Biodiesel: The Fuel of the Future

Introducing Biodiesel

Cost effective and safe, biodiesel is the first advanced bio-fuel. This renewable and clean burning diesel replacement has already started reducing the world’s dependence on imported diesel. It has also created green jobs, improved our environment, and provided appropriate and innovative solutions to some age-old problems related to energy. The great thing is that it is made from an increasingly-diverse mix of resources. These include, but are not limited to, animal fats, recycled cooking oil, and agricultural oils.

What It Is

So, what is biodiesel? Essentially, this is a vegetable oil or animal fat based diesel fuel. It consists of long chain alkyl (propyl, ethyl, or methyl) esters. It is typically manufactured by chemically reacting such lipids as tallow (animal fat), soybean oil, or vegetable oil with alcohol-producing fatty acid esters.

As an alternative fuel, biodiesel is primarily produced from renewable resources. It also contains no petroleum although it can be blended together with petroleum diesel. Additionally, it can be used in diesel engines and for heating up buildings with no major modifications. This makes it one of the leading sources of clean energy.

Countries around the globe have already started using different types of bio-fuels. For decades, Brazil has been turning sugarcane into ethanol. The process is so advanced that some cars in the country are running on pure ethanol instead of on additives to fossil fuels. Biodiesel is also available around Europe.

Why Use Bio-Fuels?

Using bio-fuels like biodiesel will reduce the production of greenhouse gases. Most of the other bio-fuels produce less overall carbon dioxide but they are not completely carbon neutral. This is mostly because fossil fuels are used to produce them, such us in the making of fertilizers for growing plants. This is not the same with biodiesel.

According to statistics, soybean oil was used to produce around 67% of the total raw material (feedstock) for biodiesel production in the United States. Corn oil and canola oil provided about 25% of this feedstock while animal fats were used as 9% of the total feedstock. Palm oil, sunflower oil, and rapeseed oil are the other major sources of biodiesel consumed in other countries around the globe.

At times, biodiesel is blended with petroleum diesel in rations of 20% (B20), 5% (B5) or 2% (B2). This is mostly because it is chemically similar to regular diesel. It can also be used as it is, where it is referred to as pure biodiesel (B100). The fuels are usable in regular diesel engines, where no changes have to be made to the engines. In the same way, you can store and transport biodiesel using regular diesel fuel equipment and tanks.

Anyway, you can make biodiesel from virtually any feedstock as long as the raw material contains an adequate amount of free fatty acids. These are the raw materials that will convert to biodiesel. The chemical process of making biodiesel is referred to as transesterification. The fatty acid esters produced by the alkali catalyzed reaction between fatty acids or fat and methanol is referred to as FAME. Similarly, most of the molecules contained in biodiesel are FAME.

Researchers have also started working on harvesting algae for use in producing biodiesel. This is because algae contain fat pockets, which is why they are able to float. The fat so contained can be collected and turned into biodiesel. The continued production and use of this alternatively will help the United States meet the consumption of bio-fuel levels that have been mandated by the US Renewable Fuel Standard.

Apart from the biodiesel that is derived from FAME, it is also possible to produce a diesel substitute from such cellulosic materials as switchgrass or bark. This fuel, which is also referred to as renewable diesel, will also help the country meet the Renewable Fuel Standard mandate.

The Benefits of Using Biodiesel

The smartest of technologies deliver unique benefits to multiple interests – including a positive impact on government policies and on the environment, as well as an improved economy.

The role of biodiesel is not to replace petroleum diesel. Rather, it is to create a better balanced energy policy with the greatest benefit to humanity as a whole. As such, biodiesel is one of the alternative fuels that are designed to extend the usability of petroleum, and the cleanliness and longevity of diesel engines.

The ultimate goal, therefore, is to contribute to the building of a stronger, self-sufficient community through the individual biodiesel production model. This is also the case with community-based distribution programs. All of these are going to benefit local economies – from the small farmer growing and selling the feedstock to the small businesses producing and distributing biodiesel to the end consumer. This money will stay within the community and the fuel will increase energy security and reduce impact on the local environment.

