Many of us have heard about biodiesel, but can not explain what it really is.
There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about this very popular alternative fuel. So we decided to clarify the most common misconceptions and answer the most frequently questions about biodiesel.
Biofuel is a diesel replacement, made from a mix of substances, from fresh vegetable oil to used cooking oil and animal fat. Biodiesel can be used in vehicles with a diesel engine. Biodiesel can be used straight, 100 % (B100) or as a blend with regular diesel (B20) that contains 20% biodiesel and 80% fossil diesel fuel. In B5 the amount of biodiesel is very low. There are also homemade brews that don’t meet the standards of ASTM.
Here are the most common misconceptions about Biodiesel
MISCONCEPTION #1: Biodiesel and ethanol are the same.
The misunderstanding about these two fuels (ethanol and biodiesel) emerged because both are biofuels. But in fact they are completely different in their origin and production process. Ethanol is an ALCOHOL fuel made by fermentation of SUGAR cane, wheat and corn, while BIodiesel is chemically processed fat or VEGETABLE OIL.
- Ethanol is a colourless alcohol made from sugarcane (in Brazil, the second largest ethanol producer), corn (in America, the world’s top ethanol fuel producer) and sugar beet (in Europe). Sugar crops are milled through dry milling or wet milling, then the mash is fermented with yeast, and at the end the ethanol is separated and distilled to 190 proof.
- Cellulosic Ethanol made from cellulosic feedstock (grass, wood and crop residue) is considered the fuel of the future, but it still is a challenging and long process, through biochemical or thermochemical reactions. Cellulosic raw material is more abundant and it is seen as an opportunity to gain independence from gasoline imports. The first cellulosic ethanol facilities were commissioned in Europe, the US, and Brazil in 2013.
- Ethanol blends with gasoline are coming into increased use. Over 90% of US gasoline contains ethanol. It oxygenates the fuel and reduces pollution. The most popular blends are E5, E10 and E20 where E stands for “ethanol” and corresponds to 5%,10% and 20% of ethanol in the blend. Confidence in ethanol is increasing, and mixes with a higher % of ethanol are coming into use. Tests proved that vehicles run on E20 with no problems and do not need to be adapted. Still, the most popular blends are E10 and E85 for flexible fuel vehicles
- Biodiesel is produced from vegetable oil, animal fat and used cooking oil. The oil or fat is converted into biodiesel through a chemical reaction with alcohol with the help of a catalyst. Raw or refined oils and fats themselves are not biodiesel and can not be used as vehicle fuel.
- The recipe for making biodiesel is simple, some even try to make it at home. Oil or fat is mixed with a sodium hydroxide (NaOH) catalyst and methanol (CH3COH) to produce biodiesel and glycerol byproduct.
- Another source of oil for biodiesel is algae.It is similar to sqeezing juice from fruit in an oil press with the following chemical reaction. The first sales of algae biofuel began in 2012
- Biodiesel is blended with petroleum diesel in different concentrations. The most popular blends for road vehicles are B5, B20 and B100
To sum it all up, biodiesel is added to diesel, while ethanol is alcohol are added to gasoline.
MISCONCEPTION #2: BIODIESEL is better than ETHANOL (or vice versa).
Sometimes the media doesn’t show biofuel in a good light. The negative reports are focused on the growing of sugarcane, corn and soybeans for biofuel in large areas of arable land and changing the landscape and the environment. Corn ethanol is the worst of them.
More research is needed into using non-food feedstock, and future fuel should be made from crop waste (stalks and grass)
Apart from corn ethanol, Malaysian palm biodiesel causes problems for the environment with deforestation for palm plantations. Growing palm biodiesel production stopped rainforest conservation and damages the ecosystem with waterways pollution in Asia
Also biofuels are linked to the rise of food prices.
Though it is not correct to generalize all biofuels. The situation in the US is different, food sources are not used for biofuel production, instead, focusing on cellulosic ethanol and algae biodiesel. They do not occupy valuable land and are better solutions for the future.
MISCONCEPTION #3: Biodiesel is useless
To use biodiesel, we need to change our mindset, our habits, our ways of life and most importantly our addiction to petroleum. Also, the economy should change, with new technologies for public transport and new non-food based biofuels leading to cleaner environment.
