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Bus run by biodiesel
File:Methyl Linoleate.png
Space-filling model of methyl linoleate, or linoleic acid methyl ester, a common methyl ester produced from soybean or canola oil and methanol.
File:Ethyl Stearate.png
Space-filling model of ethyl stearate, or stearic acid ethyl ester, an ethyl ester produced from soybean or canola oil and ethanol.


Biodiesel refers to a non-petroleum-based diesel fuel consisting of short chain alkyl (methyl or ethyl) esters, made by transesterification of vegetable oils or animal fats, which can be used (alone, or blended with conventional petrodiesel) in unmodified diesel-engine vehicles. Biodiesel is distinguished from the straight vegetable oil (SVO) (aka "waste vegetable oil", "WVO", "unwashed biodiesel", "pure plant oil", "PPO") used (alone, or blended) as fuels in some converted diesel vehicles. "Biodiesel" is standardized as mono-alkyl ester and other kinds of diesel-grade fuels of biological origin are not included.[1]


Blends of biodiesel and conventional hydrocarbon-based diesel are products most commonly distributed for use in the retail diesel fuel marketplace. Much of the world uses a system known as the "B" factor to state the amount of biodiesel in any fuel mix: fuel containing 20% biodiesel is labeled B20, while pure biodiesel is referred to as B100. It is common to see B99, since 1% petrodiesel is sufficiently toxic to retard mold. Blends of 20 percent biodiesel with 80 percent petroleum diesel (B20) can generally be used in unmodified diesel engines. Biodiesel can also be used in its pure form (B100), but may require certain engine modifications to avoid maintenance and performance problems. Blending B100 with petro diesel may be accomplished by:

  • Mixing in tanks at manufacturing point prior to delivery to tanker truck
  • Splash mixing in the tanker truck (adding specific percentages of Biodiesel and Petro Diesel)
  • In-line mixing, two components arrive at tanker truck simultaneously.


On August 31, 1937, G. Chavanne of the University of Brussels (Belgium) was granted a patent for a 'Procedure for the transformation of vegetable oils for their uses as fuels' (fr. 'Procédé de Transformation d’Huiles Végétales en Vue de Leur Utilisation comme Carburants') Belgian Patent 422,877. This patent described the alcoholysis (often referred to as transesterification) of vegetable oils using ethanol (and mentions methanol) in order to separate the fatty acids from the glycerol by replacing the glycerol with short linear alcohols. This appears to be the first account of the production of what is known as 'biodiesel' today.[2]


Biodiesel can be used in pure form (B100) or may be blended with petroleum diesel at any concentration in most modern diesel engines. Biodiesel has different solvent properties than petrodiesel, and will degrade natural rubber gaskets and hoses in vehicles (mostly found in vehicles manufactured before 1992), although these tend to wear out naturally and most likely will have already been replaced with FKM, which is nonreactive to biodiesel. Biodiesel has been known to break down deposits of residue in the fuel lines where petrodiesel has been used.[3] As a result, fuel filters may become clogged with particulates if a quick transition to pure biodiesel is made. Therefore, it is recommended to change the fuel filters on engines and heaters shortly after first switching to a biodiesel blend.[citation needed]


Biodiesel use and production are increasing rapidly. Fueling stations make biodiesel readily available to consumers across Europe, and increasingly in the USA and Canada. A growing number of transport fleets use it as an additive in their fuel. Biodiesel is often more expensive to purchase than petroleum diesel but this is expected to diminish due to economies of scale and agricultural subsidies versus the rising cost of petroleum as reserves are depleted.

Vehicular use and manufacturer acceptance

In 2005, DaimlerChrysler released Jeep Liberty CRD diesels from the factory into the American market with 5% biodiesel blends, indicating at least partial acceptance of biodiesel as an acceptable diesel fuel additive.[4] In 2007, DiamlerChrysler indicated intention to increase warranty coverage to 20% biodiesel blends if biofuel quality in the United States can be standardized.[5]

Railroad use

The British businessman Richard Branson's Virgin Voyager train, number 220007 Thames Voyager [6], billed as the world's first "biodiesel train" was converted to run on 80% petrodiesel and only 20% biodiesel, and it is claimed it will save 14% on direct emissions.

Aircraft use

Aircraft manufacturers are understandably even more cautious, but a test flight has been performed by an ex Soviet Aircraft (completely powered on biofuel);[7] testing has been announced by Rolls Royce plc, Air New Zealand and Boeing (one engine out of four on a Boeing 747);[8] and commercial passenger jet testing has also been announced[9] by Virgin Atlantic's Richard Branson.

