levels of dangerous volatile organic compounds in their emissions.


In contrast, biodiesel boasts a substantial reduction of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulate matter when compared to emissions from standard diesel fuel. Sulphur oxides and sulphates – two major components of acid rain – are virtually non-existent in biodiesel emissions. Furthermore, biodiesels can be manufactured from used cooking oils, a renewable source, so they don’t drain the limited remaining supply of fossil fuels.


The blame for our reluctance to accept this environmentally friendly fuel alternative lies with a lack of information and rampant misconceptions. The following are some of the common myths about biodiesel:


  • Biodiesel will make my engine explode. As any engineering university student can probably tell you, it takes an awful lot to make an engine explode. We understand the concern – engines can be tricky business, so the idea of putting something different in your tank is a little bit daunting. However, biodiesel shares the same properties as regular diesel when it comes to making your engine run. If you’re still not sure, think of it this way: biodiesel wouldn’t have been developed and marketed if it made engines explode.


  • I’ll have to convert my engine to use biodiesel. Provided you already have a diesel engine, the conversion process is as simple as driving to the nearest biodiesel supplier and pumping biodiesel into your fuel tank. Unfortunately, most private cars in Bermuda have regular gasoline engines, and the costs of converting a gasoline engine to diesel can be high. On the other hand, most of the trucks, buses and other large vehicles in Bermuda, as well as the generators used during hurricane season, have diesel engines.


  • Biodiesel is inefficient. It yields a small amount of energy compared to the energy required to produce it. This may have been true when biodiesels were first produced but, as with most technologies, the production process quickly developed to be more efficient. In the same way that computers have become exponentially smaller and more powerful in the last 20 years, biodiesel technology is rapidly improving. Biodiesel now provides 3.2 units of energy for every unit of energy used. As a matter of fact, traditional fuel (gasoline) uses 20 per cent more energy to make than it provides or converts.


  • Restaurant cooking oilBiodiesel causes food shortages. The main reason that people starve is inequitable economic systems worldwide. While this is a critical social problem, biodiesel consumption has no impact on it. Biofuel production chemically converts oil – usually corn or vegetable used for cooking – into a fuel product. Furthermore, biodiesel can be produced worldwide, even here in Bermuda, by recycling good-quality used cooking oil. This is a much more sustainable production choice, rather than relying on limited sites controlled by mega-corporations that feed into the inequitable economic systems that cause food shortages.


  • Biodiesel costs an arm and a leg. Let’s face it – ALL fuel costs an arm and a leg in Bermuda. The key reason is that we have to cover the fuel costs of shipping our gas and diesel into the island. A bit counter-intuitive when it’s put that way, isn’t it? It is true that biodiesel is slightly more expensive than regular diesel at the moment. But considering that biodiesel can be produced locally, as demand increases and Bermudians realise the benefits of a biodegradable, renewable fuel source, the costs will begin to drop.


  • What’s the point? Biodiesel won’t solve anything. This argument is a double-edged sword – while it is correct that biodiesel is not an answer to our addiction to fossil fuels, it’s wrong in its suggestion that using biofuels at all is pointless. As the old cliché says, every little bit helps, and we can begin to move our society into a new wave of transportation by using biofuels as well as rethinking our conception of transportation: a combination of improved fuel economy, massive reinvestment in public transportation, new technologies, and the introduction of better fuel sources like electricity.


Biodiesel pumpBiodiesel is slowly catching on in Bermuda. There are several companies on the island that use B100 biodiesel in their trucks. Town and Country Carpet Cleaning, Bermuda Security Group and MCM Maintenance – to name a few – have found that not only is biofuel better for the environment, it’s great for the vehicles. Since it burns cleaner, there is less nasty by-product to gum up the engines.


The most important thing to remember is that the quality of the biofuels can vary greatly depending on the quality of the oil that is used to make them. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has developed comprehensive testing methods and standards for biofuels, but as ASTM testing cannot be done in Bermuda, fuel samples would have to be sent to the US for testing. This is impractical and prohibitively expensive.


Locally produced fuel is subject to a ‘pHLip test’, which is an industry standard tool to visually, quickly and inexpensively determine quality. The quality of fuel can be affected by poor resources used by the manufacturer, or by issues with handling and storage. The biodiesel pHLip test is the easiest, cheapest, most accurate and fastest biodiesel field test available today. It is the only product endorsed by the National Biodiesel Board.


For more information about biodiesel and the pHLip test, you can contact the sole Environmental Protection Agency licensed biodiesel merchant in Bermuda:

Biodiesel Depot
2 Marsh Lane
Tel: 236-8453


Don’t let the common misconceptions about biofuels steer you off the course to a greener Bermuda.

About Greenrock

According to The Footprint Network, which measures the ability of the planet to produce resources and absorb waste, our resource use and waste production is 60% more than the earth can produce or absorb annually.

This overshoot is the result of decisions that we each make every day. We seek to generate debate and to influence people to change their behaviour.We strive to be catalysts: Success for us is when we can Change the Mindset so that sustainable use of resources is included in decision-making for individuals, government or businesses. ... read more

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