What is Biodiesel?

Biodiesel is a fuel made from animal and vegetable fat, and as such is one that is seen as recycling material that would otherwise have gone to waste. It is not a new concept as vegetable oils have been around for many decades, but its use as a fuel for vehicles is something of a late 20th century innovation.

The process for creating biodiesel involves mixing the animal or vegetable fats with an alcohol, and the subsequent reaction creates the fuel that is now widely used. Many countries across the world now have large biodiesel plants, and many crops – rape seed being one – are grown specifically for the production of biodiesel.

Where else is Biodiesel used?

In homes and commercial properties biodiesel is often used as a fuel for heating systems. This is a recognised usage and generally involves a mix of 5% biodiesel with conventional fuels. It is a viable use for what is rapidly becoming a more popular and widely used product. In the USA some states have passed laws that require all heating systems to feature biodiesel fuel by a given date in a drive to move towards more ecologically sound fuels.

What are the Advantages of Biodiesel ?

Biodiesel is widely recognised to provide greater lubrication properties than standard diesel and other fuels, and as such can prolong the life of an engine and its moving parts. This is particularly useful for the future of the car industry where long life is becoming something of a by-word these days. There are obvious differences in biodiesel consistency depending upon where it is made from and from what, and this has led to concerns about different purity of the fuel damaging engines from time to time. Moves to standardise biodiesel are afoot.

Can I use Biodiesel in My Car?

In pure form you will need to make changes to your engine which may not be economically viable before you can use biodiesel. However, it is used mixed with regular diesel in small ratios quite widely and such use will undoubtedly increase. The advantage of this is that it prolongs the supply of essential diesel and petrol, fossil fuels that are not sustainable in the long term. Vehicles that are running on petro-diesel are often found running with between five a 20% biodiesel mix, and this applies to cars, buses and also trains. Aircraft have also been known to run on biodiesel fuel.

In an interesting twist the fast food chain McDonalds recycles its waste oil in the UK and uses the biodiesel it produces to run its fleet of vehicles, while Virgin Trains runs some of its locomotives on 80% biodiesel.

The Future of Biodiesel

With more emphasis on using sustainable fuels rather than relying on expendable fossil fuels it is no secret that biodiesel is being considered strongly for development for future use, and industry is putting a lot of research and effort into refining the process for manufacture. It is envisaged that vehicle manufacturers will move towards devising engines that run more efficiently on biodiesel, and that more waste products will be evaluated for use in producing the fuel. Rapeseed and Soya are currently the most widely used of the base products, while the use of certain fungi and even coffee grounds to produce biodiesel has been documented.

With fossil fuels running short we are well placed to find a viable alternative, and it could be that biodiesel is the most promising of all.