Category Archives: Biofuels

All You Ever Wanted to Know About BioDiesel Fuel

As countries around the world are taking a closer look at their oil consumption, its shortage, and its negative impact on our environment, governments are investing more money and resources to cultivate new advanced alternative energy sources. One such environmentally friendly alternative energy resource is biodiesel. Biodiesel that is produced domestically in the United States, has many benefits which include reducing our national demand for and dependence on foreign oil, creating new energy jobs, and helping the environment by reducing harmful emissions. Biodiesel fuel is available nation wide for environmentally conscious consumers who would like to make switch to renewable energy sources.

What is biodiesel fuel?

Sometimes biodiesel can be confused with ethanol, and while both are sources of clean renewable energy, they are not the same. Ethanol is an alcohol product derived from corn, sorghum, potatoes, wheat, or sugar cane. It can also be derived from biomass such as cornstalks and vegetable waste. When combined with gasoline, ethanol promotes more complete fuel burning, which in turn reduces toxic emissions of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. On the other hand, biodiesel is a bio-fuel specifically designed for diesel engines. It is derived from a wide variety of renewable sources such as vegetable oil, animal fat and cooking oil that can be used in compression ignition engines. Biodiesel derived from soybean oil is most common in the US.

Biodiesel can be used as a pure fuel, or blended with petroleum in any percentage. A blend of 20 percent by volume biodiesel with 80 percent by volume petroleum diesel has shown significant environmental benefits with a minimal increase in cost for fleet operations and consumer use.

How is biodiesel produced?

Biodiesel is produced via a chemical process called transesterification, in which glycerin is separated from the fat, or vegetable oil. This process results in two products: methyl esters (the chemical name for biodiesel), and glycerin, which is a valuable byproduct usually used in soaps and other products. It is important to note that biodiesel is produced in accordance to strict industry specifications and is the only alternative fuel that has fully completed the health effects testing requirements of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. Moreover, biodiesel is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, and is officially a legal motor fuel for sale and distribution.

Production cost of biodiesel derived from soybeans is estimated at $2 to $2.50 per gallon. Since the US government is actively supporting the growth of domestic biodiesel industry, producers of biodiesel from pure vegetable oil are eligible for a federal excise tax credit of $1 for every gallon blended with conventional diesel. Moreover, biodiesel from used cooking oil earns a credit of 50 cents per gallon.

What are the specific benefits of biodiesel?

1. Using biodiesel to power a conventional engine significantly reduced unburned hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide, as compared to emissions from diesel fuel. In addition, biodiesel essentially eliminates the exhaust emissions of sulfur oxides and sulfates (major components of acid rain).

2. Biodiesel fuel is less toxic than table salt, and biodegrades as fast as sugar.

3. A blend of 20% Biodiesel with 80% petroleum (B20) works in any diesel engine without any modifications to the engine.

4. Biodiesel is made from domestic renewable resources. Therefore, it greatly reduces our dependence on foreign oil supply, which continues to be unstable and expensive.

5. Using biodiesel can help boost our economy by creating more stable and desirable jobs in the farming, research and biodiesel production sectors.

6. Biodiesel works as a cleaning agent that will reduce engine wear and repairs.

7. Biodiesel offers an easy and immediate transition to an alternative source of fuel.

Where can I buy biodiesel fuel?

The good news is that biodiesel is not difficult to obtain and is available nationwide. In fact, many petroleum retailers now make biodiesel available at the filling station. Also, it can be purchased directly from biodiesel producers and marketers, or at a number of public retailers dispersed throughout the US. To make purchasing biodiesel more consumer friendly, the number of biodiesel retail locations across the US is continuing to quickly grow. Currently there is also a phone and computer application called NearBio available for consumers that locates up to 5 nearest biodiesel retail pumps using city and state, zip code or GPS coordinates that you specify. Remember that most diesel vehicles can run on biodiesel blends of 20% or less and not B100 – pure biodiesel fuel. Also, when purchasing biodiesel, make sure that it meets the ASTM D 6751 specifications for biodiesel, which is usually the case at most public retail locations.

How does the retail price of biodiesel compare to the price of gasoline?

Currently the cost of biodiesel is higher than the cost of gasoline. The cost depends on the basestock, geographic area, variability in crop production from season to season, and production facilities. Notably increases in the prices of petroleum also drive up the prices for vegetable stock, which consequently increases the cost of biodiesel. In general, biodiesel blended at a 20 percent level with petroleum diesel costs approximately 20 cents + per gallon more than diesel alone. Currently, in MA the price for B20 biodiesel is $3.89 per gallon, while regular gas is 3.49 per gallon.

Biofuels and bio-based chemicals production technologies

Biofuels have the potential to lead to a near-term paradigm shift from the use of crude oil and petroleum products to a crop-grown biofuels as a source of energy.

Biofuels refer to a wide range of fuels derived from organic materials such as grass and wood (cellulosic biomass), and crops such as sugar cane, corn, starch crops (potato and fruit waste), soybeans, vegetable oils, bio-gases e.t.c. These organic based alternative energy material sources are referred to as biomass.

The term biomass can be defined as a source of alternative energy that can be used for the production of biofuels such as ethanol fuel, and biodiesel using the conventional technology.

There is a significant public and scientific interest in advancing the biofuel production technology, driven by the factors such as rapidly rising prices of crude oil, the need for increased Energy Security (lessen the dependence on the use of foreign oil), and increased concerns over greenhouse gas emissions from the use of fossil fuels.

Ethanol fuel is the most widely used biofuel in the world. It is widely integrated as a transportation fuel in Brazil. Ethanol fuel, like many other biofuels, is made from biodegradable materials and products, which makes it an environmentally safe alternative to fossil fuels.

If the United States invests its resources into the development of the cost effective ethanol fuel production technologies, then it could decrease its dependence on the use of foreign oil, strengthen its national energy security, decrease a chance of conflict due to crude oil shortages, and reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases.

US dependence on foreign oil

The United States is already involved in a marginal production and use of ethanol fuel as the alternative to gasoline. A wider integration of ethanol fuel is quite plausible if it receives some solid governmental support. There is a good chance of resistance from corporate oil giants.

There is also another promising biofuel technology called Algae fuel also known as oilgae. Based on laboratory experiments, it is claimed that algae can produce up to 30 times more energy per acre than land crops such as soybeans. If this technology becomes commercially integrated, then the United States could fulfill and replace its petroleum needs by allocating the amount of land that is roughly equivalent to the size of Maryland for algaculture (farming algae).

Prediction:

My prediction is that biofuel energy sources will continue to be further developed in the U.S, but not enough to make the U.S. Independent on the use of foreign oil by 2025. It is highly unlikely that the U.S. will actually be able to fully integrate the use of biofuels as part of alternative sources of energy, mainly due to the resistance and vested interest in the continuation of petroleum use by the corporate oil giants.