A few weeks ago we talked about biodiesel, a promising energy source that is often cleaner burning and more efficient to create. One of the most popular uses for biodiesel fuel is as an alternative to gasoline for use in combustible engines like those found in vehicles. As the use of vegetable oil to power vehicle engines continues to become more common, it is also gaining viability as the technology improves.
However, like any emerging science there are both pros and cons involved in using vegetable oil to power vehicle engines. Here are some of the reasons—for and against—that are being used in the debate over substituting vegetable oil as fuel.
Pros: Good Reasons to Use Vegetable Oil as Fuel
It’s can be found in abundance.
Vegetable oil is everywhere, especially if you include used cooking oil from restaurants. Even conversion kits, which allow you to convert vegetable oil for use in a standard diesel engine, are easily obtained.
It’s cleaner burning.
The burning of vegetable oil does not emit the greenhouse gases that fossil fuel combustion does.
The supply is sustainable.
Unlike fossil fuels, vegetable oils are a renewable energy source.
Greater energy efficiency.
Vegetable oil can provide far greater mileage per gallon that gasoline. It has been said that a car fueled with a combination of diesel and vegetable oil can go nearly 1000 miles between fill-ups.
Vegetable oil can be extremely cheap—free, in fact. This is not only due to the lengthy mileage, but also due to the fact that waste oil can be filtered and used.
Cons: the Arguments Against Using Vegetable Oil as Fuel
Cost—it’s cheap… now.
Yes, this cost was a pro but it’s also a con. The potential problem is that the cost of vegetable oil will rise as demand increases.
Crop demand could lead to deforestation.
To meet a rising demand for vegetable oil for cars, more and more land would need to be devoted to growing the crops from which the oil can be produced. This means less land available for other crops that are needed to feed the world. It also means that more land will have to be cleared to make way for these vegetable oil-producing crops.
Vehicle maintenance is more difficult.
Vegetable oil engines are tricky to maintain. From heating the oil to just the right temperature and viscosity to the tendency of vegetable oil to clog key components of the engine, maintaining such a vehicle requires vigilance and time.
Cars run on vegetable oil have a distinctive smell.
While the emissions from vegetable oil vehicles are not of the greenhouse gas variety, they do smell. Most people liken the smell to French fries.
Voiding the warranty.
It’s possible that the use of vegetable oil will void a vehicle’s warranty.
It seems that the pros and cons of using vegetable oil as fuel really depends on the circumstances. For example, it’s all pros if you have an old diesel van with lots of room for an extra fuel tank and the time and money available to spend maintaining it. Vegetable oil is a more negative option if you have a new, gasoline-run sedan and little time and skill to devote to it.
Overall, despite its many advantages and disadvantages, vegetable oil is still not ready to be used as a replacement for fossil fuels in general.