So, what are the benefits of using biodiesel? Consider the following:

a) Ease of Use

Using biodiesel does not require any special fueling equipment or vehicle modifications. All you have to do is pump the fuel and go.

b) Economy, Performance, and Power

Biodiesel comes with proven performance. It is also more economical than petroleum diesel. As such, it is a renewable winner in the fuel industry.

c) Green

Biodiesel is green. This is because it will lead to the reduction of greenhouse gases and emissions caused by petroleum fuel. With lower exhaust emissions, this fuel has helped to reduce environmental pollution. It is also contributing to an improvement in the health of human beings. The lowered carbon dioxide emissions will, therefore, help to reduce the impacts of global warming that we have already started experiencing.

d) Energy Security and Balance

The production of biodiesel and its use at home means that countries will no longer have to rely on foreign oil. This will provide them with energy security both in the short and in the long term.

e) Recycling, Safety, Biodegradability, and Toxicity

As mentioned above, biodiesel is less toxic than salt. As such, it carries minimal environmental impact. In the same way, it has a high flash point, meaning that it is easier and safer to store and handle than petroleum diesel. Additionally, when you make biodiesel from used fats and oils, it will ensure the proper recycling of waste products.

f) Ease of Use

One of the primary advantages of this bio-fuel is that you can use it in existing infrastructure, vehicles and engines with practically no alterations or changes. It can be burned, stored, and pumped like petroleum diesel. Similarly, it can be used in blends with petrol diesel or in its pure form. The fuel and power economy of using biodiesel is similar to that of petroleum diesel. Year-round production can also be achieved when you blend it with diesel in any proportion desired.

In fact, all diesel vehicles and engines can use this fuel or its blends. However, certain older vehicles (those built before 1993) might require the replacement of the fuel lines. This is because such lines contain natural rubber and biodiesel causes these lines to crack or swell.

Making Biodiesel

As mentioned above, anyone can produce biodiesel fuel from a wide variety of natural crops – like waste vegetable oils, jatropha, hemp, palm oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, flax oil, mustard, and soybean. Research into this fuel source has found that it reduces wear and tear in engines. Additionally, it releases less harmful emissions into the environment.

So, how do you ensure that you will get biodiesel? For the product to be called biodiesel and to receive tax credits assigned to it, you need to ensure that the biodiesel:

– Is produced from naturally-occurring oils and fats using transesterification

– Is composed of fatty-acid methyl esters

– Has been refined to remove every trace impurity

– It meets the ASTM standard D6751-07b specification for biodiesel (B100)

If the fuel product you manufactured does not meet these requirements, then it will not be considered to be biodiesel. As such, it will not qualify for the tax credits that related to biodiesel. Therefore, you need to get ASTM certification when producing this fuel, or check that your fuel provider is ASTM certified.

Anyway, biodiesel is manufactured through transesterification where the glycerin in the vegetable oil or fat is separated. The process will leave behind 2 products: glycerin (a highly valuable byproduct that is typically sold and used to make soaps and other products) and methyl esters (chemical name for biodiesel).

The production of biodiesel is good for the environment. This is because the fuel is made from renewable resources. It also has lower emissions, especially in comparison to petroleum diesel.  Interestingly, this fuel biodegrades faster than sugar and is less toxic compared to salt. It can also be produced domestically using natural resources, where it will reduce your dependence on imported fuel and contribute to your economy.

Getting Biodiesel

If you are not into making biodiesel at home, you can purchase it directly from biodiesel marketers and producers, petroleum distributors, and public retailers around the country.

WARNING!

Anyway, you need to understand that the manufacture of biodiesel will require the use of strong caustics, and toxic, flammable liquids to produce the fuel. Irrespective of the equipment you use and the safety precautions you put in place, the making of biodiesel is not a safe hobby. As such, it might place you, your family, and your property at risk of injury or death. Therefore, you need to be very careful and to follow the instructions provided in your manual to the tee.

Biodiesel Manufacture Safety

Although the process of manufacturing biodiesel is pretty straightforward, there are a number of aspects of the production that need your carefully attention to detail. This is the only way you can ensure a productive, environmentally sound, and safe practice. Consider the following:

a) Chemicals

For starters, some of the chemicals used might end up posing serious risk to the environment or to you. This is unless you follow the proper precautions for process safety, ventilation, use, handling, and storage.

b) Disposal

Similarly, the disposal of the waste water and the glycerol byproduct generated from the biodiesel production process poses a threat to the environment. The only way you can ensure that you do not harm the environment, therefore, is to follow approved practices.

c) Quality

Last but not least, you need to pay extra attention to the quality of the renewable fuel you produce. You should also store it property to avoid costly problems with your engine or heating system, and/or excessive emissions when the time comes to use your fuel.

Most of the enthusiastic newcomers to the production of biodiesel will find that the successful running of a responsible and safe operation isn’t as easy as it might seem at first. Biodiesel production on a small scale comes with inherent risks. As such, careless producers will have to contend with the mishaps that may come their way.

While the obvious goals for all producers would be the minimizing of all mistakes, it is vital that you know how to deal with these errors and respond to them appropriately. Advanced planning, attention to safety, and knowledge are the best approaches to the prevention of serious accidents.

