BioDiesel: What Were They Smoking?

The diesel engine was invented in the 1890's by Rudolph Diesel. He presented the engine at the World's Exhibition in Paris in 1900 as an engine capable of running on peanut oil. Yet it is only in recent times, more than a century later, that the benefits of biodiesel are being realized.

After struggling for years on the design of the combustion engine in the late 19th century, Rudolph finally invented what was to be called the diesel engine. But it didn't run on fossil fuels. It was his ambition to show that peanut oil was a far better fuel than the steam engines powered by coal and other fossil fuels.

One year before his death in 1913, Diesel said "The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But such oils may become in course of time as important as petroleum and the coal tar products of the present time." Convinced by Rudolph Diesel's peanut oil technology, Henry Ford started up a factory to begin mass production of bio-fuels. Henry Ford was so enthusiastic that the Model T Ford engine was designed to use various bio-fuels. Unfortunately, peanut oil was expensive to extract, resulting in high production costs. The same could be said for soybean oil. Along came hemp.

"The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But such oils may become in course of time as important as petroleum and the coal tar products of the present time." --Rudolph Diesel, 1913

Hemp grew naturally in the United States and it was soon found that it was the ideal substance for creation of biodiesel products. At the same time, oil entrepreneurs were getting rich from oil exploration and production. They began to spread rumors to discredit hemp oil producers by referring to hemp as Marijuana in newspapers. William Randolph Hearst, through his publishing empire, fueled fears that resulted in the introduction of the Marijuana Tax Act. This prevented anyone from owning marijuana without a government certificate. The hemp-based biodiesel industry failed soon after.

Biodiesel is now resurfacing as a viable solution for our carbon dioxide emissions problems. As most of us know, carbon dioxide is one of the most significant greenhouse gases contributing to climate change / global warming, and as with so many things, people are looking to the past for a better future.

by Steve Auger, Author of the environmental blog Blog On Smog.

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