As concerns about global warming and a potential oil shortage grow, alternative fuels are starting to gain more attention. Electricity, ethanol, and other alternative fuels are being explored as potential options for powering cars without petroleum-based products. One perennially popular alternative fuel is biodiesel.
Biodiesel is a type of fuel that functions in a way similar to diesel. Conventional diesel is used to fuel large vehicles like tractor-trailer trucks because it contains more energy per gallon than gasoline. It is also used to fuel some cars, particularly older models. Like gasoline, it is refined from petroleum oil.
Biodiesel is refined from vegetable and waste oils instead of petroleum. One common source of the oil that is turned into biodiesel is the restaurant industry; old fryer oil can be filtered and used to fuel vehicles instead of merely being discarded. Oil of all types requires refinement and processing before it is usable as fuel.
Biodiesel is cleaner-burning than petroleum-based diesel. Because biodiesel can be made with vegetable oil, it can also be much closer to carbon-neutral than petroleum-based diesel. Growing plants absorb carbon dioxide in order to create the next generation of biodiesel while the current generation is being burned. Some have commented that biodiesel exhaust even smells like fast food.
How Biodiesel is Made
When biodiesel is made, the oils and fats that are used are first separated into component parts. The fat is separated from the glycerin, and the methyl esters go along with the glycerin. The methyl esters are the functional part of the oil and the main component of the final fuel. The separated glycerin in a valuable ingredient in other consumer products, such as soap.
How Well Does Biodiesel Work?
Biodiesel is refined to certain octane standards, just like petroleum-based diesel. Like petroleum-based diesel, biodiesel contains more energy per gallon than gasoline. Fuel consumption and torque of a vehicle fueled with biodiesel is similar to that of a vehicle fueled with petroleum-based diesel.
Performance in cold weather can be a problem for both biodiesel and conventional diesel. Conventional diesel is usually treated with compounds that improve performance for use during cold weather. The recommended blend for cold-weather use is B20 with number 2 diesel treated for cold weather use.
Current Use of Biodiesel
Biodiesel is available in all 50 states of the U.S. and is a common component of commercial fuel. It is usually mixed with petroleum-based diesel and labeled as to the exact biodiesel content. For example, B5 is 5 percent biodiesel and 95 percent petroleum-based diesel. This mix is acceptable in most diesel vehicles, while higher mixes are sometimes contraindicated.
In 2009, the U.S. used 316 million gallons of biodiesel; the country's estimated current ability to produce biodiesel is approximately 2.69 billion gallons or more per year. One major reason that it is not more widely used is the incompatibility of certain products, such as fuel hoses, in vehicles that could otherwise be fueled with biodiesel.
Modern diesel cars made after 1993 can be run on biodiesel. However, most manufacturers recommend against the use of high-biodiesel blends. Biodiesel is known to accumulate in the engine lubricant, and it is not known what effects this might have on the functionality of the lubricant. Vehicles made prior to 1993 can be susceptible to the degradation of engine parts by biodiesel. This may also be a problem when high-biodiesel blends are used in modern cars.
This article was written by Sheldon Armstrong, a techie who keeps up with the latest in technology and blogs about them online. In addition, he loves science! He writes this on behalf of Fryer to Fuel, your number one source for WVO Centrifuges, Biodiesel Processors, and WVO Filtration Units. Check out their website at http://www.fryertofuel.com/ for more information on their great products!