Safety and Chemical Exposure

Lye – a corrosive and caustic base – and methanol (which is a flammable and toxic alcohol) are two of the hazardous chemicals you need to convert your raw materials (such as waste cooking oil) into biodiesel. Continued exposure to methanol over the long term can cause such health problems as neurological damage. In the same way, methanol carries a serious fire risk.

Lye, on the other hand, has been known to cause lung and skin irritation. Both of these chemicals can cause blindness or eye damaged, if not property handled. As such, rigorous precautions are required to avoid fire, poisoning, and contamination of water and soil resources. Therefore, before you begin your biodiesel project, you should carefully consider whether you can responsibly follow all the safety protocols that are required. These safety protocols have been outlined in the following sections:

Safety Protocols

  1. By-Products

Biodiesel processors tend to generate substantial quantities of the crude glycerol by product (around 1 gallon of waste for every 5 gallons of biodiesel you produce). Most processors also require the use of water to purify the fuel. As a result, they may generate as much as 3 gallons of waste water for every gallon of biodiesel you produce.

Both waste water and glycerol require special handling and disposal.

  1. Equipment/Vehicle Failure

The moment you pour the first gallon of biodiesel made at home into a fuel tank, you will take responsibility for the future performance of the vehicle or equipment in question. Where there are tons of examples of small producers who have successfully powered diesel equipment using homemade biodiesel, you should also understand that problems do and can occur.

Therefore, you have to pay careful attention to the fuel quality testing, the development of climate specific winter blends, and the production chemistry involved. A basic understanding of how diesel equipment work and readiness to address any systematic problems that might arise are highly advisable.

As a small scale producer of biodiesel, therefore, you should develop your product skills using the fuel in inexpensive or older equipment first before you run the fuel in more expensive, essential, or new equipment. Of course, it goes without saying that you should not use biodiesel you made yourself in equipment/vehicles that are under warranty, otherwise you might invalidate the warranty. Only use such fuel when it meets ASTM specifications.

  1. Handling Issues, Safety Precautions, and Process Hazards

The top priority in your biodiesel operation should be safety, above all others. Accidents involving large volumes of biodiesel, vegetable oil, or by-products and chemicals can cause environmental contamination, property damage, injury, and loss of life. If you hope to avoid future prohibition of small scale production, therefore, you would do well to consider that such accidents are often followed by strict, stringent government regulation.

Through the following of the best practices for safety, small producers will continue remaining in compliance with the officials charged with the responsibility of environmental and public health.

The most comprehensive approach to biodiesel production safety should start with a systemic consideration of all potential areas for risk. You should also come up with thorough plans to prevent accidents of all kinds. As a backup, you need to prepare for appropriate, speedy response to any accidents that may transpire.

As a general rule, you should get and read the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for lye and methanol. In the same way, familiarize yourself with the safety considerations for all the chemicals involved in the production of biodiesel at home.

A best practice would be to create clearly labeled safety stations in your processing facility. Keep the MSDS readily accessible at this safety station. By so doing, fire and emergency personnel and workers will be able to easily locate the chemical safety information they need should an accident transpire.

It is also highly recommended that you contact your local fire station. Advise them on the chemical storage and processing that is occurring on your site. This will warn them – for their own protection – in case a fire is started. It will also enable the fire officials help you address any existing potential areas of concern.

Over and above everything else, most accidents occur when operators are hurried, distracted, or tired. As a producer, you should work thoughtfully and slowly. Avoid juggling numerous tasks at once while in the biodiesel production plant. Shortcuts and the temporary rigging of equipment are some of the risky behaviors that might lead to unforeseen consequences.

Affordability of Biodiesel

Pinning down how affordable a particular bio-fuel is can be difficult. This is because the prices vary with the food prices, government incentives, production process, production volume, and the type of feedstock used. The price of biodiesel also varies from one country to the next, just like they do with liquid petroleum. Nonetheless, it is possible to come up with a general idea of the comparison between biodiesel and petroleum.

Generally speaking, most countries are looking to keep the price at the pump of biodiesel at or close to the price of petroleum fuel. Estimating costs was, interestingly, not possible until very recently once the price of fossil fuels shot up dramatically.

In the last decade or so, the rising cost of fossil fuels has made alternatives like biodiesel very attractive. Anyway, government subsidy is usually required to make biodiesel fully competitive, even with the rise in the price of fossil fuels.

EIA Estimates

The department of energy in the United States controls the Energy Information Administration (abbreviated as EIA). Part of this division’s mandate is to quantify the cost of energy as well as the recommendation of policy actions to mitigate costs while ensuring that the energy market is fair.

As such, the EIA uses a process costing approach in the modeling of the price of biodiesel. This approach considers the net cost of producing feedstock, as well as the operating and capital costs of producing fuel.

