Biodiesel fuel is a liquid fuel that can be blended with traditional petroleum diesel fuel and can be used as:

  • Transportation fuel for trucks and automobiles
  • Fuel for trains
  • Home heating fuel for homes and other buildings
  • Fuel for power generators for electricity production

Biodiesel is sometimes also called Methyl Esters or Fatty Acid Methyl Esters (FAME). Biodiesel can be produced from used cooking oil collected from restaurants, or vegetable oil sources. Most often, Biodiesel is produced from soybean oil, but most any other feedstock can be used such as; waste vegetable oil (WVO), corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower, rapeseed, algae, peanut, and many others. Many people may be surprised to learn that when Rudolf Diesel invented the diesel engine in the late 1890s, his early demonstrations of the new engine technology showed that he intended that vegetable oils would fuel it. During the 1900 Paris World Fair, he demonstrated his new engine using peanut oil as fuel. In fact, Diesel predicted that peanut oil would be widely used as a source of fuel as petroleum fuels. Diesel also liked the notion that his new engine could help the farmers and impoverished rural communities.

As a liquid hydrocarbon fuel, Biodiesel is often blended with traditional diesel fuel. 100% biodiesel is often referred to as B100 or neat biodiesel in its unblended form. 20% biodiesel 80% petroleum diesel is labeled B20, 5% biodiesel 95% petroleum diesel is labeled B5, and 2% biodiesel 98% petroleum diesel is labeled B2. Biodiesel performs best in warm temperatures and blended in lower concentrations in cold weather. Typically B2 diesel and B5 have comparable performance in cold weather with B2 optimally used in frigid temperatures below -20F for example.

Biodiesel sometimes referred to as a biofuel, is a renewable fuel that unlike petroleum-derived fuels, can be regenerated in the short timeframe of the photosynthesis cycle of growing a crop such as soybeans. By contrast, crude petroleum is formed as a result of geological forces over millions of years. Biodiesel fuel is used in North America, Europe, and Asia. Many nations have passed legislation adopting the use of biofuels blended into petroleum-derived fuels. For example, in the UK, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) adopted guidelines to add 5% of biofuels to be added to all road vehicle fuel sources. In the USA, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Renewable Fuel Standard) began a trend of renewable fuel used in American vehicles.

Biodiesel is produced with a process called transesterification. The transesterification process involves taking raw vegetable oil and making it more suitable for use in combustion engines. Transesterification converts vegetable oil so that it attains the following attributes; lower viscosity, removal of glycerides, lower boiling point, lower flash point, and lower pour point. The first step in transesterification is adding a catalyst to the vegetable oil to create a reaction. Catalysts used are typically sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. After the catalyst is added, alcohol (methanol or ethanol) is added later on to create a reaction that separates glycerin from what will ultimately become biodiesel. Glycerin is a valuable byproduct that is sold as an ingredient in soaps and other products.

Usually, this reaction will proceed slowly or sometimes not at all, so heat is often used to speed up the reaction. The finished product of biodiesel fuel production must be consistent to run in vehicles and for other applications properly. The American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) has defined standard ASTM D6751 to govern the consistency of biodiesel to ensure it works correctly in all applications.

The benefit of Biodiesel is that it is a domestic renewable fuel source that can be produced cost-effectively. The use of biodiesel complements the use of petroleum fuel production and does not replace it. Use of biodiesel is a smart diversification strategy for our energy sources and hedges the risk of potential disruptions in the availability of other energy sources. Biodiesel is cleaner and better for the environment because it has lower emissions compared to petroleum diesel. Biodiesel is less toxic than table salt and does not smell the same as petroleum diesel. Biodiesel helps the agricultural sector and is most often domestically produced which assists rural economies.


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