Listening Topic: Communication – Radio program about biodiesel

A. Look at the list of topics. Listen to the interview and number the topics in the order.

___ a   Where biodiesel comes from

___ Who created a vehicle that ran on ethanol

___ c   Disadvantages to using biodiesel

___ Safety of biodiesel

B. Read the questions. Then listen to the interview again. As you listen, note your answers to the questions. Listen again if necessary.

 Who is Rudolph Diesel?


 Why is there renewed interest in alternative fuels?


 What must you do so that your car can use biodiesel?


 What are some benefits to using biodiesel?


 Where is biodiesel currently being used?


 What are two disadvantages to using biodiesel?




1 a   2 b   3 c   4 d


 The inventor of the diesel engine

 High cost of gasoline and concern about the environment

 Modify the engine or modify the vegetable oil

 Answer may vary: It is renewable, and it is not toxic.

 All over the US in many kinds of vehicles

 Answers may vary: It can harm the rubber in an engine, and it’s not available everywhere.


A = Lisa Wertz, B = Professor Mason

A:   Good evening, I’m Lisa Wertz and welcome to Current Issues. Last week we talked about the energy crisis and our growing consumption of oil. Today science Professor Josh Mason, from Johnson Community College is going to talk with us about something called “biodiesel,” an alternative to the fuel you and I probably use in our cars. Professor Mason, what exactly is biodiesel?

B:   Well, as the name suggests, biodiesel is a fuel used in diesel engines, but it’s based on vegetable oil. It could be mixed with regular diesel fuel or used as pure, 100% biodiesel. The oil used to create it can be soy, canola or even recycled oil that was used in restaurant fryers.

A:   You’re kidding! You mean oil from a fast food restaurant can be used to fuel a car?

B:   Yes, in fact most restaurants are happy to recycle their oil instead of paying to have it picked up.

A:   Well, that’s interesting. So, how long has biodiesel been around?

B:   That’s a good question. The inventor of the diesel engine, Rudolph Diesel, actually used refined peanut oil in his first engine in the late 1800’s. You might call that the original biodiesel. A short time later Henry Ford developed automobiles that ran on ethanol, which can be made from corn. Unfortunately, the petroleum industry grew more powerful and soon these renewable fuels dropped out of the picture.

A:   But it seems like recently there’s been more interest in biodiesel and other alternative fuels.

B:   That’s true, and it’s probably due to a few different reasons. For one, the cost of gasoline has increased significantly over the past few years. Keeping gasoline in your gas tank has become a major expense! Also, people are becoming more and more aware of the negative effects that conventional engine fuels have on the environment. They’re also realizing more and more that the earth’s supply of petroleum won’t last forever. So, with oil shortages and increased costs, biodiesel is definitely back on the scene. I mean, it’s no longer being ignored.

A:   Good points, professor. So, tell us how this all works. How would someone go about using biodiesel? I mean, do you just pick up a couple of gallons of oil at a restaurant and pour it into your gas tank?

B:   It’s a little more complicated than that. First, you need to do one of two things: Either modify your engine to accept the fuel, or modify the fuel so that it can be used in your engine. These changes are not too difficult to make, however. But remember, biodiesel will only work in diesel engines.

A:   OK, so how will using biodiesel benefit the environment?

B:   Well, first of all, it’s renewable-we can always plant more vegetables to produce more vegetable oil, so it will never run out. Second, it’s not toxic. As you know, the oil we normally use to run our cars is polluting the environment, causing health problems, and adding to global warming.

A:   And how widespread is the use of biodiesel? I mean, who’s using it?

B:   It’s available at some regular gas stations-you can find a map on the Internet that will show you many of the places where it can be purchased. As for who uses it, well, anybody who has a diesel engine can convert to biodiesel. Right now across the nation, it’s being used in school buses, public transportation vehicles, and utility company trucks. It’s also being used by the Air Force and the Army, in fire engines, and in construction equipment. The biodiesel movement has also been embraced and promoted by some famous people-celebrities like Morgan Freeman and Daryl Hannah, and the musician Neil Young have publicly supported the use of biodiesel.

A:   Wow.

B:   Other nations are also investing money in the biodiesel industry. Thailand, for example is backing the production of palm oil for its new biodiesel industry. Indonesia plans to produce biodiesel to fuel its sugar factories.

A:   Well, there must be some problems with biodiesel, right? Is there a downside to using it?

B:   Yes there is a downside. For one thing, it can harm rubber components in your engine, especially in older cars. Also, in cold climates it needs to be mixed with diesel, since 100% biodiesel is a little too thick to work in temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

I should also mention that biodiesel does increase nitrogen oxide emissions (by as much as 15%), but it reduces all other emissions.

Another problem is that, although its use is increasing rapidly, it still isn’t available everywhere. But with increased production, it should become much more widely available. Production figures for 2005 were 3 times those of the previous year and biodiesel is expected to account for 10 percent of the diesel market by 2015.

A:   What about cost? How does it compare to regular diesel fuel?

B:   Biodiesel is a bit more expensive than regular diesel. But it seems logical that the cost will go down as production increases.

A:   Well, thank you Professor Mason.

B:   Oh, one other thing. I know your listeners are probably very used to using gasoline or conventional diesel fuel in their cars and trucks. It’s comfortable for them and they probably see converting to biodiesel as a huge step. I just want to let them know that it’s a perfectly safe and increasingly convenient alternative to the fuel they’re using now.

A:   Well, that’s an important point. So biodiesel is safe… I mean for drivers and for the environment.

B:   That’s right.

A:   Well, thank you so much again for talking with us today, professor.

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