When soybean oil is converted to bio-fuel, EIA estimates show that the cost is around $2.06 per gallon when 50 million gallons are produced. This price shots up to $2.47 when only 200 million gallons of biodiesel are produced.

This price discrepancy is due to the scale. It comes about from the fact that an increase in demand for soybean oil for biodiesel production will almost always drive up the price of this feedstock. Whatever the case, biodiesel is more affordable than petrol and diesel.

The same story exists for ethanol. Ethanol happens to be the primary bio-fuel produced in the USA. As such, it is heavily subsidized. Even with the subsidy, however, the costs have escalated because of the increased demand arising from federal requirements for the E10 gasoline. With tax credits, the cost of ethanol is the same as that of gasoline per gallon. However, without the tax credit, ethanol would cost 20 to 30% more than gasoline, per gallon.

Crop Variability

Fluctuation in feedstock also affects biodiesel. Until recently, the exploration and extraction of petroleum was on the rise. This is not the same case with bio-fuels because crops are subject to such environmental pressures as nutrient availability, parasites, temperature, and sunlight – among others. The only feedstock most likely to provide stability is algae. Therefore, the price of biodiesel is likely to be prone to fluctuation, more so than petroleum has been.

Current Prices

According to the Department of Energy in the U.S., the current prices for several bio-fuels as of October 2012 were as follows:

B20 – $4.18

B99-B100 – $4.39

E85 – $3.47

Gasoline – $3.82

Diesel – $4.13

Sourced from: http://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/prices.html

How to Make Money with Biodiesel

Every day, tons of used cooking vegetable oil is wasted and flushed down in hotels, restaurants, and home kitchens around the globe. Such a waste! This is especially considering that all of this used oil can be converted into biodiesel easily – fuel that is like ordinary diesel and which can power machinery and trucks.

Biodiesel is a cleaner, better performing, and safer fuel than diesel. This is why it is surprising that it is yet to become more common.   The influence and importance of biodiesel will continue growing across the world. It presents a unique opportunity to reduce global dependence on dirty fossil fuels – most of which cause harm to both the environment and humans.

If you are seriously interested in exploring the potential that biodiesel offers, consider the following:

  1. Understand the Science

Apart from watching tutorials and reading on the production of biodiesel, you should try the science out. Practice it on your own at home and on a small scale to see how it works. Use the fuel you generate on a small, inexpensive engine and you will realize that it is not different from normal diesel.

Such practice will boost your confidence and prepare you for the industrial applications of the fuel, once you are ready to start making money from it.

  1. Start Small

Where money is concerned, human beings are naturally tempted to take off on a higher level and larger scale. This is especially if you live in a region where diesel is scarce or expensive.

However, it would be better for you if you started on a small scale. By so doing, you will be better placed to test the market. Remember, no given business idea is sound and risk free. This is why you first need to test the business concept on the small before you grow it.

  1. Take Action

Lots of business ideas are just that – ideas. Nothing will happen until you decide to take action on the idea of generating biodiesel for commercial purposes. Over the coming years, eco-friendly fuels like biodiesel are going to make significant inroads around the world.

If you are compelled to start a business with biodiesel, then the best thing you can do is take action. Remember, until you do, you will just be as inactive as anyone who has no viable business idea.

Getting the Highest Quality Bio-Fuel

Apart from generating an income from biodiesel, you need to learn how to get the highest quality bio-fuel. You will be pleasantly surprised to learn that producing biodiesel is incredibly easy. With the right manuals and tutorials, therefore, anyone should be able to do it. In fact, you don’t need a PhD in Chemistry or a science geek to make a barrel or gallon of ready-to-use biodiesel.

However, although the process is so simple, it is imperative that you fully understand the basics and the fundamentals. Consider the following advice to get started making the best quality biodiesel:

a) Ingredients

Like with any chemistry project, you are going to need a couple of ingredients. Without them, your trials will not succeed. The ingredients you get, however, ought to be of the best quality possible. After all, you will be trying to produce pure biodiesel. You should also use them in the right quantities and measurements.

The ingredients needed to make biodiesel, to this end, include:

– Used vegetable oil

– Methanol

– Sodium Hydroxide or Potassium Hydroxide

b) Tools

You are also going to need a couple of tools for the production process. These tools include:

– A pair of safety gloves

– Weighing scale

– Temperature gauge or thermometer

– Mixing containers

c) The Production Process

You will be dealing with chemical. Therefore, you should follow the right procedure to get the right results and the best quality biodiesel. There are a number of tutorials on YouTube that you can watch. They will clearly explain the process of making biodiesel in a way that is simple and easy to understand.

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