Biodiesel is already improving pollution and vehicle emissions, but it doesn’t meet our total fuel demands. Still, used cooking oil processed into biodiesel replaces 1 million gallons of diesel fuel in Oregon every year. Biodiesel production in the US has increased from 500 million gallons in 2009 to 1 billion gallons in 2012, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from diesel-powered vehicles.
1 gallon of biodiesel can reduce emissions by 12-80 % depending on the feedstock. E.g, soybean based biodiesel reduces greenhouse emissions by 15% per gallon.
MISCONCEPTION #4: The vehicle needs to be converted to use biodiesel.
Biodiesel can only be used in a diesel engine. No modification is needed. You can use B2, B5, B10, B100 (any amount of biodiesel). The most common type is B20
As it happens, diesel vehicles are becoming more and more popular for the motorists for fuel economy reasons. A diesel vehicle goes farther and so do the money. Using biodiesel also lowers emissions, making the vehicle environmentally friendly.
The only limitations of using biodiesel are in cold temperatures. In cold weather it is recommended to drop biodiesel % to B50 and B20. Also, in cold seasons mix it with winterized diesel fuel.
The only modification to make is to change fuel filters, especially if you have an old diesel vehicle, it is important to change the fuel filter after a couple of tanks of biodiesel, because it dissolves old sludge accumulated in fuel lines over time and may block the filters. Also if you are concerned that biodiesel solvent properties degrade the rubber in the fuel lines, you can replace them with synthetic ones. Any mechanic could do this in 15 minutes. The lines are generally upgraded to viton hoses of the corresponding diameter.
There might also be worries about warranty issues, because some manufacturers prohibit the use of biodiesel, such as Audi A3, which runs on the cleanest fuel due to precise fuel injection.
To find biodiesel in your area on en route, first check your local petrol stations for recent conversions to biodiesel pumps. You can find biodiesel pump lists on the internet. Google map shows biodiesel stations everywhere. The NearBio.com will text message you the nearest biodiesel station location. It shows the blends of biodiesel available and the hours of operation.
To fill your tank with biodiesel you simply put the spout into your fuel tank (as long as it is a diesel tank) and pump the biodiesel right in.
MISCONCEPTION #5: You need a mechanic to remodel the car to use biodiesel
All you need is to fill your car with a different fuel. It is as simple as filling your vehicle with a different brand of fuel. The change of fuel filters and fuel lines mentioned above can be done within an hour, if you can use a screwdriver, and if you managed to change the oil in your car by yourself. A mechanic can do it in 15 minutes.
MISCONCEPTION #6: Biodiesel ruins the engine
On the contrary, using biodiesel has special benefits for the engine. Biodiesel adds lubricity to the fuel, extending engine life. Even 5% biodiesel restores fuel lubricity.
Biodiesel has a high cetane number, which describes its ignition and combustion capability. Also, biodiesel is a good solvent that dissolves the sediment in the tank and the fuel system. The only drawback is its solvent properties, which may damaging the rubber fuel lines of pre-1990 vehicles. Modern vehicles have silicone lines.
At the same time, biodiesel and diesel have similar chemical compositions and combust identically in a diesel engine.
Only filling your car with the wrong type of fuel can cause damage to the engine. For example, filling a gasoline car with biodiesel will cause problems for your fuel system and fuel injector pump.
The biggest names in the diesel business give green light to B20.
MISCONCEPTION #7: With biodiesel you lose power.
Because biodiesel is similar to diesel in its chemical structure, it also shows similar performance in horsepower, torque and mileage. B100 in its pure form can cause a decrease in power around 5-10% depending on the manufacturer. B20 causes 1-2% loss of power. Although motorists report that it is hardly noticeable, being only 2 mph on the road.
The use of biodiesel in heavy agricultural machinery, tractors, loaders and other agricultural equipment shows no difference between diesel and biodiesel.
Energy value of biofuels (BTU per gallon) :
- Biodiesel = 118,296 BTUs
- Ethanol = 76,000 BTUs
MISCONCEPTION #8: The manufacturer’s warranty prohibits biodiesel.
