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Biodiesel is an alternative to petroleum-based diesel fuel made from renewable resources such as vegetable oils, animal fats, or algae. It has very similar combustion properties as petroleum diesel, and can replace it in current uses. It is however, most often used as an additive to petroleum diesel, improving the lubricity lacking in pure ultra low sulfur petrodiesel fuel. It is one of the most realistic candidates to replace fossil fuel as the world's primary transportation energy source, because it is a renewable fuel that can replace petrodiesel in current engines, and can be transported and sold using today's infrastructure. A growing number of fuel stations are making biodiesel available to consumers, and a growing number of large transportation fleets use some proportion of biodiesel in their fuel.

Biodiesel is non-flammable, and in contrast to petroleum diesel it is non-explosive (with a flash point of 150°C for biodiesel as compared to 64°C for petrodiesel), biodegradable, non-toxic, and significantly reduces toxic and other emissions when burned as a fuel. Chemically, it is a fuel comprised of mono-alkyl esters of long chain fatty acids. A lipid transesterification production process is used to remove glycerol from the base oil.

Currently it is more expensive to produce than petroleum diesel, which appears to be the primary factor keeping it from being in more widespread use. In addition, biodiesel is currently most often produced using some fossil fuel in order to efficiently produce the needed methanol for the production process.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Fuel quality, standards and properties
3 Production
4 Availability
5 See also
6 References
7 External links


Transesterification of a vegetable oil was conducted as early as 1853, by scientists E. Duffy and J. Patrick, many years before the first diesel engine became functional.

Rudolf Diesel's prime model, a single 10 ft (3 m) iron cylinder with a flywheel at its base, ran on its own power for the first time in Augsburg, Germany on August 10, 1893. In remembrance of this event, August 10 has been declared International Biodiesel Day. Diesel later demonstrated his engine at the World Fair in Paris, France in 1898. This engine stood as an example of Diesel's vision because it was powered by peanut oil—a biofuel. He believed that the utilization of a biomass fuel was the real future of his engine. In a 1912 speech, Rudolf Diesel said, "the use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today, but such oils may become, in the course of time, as important as petroleum and the coal-tar products of the present time."

During the 1920s, diesel engine manufacturers altered their engines were to utilize the lower viscosity of the fossil fuel (petrodiesel) rather than vegetable oil, a biomass fuel. The petroleum industries were able to make inroads in fuel markets because their fuel was much cheaper to produce than the biomass alternatives. The result was, for many years, a near elimination of the biomass fuel production infrastructure. Only recently have environmental impact concerns and a decreasing cost differential made biomass fuels such as biodiesel a growing alternative.

In the 1990s, France launched the local production of biodiesel fuel (known locally as diester) obtained by the transesterification of rapeseed oil. It is mixed to the proportion of 5% into regular diesel fuel, and to the proportion of 30% into the diesel fuel used by some captive fleets (public transportation). Renault, Peugeot and other manufacturers have certified truck engines for use with up to this partial biodiesel. Experiments with 50% biodiesel are underway.

From 1978 to 1996, the U.S National Renewable Energy Laboratory experimented with using algae as a biodiesel source in the "Aquatic Species Program". A recent paper from the UNH Biodiesel Group, [1] offers calculations for the realistic replacement of all vehicular fuel with biodiesel by utilizing algae that has an over 50% natural oil content.

Fuel quality, standards and properties

Biodiesel is a clear amber-yellow liquid with a viscosity similar to petrodiesel (the industry term for diesel produced from petroleum). Much of the world uses a system known as the "BD factor" to state the amount of biodiesel in any fuel mix, in contrast to the "BA" system used for bioalcohol mixes. For example, 20% biodiesel is labeled BD20. Pure biodiesel, 100%, is referred to as BD100. In the United States, a similar system is used, but the "D" is dropped (B100, B20, B5, etc.).

