What is BioDiesel?

Filling up with BiodieselBiodiesel is an alternative fuel similar to conventional or ‘fossil’ diesel. Biodiesel can be produced from straight vegetable oil, animal oil/fats, tallow and waste cooking oil. The process used to convert these oils to Biodiesel is called transesterification. This process is described in more detail below. The largest possible source of suitable oil comes from oil crops such as rapeseed, palm or soybean. In the UK rapeseed represents the greatest potential for biodiesel production. Most biodiesel produced at present is produced from waste vegetable oil sourced from restaurants, chip shops, industrial food producers such as Birdseye etc. Though oil straight from the agricultural industry represents the greatest potential source it is not being produced commercially simply because the raw oil is too expensive. After the cost of converting it to biodiesel has been added on it is simply too expensive to compete with fossil diesel. Waste vegetable oil can often be sourced for free or sourced already treated for a small price. (The waste oil must be treated before conversion to biodiesel to remove impurities). The result is Biodiesel produced from waste vegetable oil can compete with fossil diesel.

What are the benefits of Biodiesel?

Biodiesel has many environmentally beneficial properties. The main benefit of biodiesel is that it can be described as ‘carbon neutral’. This means that the fuel produces no net output of carbon in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2). This effect occurs because when the oil crop grows it absorbs the same amount of CO2 as is released when the fuel is combusted. In fact this is not completely accurate as CO2 is released during the production of the fertilizer required to fertilize the fields in which the oil crops are grown. Fertilizer production is not the only source of pollution associated with the production of biodiesel, other sources include the esterification process, the solvent extraction of the oil, refining, drying and transporting. All these processes require an energy input either in the form of electricity or from a fuel, both of which will generally result in the release of green house gases. To properly assess the impact of all these sources requires use of a technique called life cycle analysis. Biodiesel is rapidly biodegradable and completely non-toxic, meaning spillages represent far less of a risk than fossil diesel spillages. Biodiesel has a higher flash point than fossil diesel and so is safer in the event of a crash.

Biodiesel Production

Refining the used cooking oilAs mentioned above biodiesel can be produced from straight vegetable oil, animal oil/fats, tallow and waste oils. There are three basic routes to biodiesel production from oils and fats:

Almost all biodiesel is produced using base catalyzed transesterification as it is the most economical process requiring only low temperatures and pressures and producing a 98% conversion yield. For this reason only this process will be described in this report.

The Transesterification process is the reaction of a triglyceride (fat/oil) with an alcohol to form esters and glycerol. A triglyceride has a glycerine molecule as its base with three long chain fatty acids attached. The characteristics of the fat are determined by the nature of the fatty acids attached to the glycerine. The nature of the fatty acids can in turn affect the characteristics of the biodiesel. During the esterification process, the triglyceride is reacted with alcohol in the presence of a catalyst, usually a strong alkaline like sodium hydroxide. The alcohol reacts with the fatty acids to form the mono-alkyl ester, or biodiesel and crude glycerol. In most production methanol or ethanol is the alcohol used (methanol produces methyl esters, ethanol produces ethyl esters) and is base catalysed by either potassium or sodium hydroxide. Potassium hydroxide has been found to be more suitable for the ethyl ester biodiesel production, either base can be used for the methyl ester. A common product of the transesterification process is Rape Methyl Ester (RME) produced from raw rapeseed oil reacted with methanol.

Edible Oil Direct - Fast Food supplies from plastic cups to musy peas