What is Biodiesel?
Biodiesel is a domestically produced, renewable fuel that can be manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled restaurant grease. It is a cleaner-burning replacement for petroleum diesel fuel and is nontoxic and biodegradable. Biodiesel can be used in its pure form (B100 or “neat”) or blended at any ratio with petroleum diesel to achieve cost efficiency and improve cold weather performance. It is commonly used as B20 – a blend of 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel.
Three small biodiesel facilities, and one ethanol facility, are currently in operation within the Commonwealth of Virginia. According to the Virginia Clean Cities 2012 Alternative Fuels Report, these facilities have a production capacity of nearly 20 million gallons, but produced only 2.9 million gallons of fuel in 2012. Virginia is a greater producer of biofuel than of traditional petroleum. In the same time frame, approximately one million gallons of petroleum was produced in Virginia, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Which Vehicles Can Use Biodiesel?
Biodiesel can be used in any diesel vehicle without modification. Because biodiesel is a great solvent, older vehicles need rubber materials replaced. Vehicles produced prior to 1993 should have rubber seals in fuel pumps and fuel systems replaced with non-rubber (Viton) seals.
Biodiesel is used throughout the world and in many applications, including buses, delivery trucks, waste disposal and recycling trucks, construction and farm equipment, heavy-duty freight hauling, boats and passenger vehicles.
How Does Biodiesel Perform?
Biodiesel performs similar to traditional diesel, though B100 may result in a minimal power loss and a slight reduction in fuel economy due to its lesser energy content than petroleum diesel. B20 is the most popular blend, and users report no or minimal difference in fuel economy from petroleum diesel. ASTM International has reviewed biodiesel performance and issued a final specification for what qualifies as quality biodiesel. (Users should be sure that any fuel they purchase meets ASTM D6751.) Because biodiesel acts as a lubricant, it reduces wear and tear on the engine, and can reduce maintenance costs and extend engine life. Biodiesel remains blended with petroleum diesel so it can be easily stored and dispensed in existing facilities. Biodiesel thickens more than diesel fuel in cold weather and special systems or minor modifications are required for use of B100.
The cold-flow properties of biodiesel blends vary depending on the amount of biodiesel in the blend. The smaller the percentage of biodiesel in the blend, the better it performs in cold temperatures. Regular No. 2 diesel and B5 perform about the same in cold weather. Both biodiesel and No. 2 diesel have some compounds that crystallize in very cold temperatures. In winter weather, manufacturers combat crystallization in No. 2 diesel by adding flow improvers. For the best cold weather performance, drivers should use B20 made with No. 2 diesel manufactured for cold weather.
To ensure quality control and to anticipate and respond to fuel quality issues please review the linked poster.
What Are the Benefits of Using Biodiesel?
Biodiesel is a domestically produced, clean-burning, renewable substitute for petroleum diesel. Using biodiesel as a vehicle fuel increases energy security, improves public health and the environment, and provides safety benefits. The production of biodiesel has a 1 to 3.2 energy balance ratio. In other words, for every 1 unit of energy that goes into producing biodiesel, 3.2 units of energy are produced. Biodiesel also results in significantly lower emissions of particulate matter, carbon monoxide, toxic contaminants, sulfur dioxide, hydrocarbons, visible smoke, and noxious odors than petroleum diesel. Depending on the feed source, biodiesel can result in a 75% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions over the entire production process.
Biodiesel is non-toxic and biodegradable and therefore does not pose a threat to water and soil resources if B100 is spilled. Producing biodiesel from restaurant oil or animal processing wastes recycles potential waste material that may otherwise go to a landfill. Additionally, biodiesel is one of the safest fuels to use, handle, and store because it has a higher flash point (300º F) than petroleum diesel.