Diesel: Friend or Foe?
by David Cipolloni
 March 30, 2005

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Volkswagen Touareg V10 Diesel powered Lola Caterpillar at the 2004 24 Hours of LeMans

The argument goes on-and-on, some hating the oil burning engines with a passion, with others clinging to them like a life raft in a sea of gas guzzlers. So, who is correct in their assessment of the diesel engine? Well, actually both sides make legitimate claims about the dangers or benefits of the diesel engine.

On one hand there is a genuine concern about diesel emissions, especially in regards to particulate emissions and the health risks they pose. On the other hand there is genuine conservation in terms of the reduction of fossil fuels consumed to move people around when using these engines. So where are we, and should we expect the demise or proliferation of the diesel engine? Let’s take a look at some of the facts, and take a stab at the direction our country could be heading with the diesel.

Gasoline has been relatively inexpensive in our country, at least until recently, and diesel engines were dirty and noisy powerplants left primarily to the big rigs. BUT, gasoline is no longer inexpensive, and diesel engines are no longer noisy and dirty. So, what happens next? Consumers need to do a little homework, bring themselves up to speed on how a diesel engine works and how diesel engines can help ease an energy crisis.

The turbo diesel in the Jaguar Type-S

The refining companies in the US have been working for years to yield more gasoline out of a barrel of crude oil, and have done an amazing job in doing just that. Based on the techniques used by a refining company they can yield a greater quantity of gasoline, or a greater quantity of #2 type oil. The demand for gasoline in the US has dictated that refining be biased towards gasoline. The US is the top oil consumer in the world at 17 million barrels per day. This should be an alarming figure considering the outlook of consumption of the ever growing Chinese economy, and how that will affect demand and environmental issues.

Now, on to the issues of automobiles. Folks should take notice that VW now offers a diesel engine in the Beetle, Golf, Jetta, Passat, and Toureg. It is very likely that VW is ahead of the curve on the issue of diesel engine development for the US. While Toyota struggles to have the Prius deliver gas mileage in the mid 40 mpg range, I have personally had the opportunity to operate a diesel Golf that yielded over 50 mpg on highway runs, and mileage in the low 40’s around town. We need to look closely at a diesel/electric hybrid powerplant, a powerplant that should already be in production but is not. The diesel/electric powerplant could easily deliver fuel mileage in the 70 mpg range. This in itself would do wonders in reducing our consumption of fossil fuels. Now on to the good stuff, a 3 part plan that could easily solve the energy problem, and address the environmental issues. Without getting into tech talk, which will follow in a later article, here is how it goes:

VW makes some of the most fuel efficient turbo diesels

Step 1  Develop the diesel/electric hybrid. This would reduce our dependence on oil by 30-50%.

Step 2  Reformulate the diesel fuel to reduce exhaust emissions and use the already developed diesel catalytic converters. The process is in use in Europe and could be further developed in the US.

Step 3  Begin blending Biodiesel fuel into the diesel fuel. Biodiesel fuel is made from vegetable oil and is a better alternative to #2 fuel oil. Rudolph Diesel, the inventor of the engine ran his invention on peanut oil.

These steps may seem vague, however research will bear them out. Last year AutoRacing1.com sponsored a high school team that entered a VW Golf in the annual Tour de Sol. The team used fryer grease from the high school cafeteria to formulate Biodiesel fuel which powered their car. The team finished in first place in the event, proving the superior performance of this powerplant when using vegetable oil as a fuel. The efficiency of their powerplant, while having in excess of 200,000 miles on it, proved it could best the other configurations. This in itself should draw attention to the feasibility of this engine/fuel combination. We must note that exhaust emission using this fuel are reduced by approximately 80%, with the exception of oxides of nitrogen which see no reduction.

Biodiesel fuel is biodegradable, and provides an exceptional level of safety for humans and the environment. Fuel spills would no longer be the hazard they currently are, and the high flash point makes the fuel unlikely to ignite in a crash. And, unlike crude oil, Biodiesel is a renewable source of energy, one that could be a safety net for our farmers and their farmland. It would take time to provide enough Biodiesel to make everyone happy, but since it blends so nicely with regular diesel fuel it can be mixed in any ratio desired. We could go on about the benefits of Biodiesel, the list is a long one, and mention some of its shortcomings, the list is a short one, but we will leave that for the next article that will outline the technology behind the various fuels.

Do our oil companies want to talk about Biodiesel? I would think not. Unlike gasoline or diesel fuel it is relatively simple to make Biodiesel right at home. The oil companies would not benefit from this, and the government would not collect tax revenue from it. This is the obvious reason there is little talk about this fuel from the big players. Talk that could easily explain how to fix the energy problem using the existing infrastructure that is in place in our country today. Wouldn’t it be nice to only fill your tank once a month? Wouldn’t it be nice to eliminate our dependence on oil from the Middle East?

Not convinced yet? Go take a test drive in the new E class Mercedes CDI, it will be an eye opener for anyone thinking diesel powered vehicles are not for them.

Comments can be sent to the author at feedback@autoracing1.com.



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