The world's first biofuel-powered commercial aircraft took off from London's Heathrow Airport on February 24 2008 and touched down in Amsterdam on a demonstration flight hailed as a first step towards "cleaner" flying. The "BioJet" fuel for this flight was produced by Seattle based Imperium Renewables, Inc.[10]

As a heating oil

Biodiesel can also be used as a heating fuel in domestic and commercial boilers, sometimes known as bioheat. Older furnaces may contain rubber parts that would be affected by biodiesel's solvent properties, but can otherwise burn biodiesel without any conversion required. Care must be taken at first, however, given that varnishes left behind by petrodiesel will be released and can clog pipes- fuel filtering and prompt filter replacement is required. Another approach is to start using biodiesel as blend, and decreasing the petroleum proportion over time can allow the varnishes to come off more gradually and be less likely to clog. Thanks to its strong solvent properties, however, the furnace is cleaned out and generally becomes more efficient. A technical research paper [11] describes laboratory research and field trials project using pure biodiesel and biodiesel blends as a heating fuel in oil fired boilers. During the Biodiesel Expo 2006 in the UK, Andrew J. Robertson presented his biodiesel heating oil research from his technical paper and suggested that B20 biodiesel could reduce UK household CO2 emissions by 1.5 million tonnes per year

Historical background

Transesterification of a vegetable oil was conducted as early as 1853 by scientists E. Duffy and J. Patrick, many years before the first diesel engine became functional. Rudolf Diesel's prime model, a single 10 ft (3 m) iron cylinder with a flywheel at its base, ran on its own power for the first time in Augsburg, Germany, on August 10, 1893. In remembrance of this event, August 10 has been declared "International Biodiesel Day".

Rudolf Diesel demonstrated a Diesel engine running on peanut oil (at the request of the French government) built by the French Otto Company at the World Fair in Paris, France in 1900, where it received the Grand Prix (highest prize). [12]

This engine stood as an example of Diesel's vision because it was powered by peanut oil — a biofuel, though not biodiesel, since it was not transesterified. He believed that the utilization of biomass fuel was the real future of his engine. In a 1912 speech Diesel said, "the use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today but such oils may become, in the course of time, as important as petroleum and the coal-tar products of the present time."

During the 1920's, diesel engine manufacturers altered their engines to utilize the lower viscosity of petrodiesel (a fossil fuel), rather than vegetable oil (a biomass fuel). The petroleum industries were able to make inroads in fuel markets because their fuel was much cheaper to produce than the biomass alternatives. The result, for many years, was a near elimination of the biomass fuel production infrastructure. Only recently, have environmental impact concerns and a decreasing price differential made biomass fuels such as biodiesel a growing alternative.

Despite the widespread use of fossil petroleum-derived diesel fuels, interest in vegetable oils as fuels in internal combustion engines is reported in several countries during the 1920's and 1930's and later during World War II. Belgium, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Japan and China have been reported to have tested and used vegetable oils as diesel fuels during this time. Some operational problems were reported due to the high viscosity of vegetable oils compared to petroleum diesel fuel, which result in poor atomization of the fuel in the fuel spray and often leads to deposits and coking of the injectors, combustion chamber and valves. Attempts to overcome these problems included heating of the vegetable oil, blending it with petroleum-derived diesel fuel or ethanol, pyrolysis and cracking of the oils.

On August 31, 1937, G. Chavanne of the University of Brussels (Belgium) was granted a patent for a "Procedure for the transformation of vegetable oils for their uses as fuels" (fr. 'Procédé de Transformation d’Huiles Végétales en Vue de Leur Utilisation comme Carburants') Belgian Patent 422,877. This patent described the alcoholysis (often referred to as transesterification) of vegetable oils using methanol and ethanol in order to separate the fatty acids from the glycerol by replacing the glycerol by short linear alcohols. This appears to be the first account of the production of what is known as "biodiesel" today.

More recently, in 1977, Brazilian scientist Expedito Parente produced biodiesel using transesterification with ethanol, and again filed a patent for the same process. This process is classified as biodiesel by international norms, conferring a "standardized identity and quality. No other proposed biofuel has been validated by the motor industry."[13] Currently, Parente's company Tecbio is working with Boeing and NASA to certify bioquerosene (bio-kerosene), another product produced and patented by the Brazilian scientist.[14]

Research into the use of transesterified sunflower oil, and refining it to diesel fuel standards, was initiated in South Africa in 1979. By 1983, the process for producing fuel-quality, engine-tested biodiesel was completed and published internationally.[15] An Austrian company, Gaskoks, obtained the technology from the South African Agricultural Engineers; the company erected the first biodiesel pilot plant in November 1987, and the first industrial-scale plant in April 1989 (with a capacity of 30,000 tons of rapeseed per annum).

