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Friday, May 14, 2004

Telling/Asking Congress about Biodiesel

As you already know if you've been reading the blog for the last couple of weeks, I'm pretty excited about my "new" 2001 VW Golf TDI, which is currently running on about 50% biodiesel. So today, I decided to write my congressman about biodiesel!
Dear Congressman Dingell:
You came and spoke to us at the Michigan Union last December. I appreciated your visit and what you had to say. Somebody asked you about your opinion on the CAFE standards and your approach in general to improving fuel economy. You responded by suggesting that low-sulfur diesel fuel offered a lot of promise, and that it was already widely available in Europe.

My question is: What is your opinion of biodiesel? I recently became aware of biodiesel (diesel fuel made from vegetable oil, either new or used) as an alternative to fossil fuels like petrodiesel, gasoline, and natural gas. I did a lot of research, and became convinced that it offers a great opportunity for increased mileage (over gasoline, anyway), cleaner emissions, and especially energy independence. Needing a car anyway, I went out and bought a used diesel-powered Volkswagen Golf, which runs wonderfully on biodiesel. While not widely available yet, there is a station about 25 miles from here which sells 100% biodiesel. Since my car gets about 700 miles per tank, this isn’t a serious inconvenience, although I’m hoping we’ll get a station or two in Ann Arbor selling it soon.

The national biodiesel board ( claims a large positive energy balance for biodiesel—that over three times as much energy is in the fuel as it takes to make it (by comparison, ethanol seems to be hovering right around the 1-to-1 break-even point).

I know that GM had a bad experience with diesel cars in the 1980’s, but it is my understanding that much cleaner and more efficient diesel engines can be made now (like the one in my VW), and that it would be a much simpler task for the Big Three to convert a substantial part of their production to diesel engines than it would to switch to hybrids. And with the possibility of using a clean, renewable and domestic fuel like biodiesel, this seems like an enormous opportunity. I bought a German/Brazilian car so I could burn American fuel; wouldn’t it be nice if American cars could do the same?

Please let me know your opinions on biodiesel, and why it isn’t getting more attention from the Big Three, in Congress, or in the press.

Thank you!