Manufacturer warranty statements do not cover the use of biodiesel. It is due to the manufacturers’ attitude towards a variety of blends of biodiesel and their standards within ASTM, especially the use of biodiesel blends over B5 (5%). Automakers are still studying B6-B20.
At the same time, the manufacturers can only guarantee material and workmanship on the products they manufacture. These warranties do not cover the damage or problems caused by external factors, such as fuel
It is best to check with the manufacturer’s regarding biodiesel warranty.
This lack of support prevents diesel vehicle owners from using biodiesel. Maybe the ASTM specification will help to change their mindset.
MISCONCEPTION #9: Biodiesel stops working in cold weather and cold climate.
It is true that in cold weather biodiesel can become a gel, block the filters, plug fuel lines and freeze, when regular diesel retains its performance. To keep using biodiesel in cold climate, it is good to mix it with winter diesel fuel. Here are the temperatures of biodiesel freezing:
- B100 freezes at 40 degrees F
- B50 freezes at 20-40 degrees F
- B20 freezes 20 degrees F
Also, the freezing properties of biodiesel depend on the feedstock it was made from. Most biodiesel in the US (about 80%) is made of soybean, and has a cloud point of 1°C. Other feedstock, such as palm oil or tallow start to freeze at much higher temperatures of 12-17°C.
If the biodiesel gels up in your car, it does not cause any severe damage, apart from blocking fuel filters. To avoid biodiesel gelling, there are various anti gel additives available. They are different for diesel and biodiesel. Also, you can use a cold filter to trap the thicker parts of biodiesel. Another way is blending more diesel into biodiesel. And at last you can get your biodiesel nice and hot by a filter heater or heat exchanger, heating your fuel system, from the tank to fuel injectors.
The snowcats in ski resorts prove that biodiesel can be used in winter with the help of different fuel warming solutions.
MISCONCEPTION #10: Biodiesel quality is unknown when you buy it.
Biodiesel has its own regulations specified by the National Biodiesel Board which issued the ASTM 6751 standard. This standard specifies B100 as a fuel for blending with diesel.
The Board regulates and helps companies test, blend and distribute biodiesel through the fuel management program BQ-9000. Although the Board operates only in the States, it helps catalog biodiesel distributors and their compliance with ASTM 6751 standard. The information can be found in State Fuel Quality Index
MISCONCEPTION #11: Biodiesel filling stations are hard to find.
Biodiesel is becoming more and more popular, and in big cities there are several dozen stations offering biodiesel. Of course, make sure that you buy from a reputable source and not from a back door salesman. Also, always buy blended B5, B20, B100 biodiesel with climate additives.
MISCONCEPTION #12: Biodiesel requires a restructuring of the fuel system
Biodiesel is similar to diesel in its composition and it can be handled and used in the same way. It doesn’t require changes to the fuel system, just regular maintenance in changing fuel filters, because biodiesel is a cleaning agent that cleans the fuel system from sediment. If the vehicle feels sluggish, it is a sign that your filters are blocked and it is time to change them.
MISCONCEPTION #13: Biodiesel is more expensive.
Biodiesel, just as any fuel, depends on petroleum prices. Even when it is made out of soybean oil, the prices of soybean feedstock depend on petrol prices, as soybean farmers depend on the prices of diesel in their work.
Comparing the average retail fuel prices of diesel and biodiesel from 2000 to 2016, there was little difference between them. Even with government subsidies, biodiesel is expensive and has a price close to regular diesel.
For example, in July 1-15, 2016 the average price of biodiesel B20 – 2.54$ per gallon and diesel -2.46$ per gallon.
Biodiesel will gain more popularity with the development of nonfood biodiesel at cheaper price, especially with the government taxing carbon exhausts, generating the finances for the alternative energy.
It will help to reduce greenhouse emissions and help a lot of people with respiratory problems due to diesel exhausts. Studies show that diesel fumes cause premature deaths and affects the brain function.
In 2008, the US spent 440 billion dollars on imported petroleum, and with the rising prices on oil this figure could double this year. A part of this money could be well spent on the development of alternative energy, rather than the development of Saudi Arabia
Is it worth spending 1 billion dollars a day or should the money stay in the economy?