Throughout the 1990s, plants were opened in many European countries, including the Czech Republic, Germany and Sweden. France launched local production of biodiesel fuel (referred to as diester) from rapeseed oil, which is mixed into regular diesel fuel at a level of 5%, and into the diesel fuel used by some captive fleets (e.g. public transportation) at a level of 30%. Renault, Peugeot and other manufacturers have certified truck engines for use with up to that level of partial biodiesel; experiments with 50% biodiesel are underway. During the same period, nations in other parts of the world also saw local production of biodiesel starting up: by 1998, the Austrian Biofuels Institute had identified 21 countries with commercial biodiesel projects. 100% Biodiesel is now available at many normal service stations across Europe.

In September 2005 Minnesota became the first U.S. state to mandate that all diesel fuel sold in the state contain part biodiesel, requiring a content of at least 2% biodiesel.[16]


Biodiesel has better lubricity than that of today's diesel fuels. During the manufacture of these, to comply with low SO2 engine emission limits set in modern standards, severe hydrotreatment is included. Biodiesel addition reduces wear[17] increasing the life of the fuel injection equipment that relies on the fuel for its lubrication, such as high pressure injection pumps, pump injectors (also called unit injectors) and fuel injectors.

File:Biodiesel 3.jpg
Older diesel Mercedes are popular for running on biodiesel.

The volumetric energy density of biodiesel is about 33 MJ/L. This is 9 % lower than regular Number 2 petrodiesel. Variations in biodiesel energy density is more dependent on the feedstock used than the production process. Still these variations are less than for petrodiesel.[18] It has been claimed biodiesel gives better lubricity and more complete combustion thus increasing the engine energy output and partially compensating for the higher energy density of petrodiesel.[19]

Biodiesel is a liquid which varies in color — between golden and dark brown — depending on the production feedstock. It is immiscible with water, has a high boiling point and low vapor pressure. *The flash point of biodiesel (>130 °C, >266 °F)[20] is significantly higher than that of petroleum diesel (64 °C, 147 °F) or gasoline (−45 °C, -52 °F). Biodiesel has a density of ~ 0.88 g/cm³, less than that of water.

Biodiesel has a viscosity similar to petrodiesel, the current industry term for diesel produced from petroleum. Biodiesel has high lubricity and virtually no sulfur content, and it is often used as an additive to Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) fuel.

Technical standards

Biodiesel sample

The European standard for biodiesel is EN 14214, which is translated into the respective national standards for each country that forms the CEN (European Committee for Standardization) area e.g., for the United Kingdom, BS EN 14214 and for Germany DIN EN 14214. It may be used outside the CEN area as well.

There are other national specifications. ASTM D6751 is the most common standard referenced in the United States and Canada.
There are also DIN standards for three different varieties of biodiesel, which are made of different oils:

  • RME (rapeseed methyl ester, according to DIN E 51606)
  • PME (vegetable methyl ester, purely vegetable products, according to DIN E 51606)
  • FME (fat methyl ester, vegetable and animal products, according to DIN V 51606)

The standards ensure that the following important factors in the fuel production process are satisfied:

Basic industrial tests to determine whether the products conform to the standards typically include gas chromatography, a test that verifies only the more important of the variables above. Tests that are more complete are more expensive. Fuel meeting the quality standards is very non-toxic, with a toxicity rating (LD50) of greater than 50 mL/kg.


The cloud point, or temperature at which pure (B100) biodiesel starts to gel, varies significantly and depends upon the mix of esters and therefore the feedstock oil used to produce the biodiesel. For example, biodiesel produced from low erucic acid varieties of canola seed (RME) starts to gel at approximately −10 °C (14 °F). Biodiesel produced from tallow tends to gel at around +16 °C (61 °F). As of 2006, there are a very limited number of products that will significantly lower the gel point of straight biodiesel. A study carried out by Assiniboine Community College in Manitoba Canada managed to produce B100 biodiesel that was a clear flowing liquid at -38° by using a commercially available additive, Wintron XC30, in addition to low temperature filtration.[citation needed] A number of studies have shown that winter operation is possible with biodiesel blended with other fuel oils including #2 low sulfur diesel fuel and #1 diesel / kerosene. The exact blend depends on the operating environment: successful operations have run using a 65% LS #2, 30% K #1, and 5% bio blend. Other areas have run a 70% Low Sulfur #2, 20% Kerosene #1, and 10% bio blend or an 80% K#1, and 20% biodiesel blend. According to the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), B20 (20% biodiesel, 80% petrodiesel) does not need any treatment in addition to what is already taken with petrodiesel.

