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Biodiesel oil can be made from plants such as peanuts, sunflowers, and palms. It can also be made from animal fats and algae. Fungi and coffee grounds have also been successfully used. Biodiesel oil can be used by itself or mixed in varying percentages with fossil fuels. In most cases, the oil can be used in the same capacities as petroleum.
As concerns about dwindling petroleum supplies increase, so does the focus on biodiesel as an alternative fuel source. Sources of renewable energy, especially sources that can power vehicles, are relatively rare. Many believe that the production of fuel from vegetable and animal resources could significantly reduce dependence on crude oil.
Biodiesel oil has significant environmental advantages. The level of emissions of harmful gases in vehicles powered by this oil are lower than gasoline-driven cars. In addition, the actual production of the oil is less invasive than the drilling required to extract crude oil. Finally, because vegetable and animal oils are much lighter and more biodegradable than petroleum, the risk of environmental impacts from spills is greatly reduced.
Biodiesel is not without its drawbacks. Although biodiesel oil can be produced on a small scale using recycled vegetable oils, quality control standards would require virgin oils to be used in standardized production. In many cases, this would drive the price per gallon of the oil above gasoline and diesel. Additional finances for modification of petroleum engines to biodiesel would also be required.
Additionally, there is some concern that farmers in financially disadvantaged areas would begin to grow crops specifically for export for biodiesel production. While the additional monies would be beneficial to these areas, the loss of food could cause major issues. In addition, the amount of crops needed to produce sufficient biodiesel oil to exclusively meet worldwide demands would be prohibitive even without the dual need for food crops.
Some scientists speculate that the production of fuel from algae could provide the benefits of biodiesel oil without the disadvantages. As algae is not widely considered a food source, the possibility of food shortages from its usage would be low. Algae is also not in competition for the land required to grow crops. Many feel jobs would be created by tapping into this largely unused resource.
Even with the addition of algae as a fuel source, the problem of supply and demand still exists. There simply is not enough water to grow the amount of algae needed without endangering marine life. This does not mean that biodiesel should not be used, just that large-scale global usage is unlikely in the foreseeable future. Many individuals and small businesses could easily convert to use biodiesel oil.