MISCONCEPTION #14: Biodiesel releases less energy than is used for its production.
As an alternative energy source biofuel should produce more energy than is spent on making it. According to the statistics, 2-3 times more energy is produced than spent. Biodiesel also yields more energy (3.2) than fossil diesel fuel (0.83).
Ethanol is the energy champion. The most energy is contained in switchgrass based ethanol. It gives 540% energy gain.
The positive energy balance of ethanol and biodiesel comes from the solar energy is absorbed by the crops and released by the fuel.
MISCONCEPTION #15: Biodiesel releases more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Biofuels really do reduce greenhouse effect. Biodiesel emissions are 41% lower compared with regular diesel. The emissions of CO2, CH4, SOx, HF, PM10 are significantly lower than those of diesel fuel.
On the other hand, there are the ecological problems caused by using more and more land for soybean production.
Also, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Centre, corn ethanol reduces GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions by 51% versus gasoline.
MISCONCEPTION #16: Biodiesel destroys forests.
Deforestation causes climate change with the extinction of species and desertification. It is because deforested lands heat up more and dehydrate. The biggest causes of deforestation are agriculture and farming.
Statistics show that the destruction of tropical forests in Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia are responsible for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), releasing billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere .
Although biofuels reduce GHG emissions, farming for biofuel crops is linked to deforestation. This causes biofuel research to move in the direction of no or low use of land, and producing biofuels from non-edible crops like canola, algae, straw and waste-vegetable oil.
The research into direct influence of biofuels on deforestation is difficult with unknown agricultural areas for biofuel cultivation, because biofuel crops are a part of food crops production.
To find out where your biofuel comes from, if it is produced locally or imported, refer to your local biofuel supplier.
MISCONCEPTION #17: We can never grow enough feedstock for biodiesel.
It is difficult to calculate exactly how much land is required to grow enough biofuel feedstock and how it will affect food supply and carbon emissions. Different crops require different area for planting. For example, soybean grown on 40 million acres would produce 2 billion gallons of vegetable oil. Enough soybean to cover the fuel demand of the US would cover 1.5 times the area of the US. The best solution is to use algae for biofuel production, because it needs less land with more fuel output.
MISCONCEPTION #18: Biodiesel exhaust has unpleasant odor.
All smells are very subjective, some people say that biodiesel from waste oil smells like fried potatoes. Other people can not stand the smell of exhaust, whether it is biodiesel exhaust or not. But it is better to think that a passing car or truck run on biofuel when you smell the burning oil exhaust, contributing to a cleaner environment.
MISCONCEPTION #19: Biodiesel increases harmful exhausts emissions.
Under the Clean Air Act Section 211(b) biodiesel is the first fuel that showed less harmful emissions of carbon monoxide, particulate matter, unburned hydrocarbons, and sulfates compared to petroleum diesel fuel. Also, biodiesel produces 85% less emissions of carcinogenic compounds compared with petrodiesel.
Biodiesel produces less “black smoke”(- 47%) that affects the respiratory system and is linked to multiple health issues. Most importantly, with the reduced carbon monoxide (-48%) and reduced nitrogen oxide and other toxin emissions, biodiesel reduces the impact of the exhaust on the atmosphere. It is especially needed in national parks and school districts.
MISCONCEPTION #20: Diesel engines produce more pollution than gasoline engines.
Diesel engines have long been considered “dirty” because they produced more carbon monoxide and soot than gasoline engines. But using biodiesel decreases this pollution and reduces the amount of harmful emissions to a level below that of gasoline emissions, making diesel engines “cleaner”.
Modern technologies today allow better diesel engines that can compete with gasoline engines in emissions and mileage.
MISCONCEPTION #21: Biodiesel Production Increases Food Prices
There are different reasons for food prices going up, and biodiesel remains an unknown. Numerous international researchers are studying the consequences of biofuel production for food prices.
Want to know more?
This article is enough to start your using biodiesel. But if you want to learn more, there is enough material on the subject on the internet and in specialized bioenergy magazines.