To permit the use of biodiesel without mixing and without the possibility of gelling at low temperatures, some people modify their vehicles with a second fuel tank for biodiesel in addition to the standard fuel tank. Alternately, a vehicle with two tanks is chosen. The second fuel tank is insulated and a heating coil using engine coolant is run through the tank. When a temperature sensor indicates that the fuel is warm enough to burn, the driver switches from the petrodiesel tank to the biodiesel tank. This is similar to the method used for running straight vegetable oil.

Contamination by water

Biodiesel may contain small but problematic quantities of water. Although it is hydrophobic (non-miscible with water molecules), it is said to be, at the same time, hygroscopic to the point of attracting water molecules from atmospheric moisture[21]; one of the reasons biodiesel can absorb water is the persistence of mono and diglycerides left over from an incomplete reaction. These molecules can act as an emulsifier, allowing water to mix with the biodiesel.[citation needed] In addition, there may be water that is residual to processing or resulting from storage tank condensation. The presence of water is a problem because:

  • Water reduces the heat of combustion of the bulk fuel. This means more smoke, harder starting, less power.
  • Water causes corrosion of vital fuel system components: fuel pumps, injector pumps, fuel lines, etc.
  • Water & microbes cause the paper element filters in the system to fail ( rot), which in turn results in premature failure of the fuel pump due to ingestion of large particles.
  • Water freezes to form ice crystals near 0 °C (32 °F). These crystals provide sites for nucleation and accelerate the gelling of the residual fuel.
  • Water accelerates the growth of microbe colonies, which can plug up a fuel system. Biodiesel users who have heated fuel tanks therefore face a year-round microbe problem.
  • Additionally, water can cause pitting in the pistons on a diesel engine.

Previously, the amount of water contaminating biodiesel has been difficult to measure by taking samples, since water and oil separate. However, it is now possible to measure the water content using water-in-oil sensors.[citation needed]

Availability and prices

File:Diesel prices.jpg
In some countries biodiesel is less expensive than conventional diesel.

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Global biodiesel production reached 3.8 million tons in 2005. Approximately 85% of biodiesel production came from the European Union.

In the United States, average retail (at the pump) prices, including Federal and state motor taxes, of B2/B5 are lower than petroleum diesel by about 12 cents, and B20 blends are the same as petrodiesel.[22] B99 and B100 generally cost more than petrodiesel except where local governments provide a subsidy.


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Biodiesel is commonly produced by the transesterification of the vegetable oil or animal fat feedstock. There are several methods for carrying out this transesterification reaction including the common batch process, supercritical processes, ultrasonic methods, and even microwave methods.

Chemically, transesterified biodiesel comprises a mix of mono-alkyl esters of long chain fatty acids. The most common form uses methanol (converted to sodium methoxide) to produce methyl esters as it is the cheapest alcohol available, though ethanol can be used to produce an ethyl ester biodiesel and higher alcohols such as isopropanol and butanol have also been used. Using alcohols of higher molecular weights improves the cold flow properties of the resulting ester, at the cost of a less efficient transesterification reaction. A lipid transesterification production process is used to convert the base oil to the desired esters. Any Free fatty acids (FFAs) in the base oil are either converted to soap and removed from the process, or they are esterified (yielding more biodiesel) using an acidic catalyst. After this processing, unlike straight vegetable oil, biodiesel has combustion properties very similar to those of petroleum diesel, and can replace it in most current uses.

A byproduct of the transesterification process is the production of glycerol. For every 1 tonne of biodiesel that is manufactured, 100 kg of glycerol are produced. Originally, there was a valuable market for the glycerol, which assisted the economics of the process as a whole. However, with the increase in global biodiesel production, the market price for this crude glycerol (containing 20% water and catalyst residues) has crashed. Research is being conducted globally to use this glycerol as a chemical building block. One initiative in the UK is The Glycerol Challenge.

