What is Biodiesel Fuel?

R. Kayne

Biodiesel is a natural and renewable domestic fuel alternative for diesel engines made from vegetable oils, mostly soy and corn. It contains no petroleum, is nontoxic and biodegradable.

Biodiesel fuel is made from corn in many places.
Biodiesel fuel is made from corn in many places.

This type of fuel burns clean, which results in a significant reduction of the types of pollutants that contribute to smog and global warming and emits up to 85% fewer cancer-causing agents. It is the only alternate fuel approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has passed every Heath-Effects Test of the Clean Air Act and meets the requirements of the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

Biodiesel may present a greener alternative to traditional diesel fuel.
Biodiesel may present a greener alternative to traditional diesel fuel.

Biodiesel is made using an alcohol like methanol and a chemical process that separates glycerine and methyl esters from fats or vegetable oils. Glycerine is used in many common products including soap and is highly marketable; therefore there is little waste in the process. That said, growing crops requires time and significant investment, and the fuel must be made and shipped to a local station. For these reasons, biodiesel is more expensive than petroleum, gallon for gallon. This must be considered against the many economic advantages, however, that arise from a domestic form of fuel, a cleaner environment, an improvement in air quality, and a reduction of cancer-causing agents.

Some diesel-electric locomotives have been converted to run on biodiesel fuels.
Some diesel-electric locomotives have been converted to run on biodiesel fuels.

A "bootleg" form of biodiesel can be made from discarded cooking oils as collected from restaurants. The cooking oil must be put through a process before it can be used as fuel, but home-brewed isn't always a legal form of the fuel.

Methanol can be used to make biodiesel.
Methanol can be used to make biodiesel.

Biodiesel has been rigorously and independently tested in virtually every type of diesel engine by a number of agencies in the laboratory and on the road. The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) reports the tests combine to account for over 50-million street miles plus intense off-road and marine use. Performance is said to rate comparably to petroleum in all areas from power to efficiency, hauling and climbing. It can be used in its pure form or blended with petroleum fuel. The most common mix is 20/80, referred to as "B20" containing 20% biodiesel by volume, and 80% petroleum.

This type of fuel can be used in any diesel engine with few to no modifications. The main effect is super-lubrication which has the benefit of acting like a solvent to clean the engine. If the engine has been previously running on conventional diesel this can result in an initial need to change fuel filters until sludge left by petroleum fuel is purged. This effect is more pronounced when using B100 (100% biodiesel), and may be less so with B20. Precautionary measures should be taken however, by checking the fuel filter after initial hours of running blended or neat fuel (100% biodiesel).

When using B100 exclusively, the lubrication could degrade certain types of rubber over time, which may require replacement of fuel hoses or fuel pump seals. This isn't as much of a concern with newer engines that contain parts designed for low-sulphur diesel (known as #2 diesel), as these parts are also compatible with biodiesel. The use of B20 did not result in the need to replace hoses or seals in the many miles of tests previously mentioned.

Like conventional diesel, biodiesel will cloud and gel at very cold temperatures, but blends like B20 are only slightly more sensitive than #2 diesel in this respect. The recommendations are the same regardless of blend: park the vehicle in or near shelter if possible; use optional fuel heaters; or mix with #1 diesel.

Biodiesel should not impact or void the manufacturer's warranty of any compression-ignition motor (diesel), however, it's always safest to check your warranty first. Call the manufacturer if unsure.

Agencies involved in the testing of this fuel include the US Department of Energy, the US Department of Agriculture, the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, and the Southwest Research Institute, among others.

In the United States, this fuel is available at limited gasoline stations nationwide, usually in a B20 blend. It will likely cost a few pennies more per gallon, but the ample benefits to the environment, human health, our own economy, and the reduction of dependence on foreign oil are each powerful counterpoints. The NBB maintains a list of suppliers, distributors and public gas stations that carry biodiesel for those interested.

Biodiesel fuel is not available at all gas stations.
Biodiesel fuel is not available at all gas stations.

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Discussion Comments


Where can I buy biodiesel?


May i know from where i can get suggestions for a working model on biodiesel and what types of models can be made? I have no idea. Please help.


I think Biodiesel is a great thing.


biodiesel is awesome.


hate to burst your bubble, but biodiesel does freeze, and that's why you plug in your diesel vehicle.


I just want to know how to make a biodiesel. the formula in converting my used cooking oil to a useful biodiesel. Where can we puchase a biodiesel kit? Can you give us any the idea the technology on how to do it?


Yeah sounds great right! Lets hope everyone of you have a heated garage. Yeah that's right biodiesel freezes under 10 degrees and gels so your car won't start. Don't believe me go to your nearest Ford dealer and read the little yellow sign on the parts counter. I hate to burst your bubble... but *pop!*


I heat the vegetable oil until it came to 39 degrees, 41 degrees and 50 degrees. So what is the different between three temperature?


I need some info on biodiesel for a school research paper, important stuff like the history and what's in it. I REALLY need a reply before it is due.


How much and how hard is it to convert a regular diesel engine into a biodiesel engine? It would be helpful for my Chevy Silverado diesel engine.



biodiesel fuel sounds like a terrific idea--one that seems pretty easy to implement! as a mom with kids, i'm stuck driving a minivan which doesn't get the greatest gas mileage. i'll be first line when they come up with a hybrid minivan! it's so confusing to me why, since minivan drivers end up driving so much--carting kids around, etc., they haven't put a hybrid minivan on the market yet.

how hard would it be to convert my car to take biodiesel? is it something i could do myself, or are there licensed mechanics who do it?


I have been making biodiesel for about 3 years now and love it. I figure it saves me about $5000 per year and I don't have to stress out when I see the pump price over $3 a gallon. Anyone can make it with a biodiesel kit and some local cooking oil from diners and cafes.


can truck and trailers use more than one type of oil?0 what types can they use?

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