Biodiesel; Definition, Advantages and Disadvantages

Pros and Cons of Biodiesel

Oil has become such an essential part of our lives that it’s all over the news everyday. Just a few days ago, the oil market crashed in a devastating manner due to the Coronavirus. The effects of that huge crash in demand due to lock-down restrictions showed it’s positive effects on the environment. Air pollution levels dropped to lowest levels in a very long time! 

That drop in air pollution levels has shown us the importance of using alternatives to fossil fuels. The concerns of exhausting fossil fuel reserves have brought forward more interest in alternative fuels like biodiesel

What is Biodiesel?

Biodiesel is a type of diesel made from agricultural and natural resources like animal fat or plant oils (organic matter). Biodiesel consists of long-chained hydrocarbons or fatty-acid esters made by a chemical reaction between lipids from animal fat, soybean oil or vegetable oils and an alcohol which makes methyl, ethyl or propyl esters.

Biodiesel is made from biological ingredients rather than fossil fuels which makes them one of the best biofuel alternatives

Can biodiesel be an alternative to gas in today’s world? Many people have different perspectives towards the topic. The best way to come to a decision is to look upon advantages and disadvantages of biodiesel.

Advantages of Biodiesel

Biodiesel is environment-friendly

If we talk about the Clean Air Act, biodiesel is the only biofuel which has successfully passed emissions testing thresholds. Biodiesel is biodegradable which means that even if it’s spilled, it would have less damage to the environment and would be easier to clean up. Most importantly, biodiesel is renewable.

EPA has suggested that Biodiesel emits 11% lower carbon monoxide and as much as 10% lower particulate matter than conventional diesel fuel. 

Renewable source of Energy

Biodiesel is extremely renewable. What this means is that there’s always more where it comes from. Literally. Biodiesel is sourced from natural organic matter like plants and animal oils which, if produced in a sustainable manner, could last forever.

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Incredibly safe

Biodiesel is a non-toxic fuel producing lower emissions as compared to fossil fuels when burnt. This lessens the risk of respiratory illnesses due to reduced air pollution. 100% Biodiesel is actually just as biodegradable as sugar and ten times less toxic when compared with table salt.

Moreover, biodiesel has a lower flashpoint than conventional diesel. This means biodiesel ignites at a higher temperature and is less likely to ignite accidently.  This makes transportation and storage easier and much more safe.

Ready to use

Biodiesel blends can straight away be used in diesel engines made after 1987. Biodiesel can also be used at homes as an alternative to petroleum.

Off-grid homes that have to depend on generators for electricity should use blended biodiesel instead of conventional diesel fuel. All you have to do is fill up and you’re good to go. 

For engines, EPA recommends a fuel pump replacement after the first fill-up of bio-diesel.

Biodiesel helps extends Engine Lifespan

It helps to ease the movement of engines as it has a greater lubricating effect. According to many estimates, with just 1% of biodiesel blend fuel lubricity can be increased by 65%. It basically acts like a solvent and helps to loosen the gunk and deposits in the engine. 

Furthermore, because of its lubricity,  it doesn’t allow accumulation of more deposits inside the engine. This improves the overall working life of the engine because there is less wear and tear. 

Reduced dependence on Imported Oil

Adopting biofuels can actually reduce the import of diesel. Including China and the US on top, there are 100 countries that have to depend on foreign countries for imported oil. Importing oil really hurts the economy because the country loses a lot of money. 

Recently,due to lockdown and travel restrictions, the demand for crude oil and gasoline nosedived. This led to the oil stock market crash. Now is the time when countries must realise how much they’ve been spending on oil for years and years now that those expenses have stopped

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Using an alternative source of fuel will really reduce the dependency upon imported as well as native fossil fuels. The US has soybean crops as one of its major domestic crops which is fortunate because soybean crops can be used to make biodiesel. 

In fact, Soybean crops are mostly used to make Biodiesel in The United States. 

Disadvantages of Biodiesel

It is prone to ‘gelling’

Diesel Gelling happens when the temperature drops and the paraffin component of diesel starts to solidify and become gel-like. Diesel fuels start becoming cloudy at 32 degrees when the liquid wax starts to crystallize and at around 10 degrees finally starts becoming a gel and may clog the tank, narrow fuel lines and fuel filters. 

When it’s cold, biodiesel is also known to convert into gel. This process restricts the use of biodiesel as it wouldn’t be feasible to be used in cold climates. One of the solutions to this could be that if it has to be used in cold regions then the tank could be located underground or indoors in order to keep biodiesel in its perfect form. 

Even if you park your car in the garage and the temperature in the garage doesn’t drop too low; you can still make use of biodiesel at home. 

You have to store biodiesel at room temperatures because warm climates can also cause problems in storage because then it can grow mold. 

It can damage filters and pipes

It has been observed that the vehicles which were using biodiesel, commonly got their seals and gaskets degraded over time. Moreover, it also causes the filters to get clogged and damage the pipes. This is because when the biodiesel cleans dirt from engines and narrow pipes, that dirt may get clogged into the fuel filters or gaskets and damage them. 

The problem lies with the mixing of fuels of B20. It is suggested that when people shift to biodiesel; they shall get the fuel pump of their vehicles replaced after the first fill-up. 

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Another problem is that biodiesel damages rubber items. Therefore, the fuel seals and fuel pump seals which are made of rubber tend to get damaged. 

It can affect the food supply

Biodiesel is created by plants, farmers are mostly pushed to grow crops which can be used to make biofuel. This would lead to shortage of food as the crops grown would be used for the making of biofuel, it would also increase the prices of food which might be a bigger problem for many people.

Little bit Expensive

Biodiesel is a little bit more expensive than conventional diesel fuel. A B20 blend of biodiesel costs 15 to 30 cents more than conventional fuel and pure biodiesel (B100) can cost as high as 1$ more per gallon.

However as bulk production increases, the prices are sure to decrease. 

Lower fuel efficiency than Conventional Diesel

Although diesel engines have better efficiencies and offer up to 40% better fuel economy and higher torque at a lower rpm (Higher power at lower fuel) than gasoline; B20 biodiesel reduce the fuel efficiency by 1 – 2% and they even reduce the power on average by around 10% which might not be acceptable for some vehicle owners.

Pros of BiodieselCons of Biodiesel
Environment-friendlyProne to Gelling
RenewableMay damage fuel filters and pipes
Incredibly SafeCan Effect Food Supply
Ready to UseLittle bit Expensive
Extends engine lifespanLower fuel Efficiency than Diesel
Independence from Fossil Fuels

Conclusion

Biodiesels are the perfect alternatives of conventional diesel fuel in terms of environmental health, sustainability and human safety. However, the disadvantages it has need to be addressed properly and sustainably in order for biodiesel to become as cheap, efficient and safe as conventional diesel fuels.

With proper research and development, it seems that a near future of engines using biodiesels just like usual gasoline is not very far.

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