Usually this crude glycerol has to be purified, typically by performing vacuum distillation. This is rather energy intensive. The refined glycerol (98%+ purity) can then be utilised directly, or converted into other products. The following announcements were made in 2007: A joint venture of Ashland Inc. and Cargill announced plans to make propylene glycol in Europe from glycerol[23] and Dow Chemical announced similar plans for North America.[24] Dow also plans to build a plant in China to make epichlorhydrin from glycerol.[25] Epichlorhydrin is a raw material for epoxy resins.

Production levels

Biodiesel production capacity is growing rapidly, with an average annual growth rate from 2002-2006 of over 40% [26]. For the year 2006, the latest for which actual production figures could be obtained, total world biodiesel production was about 5-6 million tonnes, with 4.9 million tonnes processed in Europe [27] (of which 2.7 million tonnes was from Germany) and most of the rest from the USA. [28] The capacity for 2007 in Europe totalled 10.3 million tonnes. This compares with a total demand for diesel in the US and Europe of approximately 490 million tonnes (147 billion gallons).[29] Total world production of vegetable oil for all purposes in 2005/06 was about 110 million tonnes, with about 34 million tonnes each of palm oil and soybean oil. [30]

Biodiesel feedstocks

Soybeans are used as a source of biodiesel

Template:Vegetable oils A variety of oils can be used to produce biodiesel. These include:

Many advocates suggest that waste vegetable oil is the best source of oil to produce biodiesel, but since the available supply is drastically less than the amount of petroleum-based fuel that is burned for transportation and home heating in the world, this local solution does not scale well.

Animal fats are similarly limited in supply, and it would not be efficient to raise animals simply for their fat. However, producing biodiesel with animal fat that would have otherwise been discarded could replace a small percentage of petroleum diesel usage. Currently, a 5-million dollar plant is being built in the USA, with the intent of producing 11.4 million litres (3 million gallons) biodiesel from some of the estimated 1 billion kg (2.3 billion pounds) of chicken fat[33] produced annually the local Tyson poultry plant. [31]

Quantity of feedstocks required

Worldwide production of vegetable oil and animal fat is not yet sufficient to replace liquid fossil fuel use. Furthermore, some object to the vast amount of farming and the resulting fertilization, pesticide use, and land use conversion that would be needed to produce the additional vegetable oil. The estimated transportation diesel fuel and home heating oil used in the United States is about 160 million tonnes (350 billion pounds) according to the Energy Information Administration, US Department of Energy - [34]. In the United States, estimated production of vegetable oil for all uses is about 11 million tonnes (24 billion pounds) and estimated production of animal fat is 5.3 million tonnes (12 billion pounds).[35]

If the entire arable land area of the USA (470 million acres, or 1.9 million square kilometers) were devoted to biodiesel production from soy, this would just about provide the 160 million tonnes required (assuming an optimistic 98 gpa of biodiesel). This land area could in principle be reduced significantly using algae, if the obstacles can be overcome. The US DOE estimates that if algae fuel replaced all the petroleum fuel in the United States, it would require 15,000 square miles (38,849 square kilometers), which is a few thousand square miles larger than Maryland, or 1.3 Belgiums, [36] [37]assuming a yield of 15000 gpa. The advantages of algae are that it can be grown on non-arable land such as deserts or in marine environments, and the potential oil yields are much higher than from plants.


Feedstock yield efficiency per acre affects the feasibility of ramping up production to the huge industrial levels required to power a significant percentage of national or world vehicles. Some typical yields in US gallons of biodiesel per acre are:

  • Algae: 1800 gpa or more (est.- see soy figures and DOE quote below)
  • Palm oil: 508 gpa[38]
  • Coconut: 230 gpa[38]
  • Rapeseed: 102 gpa[38]
  • Soy: 59.2-98.6 gpa in Indiana[39] (Soy is used in 80% of USA biodiesel[40])
  • Peanut: 90 gpa[38]
  • Sunflower: 82 gpa[38]

Algae fuel yields have not yet been accurately determined, but DOE is reported as saying that algae yield 30 times more energy per acre than land crops such as soybeans.[41], and some estimate even higher yields up to 15000 gpa .[42]

The Jatropha plant has been cited as a high-yield source of biodiesel but such claims have also been exaggerated. The more realistic estimates put the yield at about 200 gpa (1.5-2 tonnes per hectare).[43] It is grown in the Philippines, Mali and India, is drought-resistant, and can share space with other cash crops such as coffee, sugar, fruits and vegetables.[44]

