[FOUNTAIN]Fill ’er up, with rice branIt was thanks to Samuel Kier that petroleum came to be used as a fuel. Americans in the 1800s called petroleum “snake oil.” Merchants bottled the crude oil and sold it as a panacea, contending that it could cure liver disease, bronchitis and even cholera. Mr. Kier, who was a snake oil salesman, came up with an idea of refining petroleum in 1849. His idea was an instant hit. He separated gasoline, paraffin and lubricants from crude oil. The refining business, of course, made him very rich.
Bio-diesel, a vegetable oil, also has an interesting history. Rudolf Diesel, the inventor of the diesel engine more than a century ago, was the first one to come up with the idea of using bio-diesel as a fuel. Mr. Diesel introduced an automobile running on peanut oil at the Paris Exposition of 1900. But the gasoline engine dominated the automobile industry at the time, and the new idea failed to attract carmakers.
Industry giants such as Mercedes Benz and Ford paid little attention to Mr. Diesel’s invention. The diesel engine made a comeback in 1912 when the Norwegian explorer Ronald Amundsen successfully reached the South Pole using a ship powered by a 180-horsepower diesel engine. Diesel engines rapidly took over in buses and trucks.
Following the surge in popularity of diesel engines, bio-diesel has come back as well after a century of neglect. One of the biggest factors contributing to the comeback was rapidly rising petroleum prices. Bio-diesel is being celebrated as a new and renewable energy that is an affordable, environment-friendly alternative to fossil fuel.
The Bio-diesel Co-op, a group of eco-friendly artists in Hollywood, recently opened an exclusive bio-diesel fueling station for its members. The European Union is to divert 5.75 percent of its gasoline use into bio-diesel by 2012.
Bio-diesel is derived from soybeans, rapeseeds, sunflower seeds, rice bran and coconuts. Its biggest merit is that many countries can link to the industry with their own agriculture.
After three years of preparation, bio-diesel will be available for sale in gas stations nationwide from July 1. The quality of the bio-diesel concentrate is lower than initial expectations, and the use is largely limited at the moment.
The Oil Depletion Analysis Center in Britain estimates that we have 35 years until fossil fuels are completely exhausted. I hope we can be a proud generation that can answer our descendants’ questions about how we prevented an energy crisis. The introduction of an affordable and quality indigenous bio-diesel technology is something to long for.
by Yi Jung-jae
The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.