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How is Biodiesel Produced?

How is Biodiesel Produced?

By Jeff Youngs, August 10, 2012
Biodiesel is a biodegradable fuel created from agricultural products or byproducts, which can be burned in a diesel engine in a pure state or when blended with regular diesel fuel. Benefits of using biodiesel include lower emissions than traditional diesel fuel, harmless toxicity levels, domestic fuel production using renewable natural resources, and almost no waste products.

If used in its purest state, a diesel engine typically requires modification to run on what is called B100 (100-percent biodiesel). Some diesel engines are designed to operate on a biodiesel blend called B20 (20-percent biodiesel and 80-percent regular diesel) without modification.

Some may confuse biodiesel with vegetable oil, however, bio-diesel is derived from vegetable oils or animal fats, and must meet specific requirements according to ASTM International D6751 11b, which is the standard specification for biodiesel fuel blend stock for middle distillate fuels.

Biodiesel is also known as a mono-alkyl ester. To produce biodiesel, or alkyl esters, the glycerin is removed from the vegetable oil or animal fat through a chemical reaction process called transesterification. The oil or fat is introduced to an alcohol in the presence of a catalyst, typically sodium or potassium hydroxide. The reaction separates the glycerin from the oil or fat, which can be used in the creation of other consumer products, and allows the alcohol to be recovered and re-used. The remaining mono-alkyl ester material is the biodiesel, which is purified in advance of commercial use.

Common source materials in the creation of biodiesel are virgin oil feedstock (soybean oil, rapeseed oil, palm oil, etc.), waste vegetable oil (recycled fast-food fryer oil), and animal fats (tallow, lard, grease). Researchers are also exploring ways to create biodiesel from other sources, including algae and used coffee grounds.

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