What is biodiesel?
Biodiesel is a form of diesel that is created from vegetable oils, greases or animal fats. In some experimental systems it can be produced from algae. Biodiesel can be used as a replacement or a complement to existing diesel fuel and it is possible to add to a car diesel engine with no modification required at all when mixed with mineral diesel. Pure biodiesel which is known as B100 is known to be currently the most environmentally friendly diesel fuel giving off less emissions. Technically liquid petroleum gas (LPG) and hydrogen have cleaner combustion methods, but they are currently used in inefficient petrol based car engines and as such they become less environmentally friendly.
Recent reports suggest that biodiesel produced from algae could be a viable option for replacing the world’s use of standard diesel. For the current 1.1 billion tonnes of diesel that is used annually worldwide to be replaced entirely with algae produced biodiesel it would require approximately 57 million hectares which is very favourable when compared to the land mass which is required for other types of biofuel production.
How is biodiesel made?
Biodiesel is made from organically created fats and greases such as vegetable oil and other animal fats. Technically the process for making biodiesel is called transesterification and it involves adding methanol to the grease or oil used as the base for the biodiesel. A catalyst such as sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide is then dissolved in the solution. This then leaves two products which are then separated. The first is the biodiesel itself which chemically is called methyl esters and a by-product called glycerine which can be used in the production of soap and it also used in a variety of products from skin care to toothpaste.
Glycerine was once a valuable by-product that could be sold to manufacturers to create products but since the creation of biodiesel has increased substantially over the years the market price for glycerine has dropped dramatically.
Uses of biodiesel?
There are actually a wide variety of uses for biodiesel apart from the obvious fuel source for automobiles. Examples of biodiesel uses are –
Biodiesel can be used in conjunction with standard oil based domestic central heating systems as well as on its own in modified boilers. Many existing oil based boilers can take B20 biodiesel which is a mix of 20% standard biodiesel and 80% oil. It is possible to have your boiler modified to run solely on B100 pure biodiesel if you wish.
Biodiesel is a good alternative to existing diesel when used in all kinds of engines ranging from automobiles all the way through to aircraft.
Biodiesel has been used in the clean-up of oil spills in the past because it has been shown to have cleaning agent capabilities.
There are power stations that are using biodiesel to help produce electricity.
Advantages of biodiesel
Using biodiesel more would lessen demand on using traditional fossil fuels such as oil.
Biodiesel is a renewable energy source which has the potential to provide a substantial amount of the world’s fuel needs.
Biodiesel that is produced from algae could become one of the most efficient ways of producing renewable fuel from biomass methods. For example, algae grows much faster than traditional crops due to their structure and growth habitat and the conversion in terms of percentage that can be used for biodiesel production is 60% for algae based biodiesel production versus 3% for soybean biodiesel production. Therefore, the yield for algae based biodiesel works out as much as 30 times greater than the next best traditional crop yield.
Biodiesel has the capability of reducing CO2 emissions by up to 80%.
Biodiesel can be used in some small lanterns instead of traditional kerosene. The same can be said for kerosene based stoves.
Biodiesel can be used as a paint remover so that you do not need to use more abrasive traditional highly toxic standard paint removers.
Research has confirmed that biodiesel exhaust on automobiles has a much less harmful effect on human health than the petrol diesel equivalent.
Biodiesel is known to have strong lubricating qualities which could lead to an extension of the lifetime of an engine.
Disadvantages of biodiesel
It is necessary to use large masses of land in order to grow crops that can be harvested and processed to create biodiesel. Although with additional research and development of algae based biodiesel production this may not be an issue.
If crops are being used in order to derive the oils necessary for biodiesel production there maybe shortages during times of the year when crops are not due to be harvested.
If crops are being produced with the aim of maximising the yield of biofuel then this could negatively impact the amount of crops that are being produced with the sole intent of feeding people around the world.
Biodiesel has been known on occasion to decrease the horsepower of an engine so it is recommended to use the best quality of biodiesel available.
It is currently approximately 1.5 times more expensive to create biodiesel than it is standard diesel.