2012 EPA Research Progress Report
Health Effects of Biodiesel
The potential benefits of biodiesel—fuels derived from plants, animals, or other living organisms—as a substitute for conventional fossil fuels are numerous: they can be produced domestically, are generally safe to handle, and are naturally biodegradable. The use of biodiesel fuels can both lower the nation’s dependence on imported fossil fuels and convert waste streams, such as used cooking grease, into a marketable commodity sold to power vehicles or heat homes and businesses.
But while the allure of biodiesel is powerful, important questions about the long-term impacts associated with its use are largely unanswered. EPA researchers are working to fill that important knowledge gap, conducting studies to better understand the health effects of biodiesel, from producing the fuel to burning it.
In 2012, EPA researchers continued to advance the work of examining how biodiesel fuels burn by working to identify the amount and types of pollutants in biodiesel exhaust, and how the pollutants in those emissions might affect human health.
Specifically, the researchers are looking to see if components of biodiesel emissions are likely to have properties that trigger adverse health effects, including changes in gene structures, lung and cardiac reactions such as altered electrocardiograms (known commonly as EKG), heart rate variability, blood pressure, and lung function in both healthy, normal individuals and those susceptible to health problems.
Another area of interest EPA researchers are advancing is the potential health effects of biodiesel blends, fuels that combine a percentage of bio-based fuels with more traditional petroleum diesel. Biodiesel fuel sources and the amounts used to create blends are a constantly moving target because innovative technologies and market forces can dramatically change the fuel type or blend. That work is developing the science needed to quickly test and evaluate the potential health and environmental impacts of emerging fuel sources.
What EPA researchers are learning will provide decision makers with critical information and guide further research in the quest to develop alternative fuel sources that don't bring with them the unintended consequences of harmful emissions.