The first Diesel engine was powered by peanut oil, not diesel

“The diesel engine can be fed with vegetable oils and would help considerably in the development of agriculture of the countries which use it” and that “The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But such oils may become in course of time as important as petroleum and the coaltar products of the present time.”
– Rudolph Diesel, 1912
bus-smoke

Volkswagen is in crisis, they’ve deliberately set out to make millions of diesel powered cars pass for cleaner than they are by programming some 500,000 vehicles to emit lower levels of harmful emissions in official tests than on the roads using clever computer algorithms.

The fact that a major company would go this extent to pull such skulduggery should be a pointer to the fact finding a balance between level of emissions and efficiency/performance is proving tough for cars running on diesel. Maybe this is because the inventor of the diesel engine intended it to run on vegetable oils but died mysteriously shortly after affirming this position in 1912.

But what is of more concern to me is that often on Kenyan roads you see lorries, buses, matatus, pickups, and other diesel powered cars belching so much smoke and soot you’d think someone had lit a coal fire to beelzebub’s backside. Worse this is not an unusual sight by any means, which is why it should worry us all.

What the Dieselgate scandal by VW has alerted me to is the dark side of diesel that I have not been paying attention to: diesel engines release 15% more CO2 per volume of fuel than petrol engines as well as 20 times as much mono-nitrous oxides (NOx) — a chemical that damages respiratory systems.

My worry then is just how badly exposed we are to this dangerous diesel emmissions seeing as it is acceptable locally to drive behind a lorry that is farting so much smoke into the air that you can barely see the road ahead nor breathe without choking. Maybe we need to ask ourselves why nowadays we have so many cases of asthma, pneumonia, and other respiratory and chest problems as compared to the old days when we had fewer cars.

Are checks for levels of emmissions included in the inspection that is carried out annualy on public service vehicles and commercial vehicles? Are our diesel vehicles fitted with Selective Catalytic Reduction systems that are actually working? Is the use of diesel powered vehicles in this country subject to any specific regulations? Do we care about this things?

Let it not be forgotten that Rudolph Diesel was dead long before they named a by-product of petroleum as diesel fuel. This had nothing to do with him or the engine he invented.

In the words of Dary Hannah “Most people are really stunned to find out that the technology has been around for more than 100 years, and that the diesel engine was in fact invented to run on vegetable oil.”

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