Power Generation

Biodiesel Guide – Sources, Production, Uses, & Regulations

December 18, 2020 Welcome

Over the past few decades, players in the renewable energy sector have continued to invest in biomass fuel production. This industry has seen significant growth with the major sources of biomass-derived energy (ethanol and biodiesel) helping to augment transport fuel needs.

This article will highlight aspects of biodiesel production, including its sources, uses, as well as the rules governing its manufacture and distribution.

What Is Biodiesel?

Biodiesel refers to the liquid fuel manufactured after processing renewable raw materials like animal fats and vegetable oils. These raw materials might be freshly collected or old materials that have been in storage. Biodiesel is produced by blending vegetable oils, grease, and animal wastes with a certain amount of alcohol.

how is biodiesel made

Benefits of Biodiesel

Biodiesel provides a clean-burning renewable fuel alternative to conventional petroleum-based fuels. The key benefits of integrating biodiesel as a transportation fuel are listed below:

  • Improved energy balance and security
  • Reduced emission and improved air quality
  • Optimized engine operation
  • Greater environmental safety

Improved Energy Balance and Security

In 2019, the US imported 3% of its petroleum requirements to meet up with demands for the transportation sector which uses approximately 30% of total US energy needs. Integrating biofuels and other renewable fuel types produced within the country is strengthening national security and lowering transportation energy costs for individuals and businesses.

Further, locally synthesized biodiesel can function as a direct substitute for conventional diesel in many engine types or extend the supplies of conventional fuels. Biodiesel such as soybean biodiesel has a positive energy balance, meaning they yield a higher amount of energy for every unit of fossil fuel consumed.

Reduced Emission and Improved Air Quality

Regardless of fuel type being used, engines manufactured from 2010 onwards are held to the same emission standards. While selective catalytic reduction allows conventional diesel engines to meet environmental emission regulations, biodiesel-powered engines have a similar emission rating by default.

Carbon dioxide emissions from biodiesel have a lower lifecycle rating because the gas released from its combustion is offset by the gas absorbed when growing its substrates like soybean for example. With lower overall emissions, there is a significant improvement in air quality.

Optimized Engine Operation

Utilizing biodiesel improves fuel lubricity and raises the cetane number for that fuel blend. An improved fuel lubricity improves engine function and prolongs the lifespan of its moving parts by preventing premature wear.

Improved Safety Profile

Newly synthesized biodiesel in its pure state has a milder effect on the environment than conventional petroleum diesel if it is accidentally spilled. Biodiesel is less combustible than conventional diesel with a higher flash point which makes it safer to handle, store, and transport.

Biodiesel vs. Ethanol

Biodiesel and ethanol constitute the two major fuels derived from renewable biomass sources with a few fundamental differences. While biodiesel fuel can be derived from both plant and animal substrates by the process of trans-esterification, ethanol is derived from various plant-based raw materials only by subjecting plant starches and sugars to special fermentation processes.

Is Biodiesel Renewable?

Biodiesel is derived from organic raw materials both plant and animal sources which make it a renewable alternative to conventional diesel. Some hydrocarbon fuels can also be derived from biomass sources and are termed renewable diesel fuels.

While these renewable diesel fuels are generated from biomass, they are quite similar to their petroleum-based counterparts. Useful as a transportation fuel, various US energy players are currently retrofitting their facilities for renewable diesel production.

sources of biodiesel energy

How Is Biodiesel Made?

So. How do you make biodiesel? Biodiesel is synthesized by a process of trans-esterification where glycerin is broken down to release fatty acid molecules contained in biomass substrate which then combine with alcohol molecules.

Most biodiesel made in the US is synthesized by combining feedstock oil (soybean oil) with either ethyl or methyl alcohol. Depending on the alcohol type employed, the trans-esterification product is either referred to as soy ethyl ester or soy methyl ester.

Balance of plant pumping systems and chemical injection skids from IFS can help streamline your production process.

Sources of Biodiesel

The most popular sources of biodiesel are the plant and animal substrates listed below

  • Animal fats
  • Canola oil
  • Corn oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Other feedstock oils (grapeseed, palm oil, sunflower oil)

ways to make biodiesel

In the US, soybean oil provides the single largest contribution to biodiesel production (approximately 57% of total).

Biodiesel Treatment – How to Process

The biodiesel treatment process moves sequentially from feedstock processing, deconstruction and fractionation to synthesis and upgrading. Pure, unblended biodiesel is referred to as B100. Biodiesel can be optimized for various weather conditions by blending it with petroleum diesel in various proportions.

What Is Biodiesel Used for?

Biodiesel blended in various proportions with petroleum-based diesel is used mostly as a transportation fuel to power different vehicle engines. Other applications for renewable biodiesel fuel include:

  • Fuel filters
  • Heating oils
  • Oil spill cleanups
  • Biodiesel electricity generators

Biodiesel Regulations

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has strict guidelines governing the manufacture and distribution of biodiesel fuels. Energy manufacturers must adhere to various EPA regulations and seek clarification on various relevant environmental laws.

The EPA mandates compliance with the following acts and programs:

Biodiesel Forecast

Recent data on biodiesel production and distribution has shown it is doing quite well compared to other transportation fuels. While the COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant decline in demand for petroleum-based diesel and ethanol derived from biomass, biodiesel production has remained virtually unchanged. This is due to the lack of blending restraints applicable to ethanol.

At present, biodiesel is the second most consumed biofuel in the US. With favorable production/blending incentives and compliance with the RFS, biodiesel will continue to compete favorably against other energy alternatives.

Look to IFS for Renewable Energy Marketing Tech Solutions

At IFS, we provide highly efficient, and cost-effective solutions for your renewable energy sector needs. We offer high-quality modular process skids and other renewable energy processing technology optimized for biomass processing plants.

Contact us online today to learn more about the full range of industrial solutions we offer.



« »