The benefit of biofuel is often discussed as being a renewable energy solution that reduces our reliance on the finite supply of fossil fuel deep within our earth. By using renewable energy, we ensure valuable resources will be available for generations to come. Biofuel, however, has many more benefits and a significant one is safety.
Consider how transporting biodiesel rather than conventional diesel can lessen the harmful impacts to our environment in the event of an accident.
In February 2020, a fuel tanker carrying over 10,000 gallons of conventional fossil fuel overturned on Highway 22 along the North Santiam River. Clean up crews estimate that 7,800 gallons of fuel was lost onto the road, the soil, the ditch, and ultimately into the river. Berms have been created to help absorb the oil from the river and experts are carefully monitoring water quality at the nearby water treatment plant to insure it doesn’t reach the public drinking water supply. The road will need to be torn up and reconstructed in order to remove all the hazardous material from the soil.
Unfortunately, these types of accidents are unavoidable and often start off a chain reaction of negative environmental impact.
How would a biodiesel spill be different?
Biodiesel is a much safer alternative to conventional fossil fuel. Because ethanol in biodiesel is produced from plant-based materials, the ethanol is nontoxic and biodegradable. As we find ways to use higher concentrations of ethanol in biodiesel blends, the risk to the environment is lower in the event of a spill.
The U.S. Department of Energy has this to say about the safety of biodiesel:
“Biodiesel causes far less damage than petroleum diesel if spilled or released to the environment. It is safer than petroleum diesel because it is less combustible. The flashpoint for biodiesel is higher than 130°C, compared with about 52°C for petroleum diesel. Biodiesel is safe to handle, store, and transport.”
Jeff Kimble of the Environmental Protection Agency explained how the ethanol in biodiesel impacts the environment in the event of a spill:
- When released into soil, the ethanol in the fuel will biodegrade rapidly.
- Ethanol quickly biodegrades in surface water and groundwater. If the biodiesel enters a water supply such as a river, the ethanol will mix with the water and separate from the gasoline and begin to biodegrade.
- Ethanol vapors are denser and heavier than air, so they react similarly to gasoline and settle towards the ground. In contrast to gasoline vapors, however, ethanol vapors disperse rapidly.
It is exciting to see how our emerging technologies in biofuel can have a wide array of benefits for our environment.
Want to learn more about biofuels and other forms of alternative energy?
The Rogue Valley Clean Cities Coalition’s mission is enhancing the livability of the Rogue Valley. We promote and educate on alternate fuels, seek to decrease dependency on petroleum, and promote clean air and water in the Rogue Valley via alternate fuels. Contact us today for more information!