Q: What is biodiesel?
A: Biodiesel refers to a non-petroleum-based diesel fuel made from biological products such as plant oil or animal fat (tallow) that are mixed with methl or ethyl esters (methanol or ethanol) and lye (ex: caustic soda), which can be used alone or blended with conventional petrodiesel in unmodified diesel-engine vehicles. Biodiesel is distinguished from straight vegetable oil (sometimes referred to as "waste vegetable oil," "used vegetable oil," or "pure plant oil") as fuels in some converted diesel vehicles. One byproduct of biodiesel production is glycerin, which can be used to make soap and cosmetic products.
Q: Does biodiesel emit CO2?
A: During combustion of the plant oil, carbon dioxide is created. The CO2 that is emitted into the atmosphere is equivalent to the amount captured by plants during photosynthesis. Thus, biodiesel is essentially carbon neutral. Biodiesel often includes between 10 % and 20% methanol, most of which is a byproduct of the production of the oil. Because biodiesel generally emits about 20% CO2, using biologically produced ethanol can essentially reduce CO2 emissions by 100%.
Q: This sounds relatively new. Have plant oils been used in diesel engines before?
A: Plant oils are one of the oldest forms of energy. In fact, Rudolf Diesel, who invented the diesel engine, used peanut oils as one of his fuel sources. In his patent application from 1912, Rudolf Diesel wrote: "The use of plant oils as fuel may be of little use today, but the use of these products can, over time, become as important as today's petroleum and coal products." In Germany, which is today the largest market for biodiesel, there are nearly 2,000 biodiesel sales locations and German automakers have made extensive investments into research and products that cater to this market.
Q: Can biodiesel replace all use of mineral oils?
A: It is not realistic to replace all fossil fuels with biodiesel. Globally, 80% of all electric energy is produced using non-renewable energy sources. With the oil-producing rapeseed plants commonly used in European biodiesel today, we would need approximately five times the land area of the United States to replace all fossil fuels. But there are other plants that produce more oil and are more tolerant to drought. In addition, newer generation biodiesel such as algae have been shown to produce up to 20 times more oil than the most productive oil palm.
Synthetic BioDiesel can also be produced from biogas and biomass (like wood, for example) through a gasification process. The biomass is exposed to high heat without oxygen and then a synthetic gas is released consisting of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This process is called Fischer-Tropsch-synthesis and has been used to produce diesel from coal since the 1930s. Even though this process is expensive and energy-demanding, access to this cheap biomass is good.
If we combine new types of oil-bearing plants, newer generational fuel sources such as algae, and synthetic biodiesel from biomass and biogas with alternative energy sources such as sun, wind, wave, hydro and earth power for electric power, it is not unlikely that the world's energy needs can be fulfilled by clean and renewable energy within 20 to 30 years.
Q: Is biodiesel poisonous?
A: Even though it is not recommended to ingest biodiesel, it is no more poisonous than regular sugar, even breaking down in nature to regular sugar. Therefore, it poses no hazard to the environment in case of spills.
Q: Is biodiesel flammable?
A: Due to its high combustion point (over 120 C) biodiesel is not considered as flammable as regular diesel. Therefore, there is much less risk in transporting and storing it.
Q: Can my car run on biodiesel alone?
A: If you have a newer diesel vehicle, you will likely be able to fuel it with 100% non-blended biodiesel. Older diesel cars might require a change to a type of fuel hose that better tolerates biodiesel. Regardless, the diesel filter should be changed over time because it will likely contain particles that can loosen and create clogs due to the rinsing effect of biodiesel.
Q: Can I go back to regular diesel if I fuel my vehicle with biodiesel temporarily?
A: Yes, you can switch between diesel and biodiesel. You can also blend diesel and biodiesel in any ratio right into your fuel tank.
Q: Will biodiesel wear out an engine?
A: On the contrary, biodiesel has better lubricating agents than regular diesel. Biodiesel is therefore often mixed with regular diesel to enhance lubrication. In addition, biodiesel has a higher cetin level than regular diesel, which means that diesel engines fueled with biodiesel will run smoother, and with less noise.
Q: Will I notice any difference in motor performance?
A: Biodiesel contains approximately 5% less energy than regular diesel due to higher oxygen levels (which creates cleaner and more complete emissions). On older diesel engines, you might notice lower peak performance. Newer engines compensate for this automatically and you will actually experience higher performance, typically 4% to 7% better performance after switching to biodiesel.
Q: What about a guarantee on the engine if I put biodiesel in the fuel tank?
A: Automobile engine producers have agreed on an international standard that describes the minimum requirement for biodiesel, which is abbreviated as EN14214. It is critical that you only use biodiesel that follows the EN14214 norm. Look for the marking EN14214, EN DIN 14214; or in Norway EN NS 14214.
Q: Will electric and hydrogen cars eventually replace diesel cars?
A: Electric cars pull their energy from the power grid network. The problem with this is that 80% of the world's electricity production (with the exception of Norway) comes from nuclear power, coal, oil and gas. In addition, the electric car has problems with driving range, typically 80 km before it must be re- charged, compared to a biodiesel car that has a range of 500 to 800 km before re-fueling. Hydrogen cars have been in the news lately, but they have many of the same problems as electric cars. First, hydrogen production requires electric energy. Hydrogen is also a result of natural gas production, which is non-renewable as well. Further, hydrogen cars have limited range, typically 300 km, which is half that of a regular biodiesel car. Hydrogen also takes about five to six times more space in a liquid form (which is more efficient) as compared to biodiesel, which means more transportation and higher energy consumption, and has a high risk of flammability under pressure.It will be quite some time before electric and hydrogen cars become a real alternative to biodiesel,