Diesel fuel prices at the pump are plenty scary. Some truck stops are offering discounted prices for using cash and trucking companies are wondering if diesel fuel price surcharges, paid by shippers, are going to be a permanent fixture. With diesel fuel prices at an all time high, though, several companies and communities have begun to explore alternative diesel fuel sources.
Why Are Diesel Fuel Prices So High?
One of the best explanations can be found within the pages of the Energy Information Administration web site:
"Historically, the average price of diesel fuel used in motor vehicles has been lower than the price of regular gasoline. However, this is not always the case. In some winters where the demand for distillate heating oil is high, the price of diesel fuel has risen above the gasoline price. Since September 2004, the price of diesel fuel has been generally higher than the price of regular gasoline all year round for several reasons:
- High worldwide demand for diesel fuel and other distillate fuel oils, especially in Europe, China and the U.S. and a tight global refining capacity available to meet demand.
- The transition to low-sulfur diesel fuel in the U.S., which is affecting diesel fuel production and distribution costs.
- The Federal excise tax on diesel fuel is 6 cents per gallon higher (at 24.4 cents/gallon) than the tax on gasoline."
Learn More: A Primer on Diesel Fuel Prices
Crude Oil Prices
Okay, let's get something straight, it would not be even remotely accurate to label me as a left-wing environmentalist nut. First, I'm not a big fan of hybrid vehicles. (Soooo…whatcha gonna do with all those junk batteries, anyway? Ya got a plan for that?? No, I didn't think so.) I also have no problem with the harvesting of trees. (Yep, they do grow back. Who woulda thunk it?) And I don't think mankind is causing global warming. (Let's see, we've had at least three major ice ages, not to mention a few minor ones, and they've all come to an end; without the help of CO2 spouting SUVs. Figure it out, Maynard. I could go on about this subject for days.) I am, however, a fan of alternative fuels - especially biodiesel - but for purely pragmatic reasons.
A Little Biodiesel History
Influenced by the work of Nicolas Carnot concerning the efficiency of engines; Rudolf Diesel felt certain that he could improve on the designs of Nicolaus Otto and, at the same time, develop an engine that would be both cheaper and more efficient than the steam engines then dominating industry, agriculture and transportation. He envisioned, and eventually developed, an engine that he hoped would provide the means by which smaller industries, farmers, and other regular folks could compete on even footing with industrial monopolies.
One other thing; Diesel designed the engine to "utilize locally available fuels". In other words: biodiesel. As a matter of fact; the "first diesel engine suitable for practical use" was demonstrated to the public at the 1898 Exhibition Fair in Paris - fueled by none other than peanut oil.
In 1919 Clessie Cummins purchased the patent rights to the diesel engine and in the early '20s, more than seven years after the still unexplained disappearance of Rudolf Diesel (insert conspiracy theory here), an injection pump was finally designed that made mobile use of the diesel engine practical. At about this time the major oil conglomerates, in their formative years but formidable nonetheless, discovered that a gasoline distillation byproduct was especially suited for use as diesel engine fuel.
The combination of these and other factors opened the door for a rapid growth in the use of diesel engines powering farm implements and vehicles while the new fuel became the standard for compression-fired engines; dooming the frail bio-based fuel industry to the throne of oblivion. That is, until now.
Right about now you might be asking: Just what the heck is biodiesel, anyway? Back in Diesel's day their bio-fuel was pretty much straight vegetable oil but now we (well…not me, but you know what I mean) have the ability to create from biological sources a petro-diesel equivalent that can be used to power an unmodified diesel engine. Modern biodiesel...Read Part Two.
Part Three: Biodiesel Blends and Conclusions