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Biodiesel
BIODIESEL

Biodiesel refers to a diesel-equivalent, processed fuel derived from biological sources (such as vegetable oils), which can be used in unmodified diesel-engined vehicles. It is thus distinguished from the straight vegetable oils (SVO) or waste vegetable oils (WVO) used as fuels in some modified diesel vehicles.

In this article's context, biodiesel refers to alkyl esters made from the transesterification of vegetable oils or animal fats. Biodiesel is biodegradable and non-toxic, and produces significantly fewer net emissions than petroleum-based diesel, as it is itself produced from atmospheric carbon dioxide via photosynthesis in plants. Pure biodiesel is available at many gas stations in Europe.

Some vehicle manufacturers are positive about the use of biodiesel, citing lower engine wear as one of the benefits of this fuel. However, as biodiesel is a better solvent than standard diesel, it 'cleans' the engine, removing deposits in the fuel lines, and this may cause blockages in the fuel injectors. For this reason, car manufacturers recommend that the fuel filter is changed a few months after switching to biodiesel (this part is often replaced anyway in regular servicing). Most manufacturers release lists of the cars which will run on 100% biodiesel -- for example, the summary list provided by Volkswagen is under the title "Use of biodiesel in Volkswagen cars" further down the right-hand side of this page (note it is best to consult with your car manufacturer before using biodiesel for the first time).

Other vehicle manufacturers remain cautious over use of biodiesel. In the UK many only maintain their engine warranties for use with maximum 5% biodiesel blended in with 95% conventional diesel although this position is generally considered to be overly cautious. Peugeot and Citroen are exceptions in that they have both recently announced that their HDI diesel engine can run on 30% biodiesel. Scania and Volkswagen are other exceptions, allowing most of their engines to operate on 100% biodiesel.

Biodiesel can also be used as a heating fuel in domestic and commercial boilers. Existing oil boilers may require conversion to run on biodiesel, but the conversion process is believed to be relatively simple.

Biodiesel can be distributed using today's infrastructure, and its use and production are increasing rapidly. Fuel stations are beginning to make biodiesel available to consumers, and a growing number of transport fleets use it as an additive in their fuel. Biodiesel is generally more expensive to purchase than petroleum diesel but this differential may diminish due to economies of scale, the rising cost of petroleum and government tax subsidies. In Germany, biodiesel is generally cheaper than normal diesel at gas stations which sell both products.

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How is Bio-diesel Made?


Biodiesel fuel can be made from new or used vegetable oils and animal fats, which are nontoxic, biodegradable, renewable resources. Fats and oils are chemically reacted with an alcohol (methanol is the usual choice) to produce chemical compounds known as fatty acid methyl esters. Biodiesel is the name given to these esters when they're intended for use as fuel. Glycerol (used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, among other markets) is produced as a co-product.

Biodiesel can be produced by a variety of esterification technologies. The oils and fats are filtered and preprocessed to remove water and contaminants. If free fatty acids are present, they can be removed or transformed into biodiesel using special pretreatment technologies. The pretreated oils and fats are then mixed with an alcohol (usually methanol) and a catalyst (usually sodium hydroxide). The oil molecules (triglycerides) are broken apart and reformed into methyl esters and glycerol, which are then separated from each other and purified.

 

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Biodiesel Fuel Market

The use of Biodiesel has grown dramatically during the last few years. The Energy Policy Act was amended by the Energy Conservation Reauthorization Act of 1998 to include biodiesel fuel use as a way for federal, state, and public utility fleets to meet requirements for using alternative fuels.

Pure Biodiesel (B100) is considered an alternative fuel under EPAct. Lower-level biodiesel blends are not considered alternative fuels, but covered fleets can earn one EPAct credit for every 450 gallons of B100 purchased for use in blends of 20% or higher. To learn more, visit the EPAct Alternative Fuels Web page.

That amendment started the sharp increase in the number of biodiesel users, which now include the U. S. Postal Service and the U.S. Departments of Defense, Energy, and Agriculture. Countless school districts, transit authorities, national parks, public utility companies, and garbage and recycling companies also use the fuel.

Currently, there is a biodiesel tax incentive that is a federal tax credit. The credit equates to a one penny per percent of biodiesel in a fuel blend made from agricultural products like vegetable oils, and one-half penny per percent for recycled oils. This incentive is taken by petroleum distributors and passed on to consumers. The USDA developed a study that estimated this incentive will increase the demand for biodiesel to at least 124 million gallons per year. And depending on other factors, including crude oil prices, the industry projects that demand could be much higher. To learn more about the biodiesel tax incentive, go to the National Biodiesel Board's Tax Incentive page

Feedstock costs account for a large percentage of the direct biodiesel production costs, including capital cost and return. It takes about 7.3 pounds of soybean oil, which costs about 20 cents per pound, to produce a gallon of biodiesel. Feedstock costs alone, therefore, are at least $1.50 per gallon of soy biodiesel. Fats and greases cost less and produce less expensive biodiesel, sometimes as low as $1.00 per gallon. The quality of the fuel is equivalent to soy biodiesel fuel.

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Benefits of Biodiesel

Because little fossil energy is required to move biodiesel, it is a substitute or extender for traditional petroleum diesel, and special pumps or high pressure equipment for fueling are not needed. In addition, it can be used in conventional diesel engines, so special vehicles or engines to run biodiesel do not need to be purchased. However, users should always consult with the OEM and engine warranty statement before using biodiesel.

Scientists believe carbon dioxide is one of the main greenhouse gases contributing to global warming. Neat biodiesel (100% biodiesel) reduces carbon dioxide emissions by more than 75% over petroleum diesel. Using a blend of 20% biodiesel reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 15%.

Biodiesel also produces fewer particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide emissions (all air pollutants under the Clean Air Act).

Since biodiesel can be used in conventional diesel engines, the renewable fuel can directly replace petroleum products; reducing the country's dependence on imported oil.

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