What is Biodiesel?
Biodiesel is a type of alternative fuel that is clean burning and made from renewable resources. Despite the name it contains no petroleum, although it can be blended with petroleum biodiesel. The number after the B in the biodiesel label refers to the percentage of the fuel that is from biodiesel. Therefore B100 is pure biodiesel but B20 only contains 20% biodiesel and the other 80% is petro-diesel. This fuel can be made from either animal fat or vegetable oil. It can be used as fuel in any traditional diesel engine. It can also be used as an alternative for heating oil.
How is Biodiesel Made?
Biodiesel is made through a process known as transesterification. This process occurs when a collection of waste vegetable oil or animal based oil is collected and then heated to between 130-135 degrees Fahrenheit. A mixture of methanol and a catalyst, normally potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide, are added to the hot oil and the entire solution is mixed. The mixture is allowed to settle so that two layers from, the upper layer contains oil and the bottom contains glycerin. The glycerin layer is removed and the biodiesel is washed with water. This water and oil solution is allowed to separate and then the water layer is removed from the container. The biodiesel is moved to a storage container where it is allowed to dry and then shipped out to be used as fuel. Normally 100 pounds of oil can be converted to 10 pounds of glycerin and 100 pounds of biodiesel.
Biodiesel Fuel Market
On a global scale the biodiesel market is considered to be entering a period of transitional and rapid growth that offers a lot of opportunity but uncertainty. Much of the biodiesel production market is constrained due to feedstock availability. Around the world many countries are transitioning from expensive source oils to those that are lower cost and not derived from food stocks. As of 2010 more than 2 billion gallons of biodiesel were produced and sold as fuel in the United States. The European biodiesel market is just starting and is poised for tremendous growth.
Benefits of Biodiesel
There are many benefits to using biodiesel. Unlike other fuels biodiesel can be made domestically in any country and is not restricted like the petroleum market. It is a renewable energy and clean burning. The fact that biodiesel can be made domestically plays into energy security as industries will not be reliant on only a handful of producers. Biodiesel is also a healthy alternative as it substantially reduces the amount of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, sulfates, and particulate matter into the air. Pure biodiesel has extremely low emissions, but even blended diesel blends will show a reduction. Additionally greenhouse gas emissions are offset as carbon dioxide is used to grow the plants that are the source of plant based oils. This type of fuel also improves the engine as it improves fuel lubricity, a problem with normal diesel fuel. This means that biodiesel makes it easier for the moving parts of the engine to keep moving.
Biodiesel Research and Development
Much of the research and development of biodiesel looks into improving the oil yield from the transesterification process and finding more suitable crops as the starting product. At the moment large stretches or land are needed to produce the amount of oil needed to completely replace fossil fuels. Crops are being specially bred to produce high levels of oil, such as some varieties of mustard that produce a lot of oil. Some past research has looked into producing biodiesel from algae, while others are investigating using a poisonous shrub, jatropha, to improve oil yield. Other research has looked into producing biodiesel from other types of waste such as coffee grounds, fungi and alligator fat.
Biodiesel Infrastructure Resources
While biodiesel is an excellent alternative fuel, in order for its use to be efficient and low cost the proper infrastructure must be in place to support its usage. Specific tanks, pumps and other storage equipment are required so that biodiesel is safe and does not harm the environment or people. Biodiesel that is stored over a long period of time has the chance of oxidation which can produce oils; therefore proper tanks are needed to prevent any oxidation. Tanks must stay cool and avoid sunlight which speeds up oxidation. Additionally biodiesel can eat through some types of materials that are made of plastics and rubber. All material that might be damaged should be replaced. Transport of biodiesel must meet all specifications that are required for petroleum diesel, including proper washout, stainless steel, carbon steel or aluminum tanks and more. Each country and state will have its own specifications that must be met.
Biodiesel Incentives and Laws
There are many tax incentives that have been put in place to favor the use and production of biodiesel. Some different incentives include the small agri-biodiesel producer tax credit, alternative fuel refueling infrastructure tax credit and the volumetric blender tax credit. States also offer their own incentives and laws. Virginia, Illinois, California and Washington all have more than 16 laws and incentives. Some of these programs include the alternative fuel and vehicle research and development incentives, employer invested emissions reduction funding, biofuel volume rebate program, low emissions school bus grants, low carbon fuel standards, state transportation plan and more.
There are many papers that can be found based on biodiesel in peer reviewed journals, normally information on research and development in biodiesel. The national renewable energy laboratory and alternative fuels and advanced vehicles data center provide publications and newsletters on biodiesel. Many government departments may also offer documents and publications on biodiesel.