Biodiesel is a controversial area of energy sourcing. Many believe it is a poor choice for breaking human dependence on carbon-based fuels, since it is essentially, yet another way of burning carbon to produce energy. But others say it is a healthy, incremental step, which can burn cleaner than petroleum fuels and will help diversify the scope of recycling and related inputs to the energy economy.
Now chocolate is making its way into the biodiesel game. Chocolate fuel: the phrase is charismatic, it draws the ear, alerts the mind, it wakens the attention of people who have rarely thought about what the development of alternative fuels really means. So, how does chocolate biodiesel work? It is actually the waste byproducts made by industrial production of chocolate for human consumption. Those waste byproducts —often simply small chunks, flakes or “misshapes” of chocolate— are concentrated into biodiesel, which can be burned to produce locomotion in motor vehicles.
While some intuitively class biodiesel as technically distinct from petro-diesel, properly refined biodiesel should work in a standard diesel engine. In November 2007, two men set out to demonstrate the power of chocolate biodiesel, using it to power their journey, overland, from England to Timbuktu. The truck would carry all the biodiesel necessary, as well as two smaller vehicles to economize the last leg of the journey across the Sahara.
Leaving from England on a ferry across the English channel, the team of Andy Pag and John Grimshaw plan to make their 4.500 mile journey in approximately three weeks. Using cocoa butter extracted from a confectioner’s misshapen chocolate “rejects”, the truck will carry 454 gallons of biodiesel fuel. The Ford Iveco Cargo truck is carrying two smaller vehicles for the final hard slog across the Sahara desert, all powered with standard engines fueled with biodiesel. The final cost of the fuel is calculated at about $1.16 per gallon.
Pag told the press their goal was to demonstrate that everyday drives would easily be biodiesel fuelled, by making a journey far beyond what any ordinary motorist would assume possible: “If we can make it [to Timbuktu] with bio-fuel there’s no reason why motorists can’t use it on the school run or on their commute to work”. On their website, they billed the trip as “the world’s first carbon-negative expedition“.
They report that a study by Carbon Aided showed that the entire project, starting from the waste-chocolate’s transport to the refinement site, including their complete drive and their flights home, actually saved 14.99 tons of CO2 that would have been generated had they not organized the chocolate to Timbuktu expedition. This is in part because Carbon Aided measures the overall carbon footprint, including offsets—carbon-neutral solutions to third-party services (like buying wind energy instead of coal-fired)—which balance out or completely override all carbon emissions related to one’s activity. The film Syriana, for instance, has been billed as the world’s first “carbon neutral” feature film production, an honor won by purchasing clean energy to offset all carbon emissions related to the film’s production.
In addition to raising awareness to the benefits of bio-fuels to people in the UK (and elsewhere) Ecotec donated one of their biodiesel production units so that the local women in Mali can use it to re-cycle their used cooking oil into biofuel.
In addition, all the equipment used for this journey was salvaged from scrap yards and will remain in Mali where it will be put to good use. This even includes the chocolate powered truck itself.
Biodiesel is not, in itself, carbon-neutral, so offsets and emissions-filtering devices are needed to make the recycled fuel more environmentally friendly. There are more environmentally-friendly diesel engines, with are either more fuel-efficient or more capable of filtering out and “capturing” any carbon-dioxide that would otherwise be emitted, so choosing biodiesel as a fuel source in hopes of reducing one’s carbon footprint requires research and choices regarding those more or less advanced technologies.