Efficiency and economic arguments

According to a study written by Drs. Van Dyne and Raymer for the Tennessee Valley Authority, the average US farm consumes fuel at the rate of 82 litres per hectare (8.75 US gallons per acre) of land to produce one crop. However, average crops of rapeseed produce oil at an average rate of 1,029 L/ha (110 US gal/acre), and high-yield rapeseed fields produce about 1,356 L/ha (145 US gal/acre). The ratio of input to output in these cases is roughly 1:12.5 and 1:16.5. Photosynthesis is known to have an efficiency rate of about 3-6% of total solar radiation[45] and if the entire mass of a crop is utilized for energy production, the overall efficiency of this chain is currently about 1%[46] While this may compare unfavorably to solar cells combined with an electric drive train, biodiesel is less costly to deploy (solar cells cost approximately US$1,000 per square meter) and transport (electric vehicles require batteries which currently have a much lower energy density than liquid fuels).

However, these statistics by themselves are not enough to show whether such a change makes economic sense. Additional factors must be taken into account, such as: the fuel equivalent of the energy required for processing, the yield of fuel from raw oil, the return on cultivating food, the effect biodiesel will have of food prices and the relative cost of biodiesel versus petrodiesel.

The debate over the energy balance of biodiesel is ongoing. Transitioning fully to biofuels could require immense tracts of land if traditional food crops are used (although non food crops can be utilized). The problem would be especially severe for nations with large economies, since energy consumption scales with economic output.[47]

If using only traditional food plants, most such nations do not have sufficient arable land to produce biofuel for the nation's vehicles. Nations with smaller economies (hence less energy consumption) and more arable land may be in better situations, although many regions cannot afford to divert land away from food production.

For third world countries, biodiesel sources that use marginal land could make more sense, e.g. honge oil nuts[48] grown along roads or jatropha grown along rail lines.

In tropical regions, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, oil palm is being planted at a rapid pace to supply growing biodiesel demand in Europe and other markets. It has been estimated in Germany that palm oil biodiesel has less than 1/3 the production costs of rapeseed biodiesel.[49] The direct source of the energy content of biodiesel is solar energy captured by plants during photosynthesis. Regarding the positive energy balance of biodiesel[citation needed]:

When straw was left in the field, biodiesel production was strongly energy positive, yielding 1 GJ biodiesel for every 0.561 GJ of energy input (a yield/cost ratio of 1.78).
When straw was burned as fuel and oilseed rapemeal was used as a fertilizer, the yield/cost ratio for biodiesel production was even better (3.71). In other words, for every unit of energy input to produce biodiesel, the output was 3.71 units (the difference of 2.71 units would be from solar energy).

Biodiesel is becoming of interest to companies interested in commercial scale production as well as the more usual home brew biodiesel user and the user of straight vegetable oil or waste vegetable oil in diesel engines. Homemade biodiesel processors are many and varied.

Energy security

One of the main drivers for adoption of biodiesel is energy security. This means that a nations dependence on oil is reduced, and substituted with use of locally available sources, such as coal, gas or other renewable sources. Thus significant benefits can accrue to a country from adoption of biofuels, even without a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Whilst the total energy balance is debated, it is clear that the dependence on oil is reduced. One example is the energy used to manufacture fertilizers, which could come from a variety of sources other than petroleum. The the US NREL says that energy security is the number one driving force behind the US biofuels programme. [50]and the White House "Energy Security for the 21st Century" makes clear that energy security is a major reason for promoting biodiesel.[51] The EU commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, speaking at a recent EU biofuels conference, stressed that properly managed biofuels have the potential to reinforce the EU's security of supply through diversification of energy sources. [52]

Environmental effects

Greenhouse gas emissions

Calculation of Carbon Intensity of Soy biodiesel grown in the US and burnt in the UK, using figures calculated by the UK government for the purposes of the Renewable transport fuel obligation.[53]
Graph of UK figures for the Carbon Intensity of Biodiesels and fossil fuels. This graph assumes that all biodiesels are burnt in their country of origin. It also assumes that the diesel is produced from pre-existing croplands rather than by changing land use[54]

An often mentioned incentive for using biofuel is its capacity to lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to those of fossil fuels. If this is true or not depends on many factors. Especially the effects from land use change have potential to cause even more emissions than what would be caused by using fossil fuels alone.[55]

Carbon dioxide is one of the major greenhouse gases. Although the burning of biodiesel produce carbon dioxide emissions similar to those from ordinary fossil fuels, the plant feedstock used in the production absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere when it grows. Plants absorb carbon dioxide through a process known as photosynthesis which allows it to store energy from sunlight in the form of oil. After the oil is converted into biodiesel and burnt as fuel the energy and carbon is released again. Some of that energy can be used to power an engine while the carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere.

