Why can’t the media get it right?

Update: May 3, 2008 –

Having just put down the Triangle Business Journal article which reads  “Biodiesel may be North Carolina’s next energy hedge”, I see the “No Journalist Left Behind” paradox continues.  (Read the full article here: http://triangle.bizjournals.com/triangle/stories/2008/05/05/story2.html)   Apparently Frank Vinluan didn’t take chemistry in high school or college, nor did he bother to have anyone check his article.  The photo caption, which clearly shows a man standing in front of tanks clearly labeled as Methanol and Potassium Hydroxide, reads “David Thornton shows methane tanks at a biodiesel plant he is working on as design-builder in the Chatham County town of Pittsboro.”  Okay, last I checked, Methane (CH4) is a gas, while Methanol (CH3OH or MeOH) is a liquid.  You don’t use Methane to make biodiesel, period. 

Starting to get why I’m so irritated with the media? 


I just finished watching “Modern Marvels” on the History channel, where they did a special on truck stops and truckers.  They finished the show talking about biodiesel and Willy Nelson.  “Great,” I thought, “some good press about biodiesel in the media”.  Except, once again as happens way too many times, the reporter equates straight vegetable oil with biodiesel.

To the layman, I can see why it’s easy to confuse.  Rudolf Diesel first invented his engine to run on Peanut oil, as the reporter accurately claimed.  However, for a reporter, who is suppose to research things before he reports them, even an extra 10 minutes using Google or Wikipedia in his investigation would have told him that the modern engine looks almost nothing like Rudolf Diesel’s engine, and that while it’s true that they can run straight vegetable oil, almost none do because it’s harmful for the engine. 

The other thing he would have found, as posted other places on this blog and our corporate website, is that straight vegetable oil (SVO) and Biodiesel are not the same thing. 

I’ll say it once more in more simple format: “Vegetable Oil Is Not Biodiesel“. 

So, what do biodiesel and straight vegetable oil have in common?  Biodiesel is usually made from vegetable oil.  But, in truth, biodiesel can be made from animal fats too, or people fat, for that matter.  Through a process called transesterification, vegetable oil is stripped and converted into Biodiesel (which is technically called a mono-alkyl ester).  This new chemical, trade named “Biodiesel”, is now more chemically similar to petroleum diesel, and has many of the same characteristics of it’s petroleum cousin.  It is even accepted by the EPA as an approved fuel and fuel addative, and has an ASTM standard (D-6751).  Vegetable Oil doesn’t have any of that.

See, Vegetable Oil is food, Biodiesel is fuel.

I bet I’ve heard this mistake seven or eight times in the media over the last two years.  Is there some kind of “No Journalist Left Behind” policy in the university system that I’ve not heard of?  Seems like there isn’t much pride or professionalism left in that industry.  So, get it right next time, Mr. Reporter.  Do the homework, research, confirm, THEN publish.

You’re not helping our industry by adding to the confusion that the average consumer already has about biofuels.    

Posted in Biodiesel.