Green fuels - products that will address manmade global warming. While green fuels, including biodiesel and renewable diesel, are almost certainly more environmentally friendly than more traditional heating fuels, it's still somewhat unclear and difficult to predict exactly how much environmental impact green fuels may have today and in the future. Perhaps the most accurate way to quantify the sustainability of biodiesel and renewable diesel is in comparison to the sources and environmental footprint of carbon-based fuels.
In comparison to heating fuels such as oil, gas, and electricity, what gives green fuels the opportunity to be much more sustainable heating options? In this post, we'll discuss the main characteristics that make today's green fuels sustainable compared to traditional heating methods as well as the impact these fuels are already having in certain regions of the US.
Green Fuels and Carbon Neutrality
One way to understand the sustainability and impact of green fuels is in terms of carbon footprint and, by extension, the concept of carbon neutrality. While all living things contain the chemical carbon, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that, when released, can pollute the atmosphere and contribute, along with other greenhouse gases, to global warming. The impact that the carbon emissions of a certain fuel or industry creates is generally referred to as that industry's carbon footprint. As green fuels, as well as many other alternative fuels, have developed with lower and lower carbon footprints, an ideal concept called carbon neutrality was created to describe activities, heating or otherwise, that result in no net release of CO2.
In many respects, biodiesel and renewable diesel have been considered carbon neutral because these fuels are produced using waste plant matter (as well as animal fats). As plants grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Therefore, some might agree that the CO2 absorbed by the plants that are eventually used to create green fuels may offset the carbon emissions created when the fuel is burned for heat, making green fuels largely carbon neutral.
However, there is some discrepancy among scientists whether or not green fuels are actually carbon neutral. When you consider the farming process, production, and transportation of the fuel, there are additional carbon emissions associated with the process of creating green fuels that complicate its carbon neutral distinction. However, if we think of carbon neutrality as an ideal goal, green fuels are much closer to carbon neutrality than fossil fuels, which release the carbon trapped in fossilized material without any counterbalance which absorbs carbon like green diesels do. We're just starting to see the effects of initiatives in regions like California and New York that strive to reduce the use of fossil fuels in heating and transportation while promoting the benefits of green diesel fuels.
Green Fuels and Recycling Waste
We can also discuss the sustainability of green fuels from another viewpoint: recycling and reusing waste material as heating fuel. Because green fuels are produced using the waste products of agricultural production and processing, like waste oils or animal fats, green fuels effectively turn waste products into a usable source of energy. As opposed to other fuel types that need to be collected or harvested on their own, green fuel materials are byproducts that already exist as the result of an existing process. In addition, repurposing these waste materials reduces landfill waste. Instead, we get the benefit from what would have otherwise polluted the planet. The environmental advantage of green fuels, from this viewpoint, is that we can potentially create a production cycle where our waste can become a legitimate energy source.