Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bio-Diesel - good or bad?

As I am considering buying a new car - not sure that the Granada will pass the next MOT test, and I will have the choice of investing in it or selling it -, I am playing with the thought of getting a Diesel this time. The main reason is fuel economy: gas (petrol) is very expensive in the UK, as everywhere in Europe, compared to the US. With a Diesel I could probably safe half of the fuel costs.

My family always had a Diesel, back in 1970-1990. But I never liked it: the slow acceleration, the stinky smell of the exhaust. And then there was always the dilemma of the question, if the Diesel is more or less environmentally friendly than a Petrol car. Diesel puts out less NOx, does not need a catalytic converter - so in the 1980s it was considered to be better. But then came the discussion about toxic cancerogeneous particles, and suddenly the Diesel fared less well.

So when I bought cars, I never had a Diesel. Nowadays however, many problems of the Diesel have been solved: acceleration is much better (for example, TDI engines are quite agile), and there are particle filters in many Diesel vehicles. Remains the fuel consumption advantage, which reduces cost - and CO2 output. But Diesel still stinks... no matter how many particle filters are put in, the Diesel smell of the exhausts are just not very pleasant - one can really feel how the cancer gets stimulated into growth.

Still, the consumption and CO2 advantage are very good reasons to buy a Diesel. In addition, I recently came upon an article about conversion of Diesel engines to run on vegetable oil. Now this sounded really interesting, and I was already on the lookout for a good pre-owned Diesel car.

But then I found the other side of the coin, as discussed in this article by Lester Brown (actually I found the article on Spiegel Online from 27. March 2007 (not sure why Lester simply chose to translate his old article instead of making a new one, with newer data). The quintessence: bio-fuel leads to a competition of human vs. machines, food vs. fuel. The large conversion programs (bio-diesel, also ethanol) create a large demand for oil-producing crops - hereby increasing the price. And somehow this is not right, to grow plants which are used to feed machines instead of humans, as long as there is still a large hunger problem in the world.

So, now I have to decide what to do... maybe just get a small petrol car which also is fuel-efficient.