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Biodiesel Fuel

As part of my series on alternative fuels, I will focus on biodiesel today.

Biodiesel is a renewable alternative fuel produced from a wide range of vegetable oils and animal fats. Pure biodiesel or biodiesel blended with petroleum diesel can be used to fuel diesel vehicles, providing energy security and emissions and safety benefits. Biodiesel is nontoxic and biodegradable. Biodiesel has physical properties similar to those of petroleum diesel. Like petroleum diesel, biodiesel is used to fuel compression-ignition (diesel) engines. Low-level blends of biodiesel with petroleum diesel also provide benefits.

The interest in biodiesel as an alternative transportation fuel stems mainly from its renewable, domestic production; its safe, clean-burning properties; and its compatibility with existing diesel engines.


Twenty percent biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel—B20—is the most common biodiesel blend in the United States. Using B20 provides substantial benefits but avoids many of the cold-weather performance and material compatibility concerns associated with B100.

B20 can be used in nearly all diesel equipment and is compatible with most storage and distribution equipment. B20 and lower-level blends generally do not require engine modifications.

B100 or other high-level biodiesel blends can be used in some engines built since 1994 with biodiesel-compatible material for parts such as hoses and gaskets. However, as biodiesel blend levels increase significantly beyond B20, a number of concerns come into play. Users must be aware of lower energy content per gallon and potential issues with impact on engine warranties, low-temperature gelling, solvency/cleaning effect if regular diesel was previously used, and microbial contamination.B100 use could also increase nitrogen oxides emissions, although it greatly reduces other toxic emissions.

The U.S. biodiesel industry is small but growing rapidly. Production tripled from 2004 to 2005 and again from 2005 to 2006. Much of the original biodiesel production capacity comes from companies already making products from vegetable oil or animal fat in the detergent industry among others. The soy industry has been the driving force behind biodiesel commercialization because of excess production capacity, product surpluses, and declining prices

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 United States imports more than 60% of its petroleum, two-thirds of which is used to fuel vehicles in the form of gasoline and diesel. The demand for petroleum imports is increasing. With much of the worldwide petroleum reserves located in politically volatile countries, the United States is vulnerable to supply disruptions.

Using biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions because carbon dioxide released from biodiesel combustion is offset by the carbon dioxide sequestered while growing the soybeans or other feedstock. B100 use reduces carbon dioxide emissions by more than 75% compared with petroleum diesel. Using B20 reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 15%.

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