Problems with Biodiesel Sources

The main feedstocks of biodiesel are vegetable oils, animal fats, and waste cooking oil. These are the mono alkyl esters of fatty acids derived from vegetable oil or animal fat. The fuels derived may be alcohols, ethers, esters, and other chemicals made from cellulosic biomass and waste products, such as agricultural and forestry residues, aquatic plants (microalgae), fast growing trees and grasses, and municipal and industrial wastes.

Subramanyam et al. (2005) reported that there are more than 300 oil-bearing crops identified that can be utilized to make biodiesel. Beef and sheep tallow, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, coconut oil, olive oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, mustard oil, hemp oil, linseed oil, microalgae oil, peanut oil, and waste cooking oil are considered potential alternative feedstocks for biodiesel production (Demirba 2003). However, the main sources of biodiesel are rapeseed oil, soybean oil, and, to a certain extent, animal fat, with rapeseed accounting for nearly 84% of the total production (Demirba 2003). Henning (2004) reported that Jatropha Curcus also has a great potential to yield biodiesel. The UK alone produces about 200,000 tons of waste cooking oil each year (Carter et al. 2005). This provides a good opportunity to utilize waste into energy.

Various types of algae, some of which have an oil content of more than 60% of their body weight in the form of tryacylglycerols, are the potential sources for biodiesel production (Sheehan et al. 1998). Many species of algae can be successfully grown in wastewater ponds and saline water ponds utilizing C02 from power plants as their food. Utilizing C02 from power plants to grow algae helps to sequester CO, for productive use and at the same time reduces the build up of C02 in the atmosphere. Waste cooking oil is also considered a viable option for biodiesel feedstock. Even though the conversion of waste cooking oil into usable fuel has not been in practice at a commercial level, the potential use of such oil can solve two problems: 1) environmental problems caused by its disposal to water courses and 2) problems related to competition with food sources.

Because the pathway is not considered in conventional analysis, the role of the source or the processes involved is not evident. If the pathway were to be considered, it would become evident that biodiesel derived from genetically modified crops cannot be considered equivalent to biodiesel derived from organically grown crops. Recently, Zatzman et al. (2008) outlined the problems, much of which are not detectable with conventional means associated to genetic engineering. While genetic engineering has increased tangible gains in terms of crop yield and the external appeal of the crop (symmetry, gloss, and other external features), it has also added potential fatal, unavoidable side effects. In the context of honeybees, the most important impact of GE is through direct contact of genetically altered crops (including pollen) and through the plant-produced matters (including even organic pesticide and fertilizers). A series of scholarly publications have studied the effects of GE products on honey bees. Malone and Pham-Delegue (2001) studied the effects of transgenic products on honeybees and bumblebees. Obrycki et al. (2001) studied genetically engineered insecticidal corn that might have severe impacts on the ecosystem. Pham-Delegue et al. (2002) produced a comprehensive report in which they attempted to quantify the impacts of genetically modified plants on honeybees. Similarly, Picard-Nioi et al. (1997) reported the impacts of proteins used in genetically engineered plants on honeybees. The need for including non-target living objects was highlighted by Losey et al. (2004).

It is true that genetic engineering activities have been carried out at a pace unprecedented for any other technology. This subject has also been hailed to have made the most significant breakthroughs. Unfortunately, these "breakthroughs" only bear fruit in the very short term, within which period the impacts of these technologies do not manifest in measurable (tangible expression) fashion. Even though there is a general recognition that there are "unintended consequences," the science behind this engineering has never been challenged. Often, these "unintended consequences" are incorrectly attributed to the lack of precision, particularly in placing the location of the DNA in the new chromosome site. The correct recognition would be that it is impossible to engineer the new location of the gene, and at the same time it is impossible to predict the consequences of the DNA transfer without knowing all possible sites that the DNA will travel to throughout the time domain. Khan (2006) made this simple observation and contended that, unless the consequences are known for the time duration of infinity, an engineering practice cannot be considered sustainable. Similar, but not as bold, statements were previously made by Schubert (2005), who questioned the validity of our understanding of genetic engineering technology and recognized the unpredictability of the artificial gene. Zatzman and Islam (2007a) recognized that an "artificial" object, even though it comes to reality by its mere presence, behaves differently than the object it was supposedly emulating. This explains why vitamin C acts differently depending on its origin (e.g., organic or synthetic), and so does every other artificial product including antibiotics (Chhetri et al., 2007; Chhetri and Islam, 2007).

Similar statements can be made about chemical fertilizers and pesticides that are used to boost crop yield as well as hormones and other chemicals that are used on animals. Therefore, biodiesel derived from organic crops and biodiesel derived from genetically modified crops infested with chemical fertilizer and pesticides would have quite different outputs to the environment, thereby affecting the sustainability picture. Similarly, if the source contains beef tallow from a cow that is injected with hormones and fed artificial feeds, the resulting biodiesel will be harmful to the environment and could not be compared to petrodiesel that is derived from fossil fuel. Note that the fossil fuel was derived from organic matters, with the exception that nature processed the organic matter to pack it with a very high energy content. If the first premise is that nature is sustainable, then fossil fuel offers much greater hope of sustainability than contemporary organic sources that are infested with chemicals that were not present even just 100 years ago.

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