When considering the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions it is therefore important to consider the whole production process and what indirect effects such production might cause. The effect on carbon dioxide emissions is highly dependent on production methods and the type of feedstock used. Calculating the carbon intensity of biofuels is a complex and inexact process, and is highly dependent on the assumptions made in the calculation. A calculation usually includes:

  • Emissions from growing the feedstock (e.g. Petrochemicals used in fertilizers)
  • Emissions from transporting the feedstock to the factory
  • Emissions from processing the feedstock into biodiesel

Other factors can be very significant but are sometimes not considered. These include:

  • Emissions from the change in land use of the area where the fuel feedstock is grown.
  • Emissions from transportation of the biodiesel from the factory to its point of use
  • The efficiency of the biodiesel compared with standard diesel
  • The amount of Carbon Dioxide produced at the tail pipe. (Biodiesel can produce 4.7% more)
  • The benefits due to the production of useful bi-products, such as cattle feed or glycerine

If land use change is not considered and assuming todays production methods, biodiesel from rapeseed and sunflower oil produce 45%-65% lower greenhouse gas emissions than petrodiesel.[56][57][58][59] However, there is ongoing research to improve the efficiency of the production process.[56][58] Biodiesel produced from used cooking oil or other waste fat could reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 85%.[53] As long as the feedstock is grown on existing cropland, land use change has little or no effect on greenhouse gas emissions. However, there is concern that increased feedstock production directly affect the rate of deforestation. Such clearcutting cause carbon stored in the forest, soil and peat layers to be released. The amount of greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation is so large that the benefits from lower emissions (caused by biodiesel use alone) would be negligible for hundreds of years.[55][53] Biofuel produced from feedstocks such as palm oil could therefore cause much higher carbon dioxide emissions than ordinary fossil fuels.[60]


File:Lacanja burn.JPG
Jungle burned for agriculture in southern Mexico.

If deforestation, and monoculture farming techniques were used to grow biofuel crops, biodiesel is predicted to become a serious threat to the environment:[61][62]

  • Increasing the emission of climate change gases rather than helping curb them[55]
  • Damaging ecosystems and biodiversity[63]
  • Exacerbating social conflict[64]

The demand for cheap oil from the tropical regions is of rising concern. In order to increase production, the amount of arable land is being expanded at the cost of tropical rainforest.[60][65] Feedstock oils produced in Asia, South America and Africa are currently less expensive than those produced in Europe and North America suggesting that imports to these wealthier nations are likely to increase in the future.[60][65][63]

In the Philippines and Indonesia forest clearing is already underway for the production of palm oil.[60] Indigenous people are forced to move and their livelihood is destroyed when forest is cleared to make room for oil palm plantations.[64] In some areas the use of pesticides for biofuel crops are disrupting clean water supplies,[66] and the loss of habitat caused by deforestation is threatening many species of unique plants and animals. One example is the already-shrinking populations of orangutans on the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra, which face extinction if deforestation continue at it's projected rate.[63][67][68][69]


In the United States, biodiesel is the only alternative fuel to have successfully completed the Health Effects Testing requirements (Tier I and Tier II) of the Clean Air Act (1990).

Biodiesel can reduce the direct tailpipe-emission of particulates, small particles of solid combustion products, on vehicles with particulate filters by as much as 20 percent compared with low-sulfur (< 50 ppm) diesel. Particulate emissions as the result of production are reduced by around 50 percent compared with fossil-sourced diesel. (Beer et al, 2004). Biodiesel has a higher cetane rating than petrodiesel, which can improve performance and clean up emissions compared to crude petro-diesel (with cetane lower than 40). Biodiesel contains fewer aromatic hydrocarbons: benzofluoranthene: 56% reduction; Benzopyrenes: 71% reduction.[citation needed]

If burned without additives, Biodiesel (B100) is estimated to produce about 10% more nitrogen oxide NOx tailpipe-emissions than petrodiesel. As biodiesel has a low sulfur content, NOx emissions can be reduced through the use of catalytic converters to less than the NOx emissions from conventional diesel engines. However, modern diesel engines already use exhaust aftertreatment and EGR to reduce NOx emissions. These systems add complexity, increase costs, and reduce fuel economy (leading to higher CO2 emissions). As a transportation fuel, biodiesel is in its infancy in terms of additives which are capable of improving energy density, resistance to gelling, and NOx emissions. Debate continues over NOx, particulates, smog, and greenhouse gas emissions from biodiesel and all other new transportation fuels, biofuels in particular. Ultimately, greater clarity on the fundamental distinctions between smog and other local pollution issues vs. greenhouse gas emissions will be essential for both well founded public policy as well as well informed consumer choices.