The international standard for biodiesel is ISO 14214. In Germany, the requirements for biodiesels are fixed in a DIN standard. There are three different sorts of biodiesel, which is made of different oils:

Biodiesel can be mixed with petroleum diesel at any concentration in most modern engines, although it has the disadvantage of degrading rubber gaskets and hoses in older vehicles (prior to 1992). Biodiesel is a better solvent than petrodiesel and has been known to break down deposits of residue in fuel lines of vehicles that usually run on petroleum. Fuel filters may become clogged with particulates if a quick transition to pure biodiesel is made, but the biodiesel cleans the engine in the process.

In a study at a U.S. military base, a biodiesel blend was used as a replacement for heating oil at housing on the base. Due to the solvent power of biodiesel, residues that had been present in fuel tanks for decades were dissolved. The particulate component of the residues caused repeated clogging of fuel strainers, requiring repeated replacement, cleaning, and in some cases installation of higher capacity filters. Due to the relatively smaller surface area and service life of fuel tanks in motor vehicles and mobile equipment, filter clogging is less prevalent but still a factor to be considered.

Properties necessary for biodiesel to ensure trouble-free operation in diesel engines are:

The basic industrial tests includes gas chromatography that verifies only the really more important variables (glycerides,...). More complete testings cost more.

Environmental benefits:

Pure biodiesel (BD100 or B100) can be used in any petroleum diesel engine, though it is more commonly used in lower concentrations. Some areas have mandated ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) petroleum, which changes the natural viscosity of the fuel because certain materials have been removed. Additives are required to make it properly flow in engines, and biodiesel is one popular alternative. Ranges as low as 2% (BD2 or B2) have been shown to restore lubricity. Also, many municipalities have started using 5% biodiesel (BD5 or B5) in snow-removal equipment and other systems.


Main article: Biodiesel production

Base oils

Biodiesel can be produced from a variety of biolipids. These include: While waste vegetable oil is touted by many as the best source of oil to produce biodiesel, waste vegetable oil is limited in supply at an amount drastically less than the amount of petroleum diesel or gasoline that is burned for transportation and home heating in the world. Although it is economically profitable to use WVO to produce biodiesel, it is even more profitable to convert WVO into other products such as soap, and hence most WVO is used for these other purposes.

Animal fats face the similar difficulty that there is a limited supply and it is not likely to be efficient to raise animals simply for their fat. However, producing biodiesel with animal fat that would have otherwise been discarded, replaces at least some petroleum diesel from being used.

For a truly renewable source of oil, crops or other similar cultivatable source would have to be considered. Plants utilize photosynthesis to convert solar energy into chemical energy. It is this chemical energy that biodiesel stores and is released when it is burned. Therefore plants can offer a sustainable oil source for biodiesel production. Different plants produce usable oil at different rates. Some studies have shown the following rates of production in gallons per acre per year:

The production of algae to harvest its oil for biodiesel has not been undertaken on a commercial scale yet, but working feasability studies have been conducted to arrive at the above number. Soybeans are not a very efficient crop solely for the production of biodiesel, but their common use in the United States for food products has led to soybean biodiesel becoming the primary source for biodiesel in that country. Soybean producers are lobbying for the awareness of soybean oil for biodiesel to expand the market for their product. Specially bred mustard varieties can produce very high oil yields with the added benefit that the meal leftover after the oil has been pressed out can act as a effective and biodegradable pesticide.

Efficiency and economic arguments

According to a study written by Drs. Van Dyne and Raymer for the Tennessee Valley Authority, the average US farm consumes fuel at the rate of 82 litres/hectare (8.75 gallons/acre) of land. However, average fields of rapeseed produce oil at an average rate of 1,029 L/ha (110 gal/acre), and high-yield rapeseed fields produce about 1,356 L/ha (145 gal/acre). The ratio of input to output in these cases is roughly 1:12.5 and 1:16.5. However, these statistics by themselves are not enough to show whether such a change makes economic sense.

