We hear a lot of talk on the internet (and the news, once in a while) about biodiesel being one of the “fuels of the future”. And I think a lot of people have a misconception about what biodiesel is, thinking that it is some kind of french fry oil that hippies use to power their old VW vans…and while they are half right, there is a lot more to the story than that.
Biodiesel is a broad term applied to any fuel that is derived from plant matter or animal fat. It could mean soybean oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, or numerous other types of oils. From Journey To Forever, here is the basic rundown on making biodiesel:
Vegetable and animal fats and oils are triglycerides, containing glycerine. The biodiesel process turns the oils and fats into esters, separating out the glycerine. The glycerine sinks to the bottom and the biodiesel floats on top and can be syphoned off. The process is called transesterification, which substitutes alcohol for the glycerine in a chemical reaction, using lye as a catalyst. The alcohol used can be either methanol, which makes methyl esters, or ethanol (ethyl esters).
There are also different blends of biodiesel, from B100, which is an all natural 100% biodiesel product to B20 which is a 20% natural and 80% diesel fuel mix. Depending on your climate, diesel fuel cars can run this stuff straight with no modifications necessary…although they do say that fuel lines might need to be upgraded or a filter installed, depending on the clarity of the final fuel product. B100 tends to gel up in cold temperatures, that is why I said depending on your climate. But some people have even figured out how to heat it up or install switches in their cars in order to switch between regular diesel and biodiesel once their engines warm up.
I have been reading an incredibly informative and interesting book titled Biodiesel Power: The Passion, The People, And The Politics Of The Next Renewable Fuel and it is has been very educational. I learned that there is actually a national biodiesel board (NBB) that is working to get biodiesel into the mainstream, but I also learned that a lot of the ingenuity and push for this fuel is coming from the grassroots, who is not too thrilled with yet another regulatory board and their government connections. It’s a good read if you are interested in what goes on behind the scenes of the biodiesel movement.
For me, this fuel has a lot going for it. It is completely renewable, can be used in different blends, can be used in any car with a diesel engine, and can even be brewed at home if you so desire. I don’t know if my wife would want a biodiesel station in our garage, but to be able to create a cleaner-burning, non-toxic fuel from waste product for mere pennies is quite intriguing. I know there are biodiesel co-op’s in some cities who you can buy the fuel from, but part of the fun would be in making it yourself! I think the minute we have our own house and I have my much-wanted workshop space, I am going to have to investigate this even further. For right now, we only share a car between us and have no need for another one. But when the time comes that we need two cars, I think I might have to pick me up an old VW Diesel Rabbit and have some fun! If you want more info on biodiesel, check out these sites:
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