What is Biodiesel?

It is a fuel which is manufactured from vegetable oils or animal fats that can be used in diesel engines. It is a modified oil, some people use straight vegetable oil in their vehicles and it is important to realize that this is not biodiesel. A diesel engine by design is a multi-fuel engine. It will burn just about any oil. However, the fuel injection system on a modern diesel engine has evolved over the years to use petroleum diesel.

 

This means that in order to burn a vegetable oil in a diesel engine, we need to change the oil so that it has similar properties to those of petroleum diesel. This is done via the biodiesel process.

 

The reason vegetable oils or fats are not suitable for burning in a diesel engine is their 'thickness' or viscosity is too high. In effect what we are doing in the biodiesel process is 'thinning' out the oil.

 

The chemicals that are used in the biodiesel process are methanol or ethanol and a catalyst like potassium or sodium hydroxide. It is a matter of combining the oil, methanol or ethanol and a catalyst like potassium or sodium hydroxide in the correct proportion to produce biodiesel.

A Brief History of Biodiesel

The history of biodiesel starts in the mid 1800's. In those days the process of transesterfication (what we do to make biodiesel) was used to separate glycerine from oil. Glycerine is a useful product being widely used in the cosmetic, food and explosives industries.

 

When Rudolf Diesel demonstrated his diesel engine at the Paris Show in 1900, he ran it on straight peanut oil - not biodiesel.

 

By the early 1900's petroleum fuels were plentiful and cheap and increasingly more sophisticated fuel injection systems were designed to run these fossil fuel derived oils. Over the years this has meant that vehicles have evolved to run thinner fossil diesels rather than thicker vegetable oils.

 

Until the oil crisis of the 1970's it was not economically viable to run an engine on anything but fossil diesel. Once the price of crude oil increased though, there was an incentive for research on alternative fuels. It was already pretty much accepted that unmodified vegetable oil was not suitable for modern injection systems. The transesterfication process was pretty much old science and was used to reduce the viscosity of the oil, producing biodiesel (biodiesel technically is termed a Fatty Acid Methyl Ester).

 

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Some Interesting Biodiesel Facts

  • Biodiesel can be and is made from renewable sources like vegetable oils and animal fats;
  • The common process of making biodiesel is called transesterification;
  • When making biodiesel you require: methanol or ethanol and a catalyst like potassium or sodium hydroxide;
  • Biodiesel is totally biodegradable and is not toxic;
  • Biodiesel is not flammable and has a flash point which is higher than that of fossil diesel. This means that it is much safer to store than fossil diesel;
  • The harmful emissions that you would have when running fossil diesel are dramatically reduced when running an engine on even a small percentage of biodiesel mixed with fossil diesel;
  • Biodiesel reduces visible exhaust emissions (smoke) from your tailpipe;
  • Biodiesel is more lubricating than fossil diesel fuel so it has the potential to increase engine life;
  • Your vehicle does not need a conversion to run on biodiesel (from diesel), but you will need to refer to your vehicle manufacturer before use;
  • The world could never produce enough biodiesel to replace fossil diesel. But it can be a part of the solution;
  • You do not need to change your maintenance schedule when using biodiesel;
  • Biodiesel can be blended with fossil diesel in any ratio. The ratio is indicated with a B rating. B20 is 20 percent biodiesel, B80 is 80 percent biodiesel;
  • USA reported producing 2.09 billion gallons of biodiesel in 2015, up from about 1.97 billion gallons in 2014. US consumers used a record of nearly 2.1 billion gallons of biodiesel in 2015, reducing America’s carbon emissions by at least 18.2 million metric tons;
  • In some countries biodiesel fuel prices are higher than that of normal diesel and in some countries you will have biodiesel blended into your fuel by law;
  • South African government had approved our biofuels industrial strategy in December 2007, with an effective date of 1 October 2015 to achieve a 2% biofuels penetration into the national liquid fuels pool.