A University of Idaho study compared biodegradation rates of biodiesel, neat vegetable oils, biodiesel and petroleum diesel blends, and neat 2-D diesel fuel. Using low concentrations of the product to be degraded (10 ppm) in nutrient and sewage sludge amended solutions, they demonstrated that biodiesel degraded at the same rate as a dextrose control and 5 times as quickly as petroleum diesel over a period of 28 days, and that biodiesel blends doubled the rate of petroleum diesel degradation through co-metabolism.[70] The same study examined soil degradation using 10 000 ppm of biodiesel and petroleum diesel, and found biodiesel degraded at twice the rate of petroleum diesel in soil. In all cases, it was determined biodiesel also degraded more completely than petroleum diesel, which produced poorly degradable undetermined intermediates. Toxicity studies for the same project demonstrated no mortalities and few toxic effects on rats and rabbits with up to 5000 mg/kg of biodiesel. Petroleum diesel showed no mortalities at the same concentration either, however toxic effects such as hair loss and urinary discoloring were noted with concentrations of greater than 2000 mg/l in rabbits.

Food vs fuel

Food quality vegetable oil has become so expensive there is no longer a profit viability for its use. Food grade vegetable oil pricing is on a similar upward ramp as food in general. Accessing food stuffs in poor countries has always been problematic for the inhabitants. Non food grade vegetable feed stocks are under use or consideration for use to make biodiesel and have been so during the entire history of biodiesel.

In some poor countries the rising price of vegetable oil is causing problems.[71][72] There are those that say using a food crop for fuel sets up competition between food in poor countries and fuel in rich countries. Some propose that fuel only be made from non-edible vegetable oils like jatropha oil. Others argue that the problem is more fundamental. Farmers can switch from producing food crops to producing biofuel crops to make more money, even if the new crops are not edible.[73][74] The law of supply and demand predicts that if fewer farmers are producing food the price of food will rise. It may take some time, as farmers can take some time to change which things they are growing, but increasing demand for biofuels is likely to result in price increases for many kinds of food. Some have pointed out that there are poor farmers and poor countries making more money because of the higher price of vegetable oil.[75]

Current research

There is ongoing research into finding more suitable crops and improving oil yield. Using the current yields, vast amounts of land and fresh water would be needed to produce enough oil to completely replace fossil fuel usage. It would require twice the land area of the US to be devoted to soybean production, or two-thirds to be devoted to rapeseed production, to meet current US heating and transportation needs.[citation needed]

Specially bred mustard varieties can produce reasonably high oil yields, and have the added benefit that the meal leftover after the oil has been pressed out can act as an effective and biodegradable pesticide.[citation needed]


From 1978 to 1996, the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory experimented with using algae as a biodiesel source in the "Aquatic Species Program".[50] A self-published article by Michael Briggs, at the UNH Biodiesel Group, offers estimates for the realistic replacement of all vehicular fuel with biodiesel by utilizing algae that have a natural oil content greater than 50%, which Briggs suggests can be grown on algae ponds at wastewater treatment plants.[37] This oil-rich algae can then be extracted from the system and processed into biodiesel, with the dried remainder further reprocessed to create ethanol.

The production of algae to harvest oil for biodiesel has not yet been undertaken on a commercial scale, but feasibility studies have been conducted to arrive at the above yield estimate. In addition to its projected high yield, algaculture — unlike crop-based biofuels — does not entail a decrease in food production, since it requires neither farmland nor fresh water. Some companies[4][5] are pursuing algae bio-reactors for various purposes, including biodiesel production.

On May 11, 2006 the Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation in Marlborough, New Zealand announced that it had produced its first sample of bio-diesel fuel made from algae found in sewage ponds.[32] Unlike previous attempts, the algae was naturally grown in pond discharge from the Marlborough District Council's sewage treatment works.

The Department of Environmental Science at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, is working on producing biofuel from algae, using a local species of algae.[76]

See also



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Other references

External links



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