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What is Biodiesel?

Biodiesel [calorific value 37.27 MJ/kg] is a renewable fuel - derived from animal fats, algae, or vegetable oils (such as soybean, palm oil, rape seed, peanut) to create what is known as a mono-alkyl ester. Created through a process of transesterification, Biodiesel is designed to be used as a straight replacement for fossil fuel diesel (in other words diesel engines do not need to be modified), and can be used as an eco-friendly alternative to conventional heating oil due its renewability, and lower emissions when compared to Petrodiesel (see below).

Research is currently taking place into the viability of utilising Jatropha curcas, a poisonous semi-evergreen shrub, whose seeds represent a high yield source of Biodiesel. Biodiesel is often blended with Petrodiesel (which is petroleum-based diesel fuel) for sale in the retail marketplace, and there is a labelling system called the ‘B Factor’ which lists the proportion of Biodiesel to Petrodiesel.

B100 is pure Biodiesel; B20 is 20% Biodiesel, 80% Petrodiesel; B2 is 2% Biodiesel, 98% Petrodiesel. As a replacement to heating oil, Biodiesel blends vary from B5 to B20. Consumers who are thinking of switching to a Biodiesel future are recommended to seek advice before doing so, as some older boilers may have rubber parts which could be affected adversely by the solvent properties of the fuel. There is a suggestion, though, that the solvent properties may in fact help ‘clean’ the boiler over time, enabling it to burn more efficiently – thus saving money.

Various car manufacturers including Volkswagen have car models that can run on blended Biodiesel fuels. (Note: the same advice as above with boilers is made here. If you are thinking about running your car on Biodiesel, seek expert advice as older cars may have rubber parts that degrade if Biodiesel is used. The rule of thumb, however, is that if your car is after 1992 or a common rail diesel for B5 – it should be okay. But double check first!).

In 2007, in the UK, McDonalds announced that its distribution fleet would be powered by Biodiesel from its restaurants’ old cooking oil. The USA has pushed ahead aggressively on Biodiesel, with production increasing from 112 million gallons in 2005 to 1.07 billion gallons in 2011.

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