Biodiesel fuel will operate most any diesel powered vehicle and be used as a furnace oil for heating. It is a superior fuel with many benefits over fossil diesel. The first being that it can be sustainably produced by farmers as a seed crop, recovered restaurant fryer grease, Or oil extracted from algae grown feedstocks photosynthesis’ly grown in ponds or transparent capsules bathed in sunlight. Global Climate changes creates grave hardships and dangers. By burning fossil fuels to power our economy we have developed a very bad addiction that we need to change or things are going to get a lot worse for many people worldwide. Biodiesel is a valuable tool for addressing global climate problems by enabling industry to operate clean burning CO2 neutral trucks, trains and transit fleets, affordable and ecologically in these times of destabilized and enviromentally damaging energy options.
The United States consumes 125 Billion gallons of gasoline and 60 Billion gallons of diesel fuel annually. US restaurants dispose of 3 Billion gallons of used fryer vegetable oil a year. Or about 5% of our annual diesel fuel needs. By utilizing fallow cropland and used cooking oil the US could displace 15% annual fossil diesel use. Additionally turning to algae based feedstocks the sky will become the limit. By utilizing algae grown biofuels thousands of gallons of fuel can be produced on one acre of non farmable land every year. The possibility of replacing all fossil fuels with algae grown oil can really be an attainable goal once a small portion of the billions of dollars the oil companies spend every year is diverted to algae production. The technology has already been proven we just need to hold big oils feet to the fire until they seriously make the switch to renewables. Or any other well funded entrepreneur who see a great opportunity. A number of airlines and aircraft manufacturers including Boeing have successfully flown planes powered on fuel that was produced from algae and other seed crops. Using the carbon dioxide rich exhaust from large coal fired power plants oil produced into algae ponds or transparent plumbing or bags that are baked in sunshine will be the future for our planet if we ever get serious about curbing global climate change. Algenol of Ft. Myers Florida has a proven method for algae based biofuel production that additionally de-salinates salt water into fresh water as a byproduct of their biofuel production process. Some algae processes efficiently convert carbon dioxide pulled from the atmosphere or as waste industrial CO2 into triglyceride oils. Or in the case of Algenol, ethanol and other biofuels.
To drill for, pump, ship, refine, and ship again 1 gallon of fossil diesel or gasoline it takes at least, an additional 1.2 gallons of fuel, just to get it to the pump. This does not also include the fuel and other resources we are using these days to maintain a military to assure this fossil fuel supply.
To produce 1 gallon of biodiesel from most seed crops and process it on to the gas pump takes on average one third of a gallon of fuel. That is from planting the seeds to pumping the fuel into the car.
The sun with the wondrous process of photosynthesis does most of the work. This is the process where a plant uses it’s chlorophyll to pull carbon dioxide from the air we breath. With the suns help the plant removes the carbon atoms from the air and use them to build up the plant’s cellulose structure before exhaling oxygen that is produced at the same time. This process the reason human and most any other life on earth as we know it even exists. Whats good for the planet is also good for us and whats not good for us likely is also not good for planet Earth.
For every kilogram of carbon that is released from the tailpipe of a vehicle engine running on biodiesel, 2-3 kilograms of carbon are consumed from the atmosphere by plant cellulose growth to produce that gram of biodiesel.
Biodiesel is easier on wear and tear to an engine because it has no sulfur unlike fossil diesel. Sulfur in fossil diesel partially turns to sulfuric acid in the hot engine crankcase and causes corrosion of internal engine parts. Biodiesel is more lubricating to the engines injection pump, injectors, and valve seats. This quality creates a quieter and smoother running diesel engine with less wear and slightly more power.
The burnt sulfur from fossil diesel leaves the vehicle tail pipe as sulfur dioxide to become acid rain and further damage the environment. US diesel sold for the road was mandated in Oct 2006 to be ultra-low sulfur diesel with less than 15-20parts per million (PPM) of sulfur.
Toxic tailpipe emissions decrease from 65% to over 90% when switching from 100% fossil diesel to 100% biodiesel.
Safety concerns are simplified with news that biodiesel is not even considered a flammable so it is safer to handle in that respect. The flash point for biodiesel is about 270-300F degrees verse 125F for fossil diesel.
Biodiesel being a far more de-centralized energy source that can be supplied by farmers and other resourceful people instead of shameless multinational oil companies will help lead our Nation to a more stable fuel source with a more stable price. Biodiesel production on the farm will also bring about other valuable by-products like potash, natural soil fumigants and fertilizers to rebuild our sick farmlands. In addition biodiesel production produces a crude glycerin that can be used simply as a soap product or can be further refined into a valued technical grade glycerin and many other value enhanced consumer and industrial products.
Biodiesel has a couple disadvantages that need to be stated also. Tailpipe emissions from burning biodiesel will drop across the board on everything with the exception of a slight increase in NOx (Nitrous Oxide). Burning oxygen under compression creates NOx. Diesel compression-ignition engines burn oxygen and being that biodiesel is 11% oxygen there might be a slight increase in NOx as a result. The benefits of the increased oxygen out weigh this problem because extra oxygen also makes the fuel burn more thoroughly and decreases overall tailpipe emissions. Biodiesel has a cetane number of about 55, much higher than standard fossil diesels cetane number of about 47. The cetane number is a rating on the fuels ability to burn and is often compared to the octane number for gasoline. The higher the cetane, the better and more efficiently the fuel will burn.
Another disadvantage with biodiesel worth mentioning is, winter gelling. Most biodiesel will start gelling at about 30F degrees. Remedies include anti-gelling agents, or produce biodiesel from coconut oil (shorter ester chains), or use some fossil diesel or Kerosene (#1 Diesel) to lower the gel point of the fuel. We have also found that biodiesel produced from waste kitchen fryer grease usually has a lower gel point and we suspect that is because the oil while still in the fryer, had most of its carbon-carbon double bonds eliminated and an extra hydrogen atom was added to each of the carbon atoms. This also gives the fuel a slightly enhanced BTU advantage over what it was before spending time in the kitchen fryer.
In 1895 Rudolph Diesel was hired by the German Mining industry to build an engine. His engine was designed to run on coal dust from the coal mines. A diesel engine is a finely built piece of machinery made of steel with machined iron parts. Course coal dust is not something one would want to push through such a thing. Mr. Diesel ran his engine on peanut oil when it was exhibited at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. Fossil fuels came along a short time later.
In producing biodiesel from Vegetable oil (triglycerides) the easiest method is the transesterification reaction using bases (KOH or NaOH) and either methanol or ethanol alcohol. The catalyst and the alcohol react with the Triglycerides (very large molecule) breaking off into esters and the glycerol drops out as a byproduct. The crude biodiesel is than subjected to washing, polishing, drying and filtering to complete its transformation to being ASTM grade biodiesel.
Biodiesel could prove to be an equalizer for 3rd world economies with lots of land mass, sun, and rain yet highly Dependant on imported oil. Investing in biodiesel production will give many countries the means to keep more of their money in the country eliminating the importation of fossil fuels.