Additional factors must be taken into account, such as: the fuel equivalent of the energy required for processing, the yield of fuel from raw oil, the return on cultivating food, and the relative cost of biodiesel versus petrodiesel. A 1998 joint study by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) traced many of the various costs involved in the production of biodiesel and found that overall, it yields 3.2 units of fuel product energy for every unit of fossil fuel energy consumed. [1] That measure is referred to as the energy yield. A comparison to petroleum diesel, petroleum gasoline and bioethanol using the USDA numbers can be found at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture website. In the comparison petroleum diesel fuel is found to have a 0.843 energy yield, along with 0.805 for petroleum gasoline, and 1.34 for bioethanol. The 1998 study used soybean oil primarily as the base oil to calculate the energy yields. It is concievable that higher oil yielding crops could increase the energy yield of biodiesel.

Some nations and regions that have pondered transitioning fully to biofuels have found that doing so would require immense tracts of land if traditional crops are used. Considering only traditional plants and analyzing the amount of biodiesel that can be produced per acre of cultivated land, some have concluded that it is likely that the United States, which uses more energy per capita than any other country, does not have enough arable land to fuel all of the nation's vehicles. Other developed and developing nations may be in better situations, although many regions cannot afford to divert land away from food production. For third world countries, biodiesel sources that use marginal land could make more sense, e.g. honge nuts [1] grown along roads.

More recent studies using a species of algae that has oil contents of as high as 50% have concluded that as little as 28,000 kmē or .3% of the land area of the US could be utilized to produce enough biodiesel to replace all transportation fuel the country currently utilizes. Further encouragement comes from the fact that the land that could be most effective in growing the algae is desert land with high solar irradiation, but lower economic value for other uses and that the algae could utilize farm waste and excess CO2 from factories to help speed the growth of the algae. [1]

The direct source of the energy content of biodiesel is solar energy captured by plants during photosynthesis. The website biodiesel.co.uk discusses the positive energy balance of biodiesel:

When straw was left in the field, biodiesel production was strongly energy positive, yielding 1 GJ biodiesel for every 0.561 GJ of energy input (a yield/cost ratio of 1.78).

When straw was burned as fuel and oilseed rapemeal was used as a fertilizer, the yield/cost ratio for biodiesel production was even better (3.71). In other words, for every unit of energy input to produce biodiesel, the output was 3.71 units (the difference of 2.71 units would be from solar energy).

The production of biodiesel processors is measured in metric tonnes/year with a specific gravity of 0.89

Biodiesel is becoming of interest to companies interested in commercial scale production as well as the more usual home brew biodiesel user and the user of straight vegetable oil or waste vegetable oil in diesel engines. Homemade biodiesel processors are many and varied.


Biodiesel is commercially available in most oilseed-producing states in the United States At this time, it is considerably more expensive than fossil diesel, though it is still commonly produced in relatively small quantities (in comparison to petroleum products and ethanol). Many farmers who raise oilseeds use a biodiesel blend in tractors and equipment as a matter of policy, to foster production of biodiesel and raise public awareness. It is sometimes easier to find biodiesel in rural areas than in cities. Similarly, some agribusinesses and others with ties to oilseed farming use biodiesel for public relations reasons. In 2003 some tax credits are available in the U.S. for using biodiesel. In 2002 almost 3.5 million gallons (13,000 m³) of commercially produced biodiesel were sold in the U.S., up from less than 0.1 million gallons (380 m³) in 1998. Due to increasing pollution control requirements and tax relief, the U.S. market is expected to grow to 1 or 2 billion gallons by 2010. The price of biodiesel has come down from an average $3.50/gallon ($0.92/l) in 1997 to $1.85 ($0.49/l) a gallon in 2002. However this is still higher than petrodiesel which averaged about $0.85 ($0.22/l) a gallon in 2002 before road tax is added.

Biodiesel is available in the United Kingdom, at prices comparable with petroleum-based diesel - high fuel taxation making the cost of production a small fraction of the retail cost - but is so far not widely available or in very great demand.

See also


A look back at the U.S. Department of Energy Aquatic Species program: Biodiesel from Algae, July 1998, J. Sheehan, et. al.
(326pg pdf file)

External links