A lot has been said about biodiesel in the past 16 years. When we look back in time, we can see that diesel was already developed by Rudolph Diesel in the 1890s, but it was only after the 1990s that the biodiesel industry started to grow. The question is, what is biodiesel? First, we need to understand “biodiesel vs. diesel.”
Biodiesel vs Diesel
You’ve probably already heard of diesel, as it is used in farming and construction equipment, trucks, ships, and even some cars. Like gasoline, diesel is derived from petroleum. That’s why gasoline and diesel engines work similarly. The most significant difference is that in diesel engines, the fuel is ignited by compressed air. Diesel is more efficient than gasoline, however, that doesn’t mean it is a clean fuel. When diesel is burned, it releases a lot of sulfur, one of the main agents for acid rain.
All is not lost. There is another way to produce diesel. It can also be derived from recently dead animals and plants. And that my friends, is biodiesel.
What is biodiesel
Biodiesel is a biodegradable energy source made of animal fats and plant oils, and usually, it can be used in conventional diesel engines. These feedstocks are made of triglycerides that can be converted into fuels when in contact with alcohol, like methanol and ethanol. The result of this process are molecules that are very similar to regular diesel fuel. That’s why we only need small modifications to use biodiesel in diesel engines.
It’s a fact that biodiesel is cleaner than diesel. According to Car Talk, a study done by the Department of Energy and Agriculture found biodiesel reduces net carbon dioxide emissions by 78%. However, depending on the feedstock used, its production can become somewhat problematic. When biodiesel is produced from crops like soybeans and palm oil, it leads to three big problems. Firstly, you are planting crops, not for feeding but for fuel. This can result in higher food prices, and also food shortages in poor regions around the planet. Secondly, in order to plant these crops, you need space. Deforestation is the immediate consequence of that; we lose forests while releasing more greenhouse gases. Thirdly, to have these plantations, it’s necessary to displace small farmers and indigenous people. Looking from this perspective, the negative environmental effects of this land clearing and burning may be greater than the potential benefits of using biodiesel produced from soybeans and palm oil trees.
But, there is another way of producing biodiesel which is a great solution for another issue that we currently have: cooking oil. If you cook, you may have been through this dilemma before: What to do with the used oil. People often just pour it down the drain, but by doing that, you are not throwing the problem away. In the pipes, this oil collects bits of food and other stuff producing greasy blockages, which clog entire sewage systems resulting in flooding and pollution. By using the cooking oil to produce biodiesel, we work on two issues at the same time. We recycle used cooking oil while producing clean fuel. That’s what we call converting waste to value.
Of course, biodiesel alone isn’t the solution to the climate crisis. But aligned with other clean solutions, it’s definitely required for the energy transition. And now, you might be wondering if we are using enough oil to produce a large amount of biodiesel; here is the answer. According to TED-Ed, if we would use all the cooking oil that New Yorkers throw away in one day, there would be enough fuel to power several hundred flights from New York to Los Angeles (3.983km). Considering how harmful it is to the environment to burn fossil fuels for operating hundreds of flights,
Now that we understand feedstock and biodiesel, the next step is to learn how the cooking oil reaches the right place to become fuel. Let’s find out.
Preparing Oil for Recycling
This is the step in which we all can contribute to biodiesel production. After you’ve cooked, wait until the used cooking oil is cold. Then, get a clean and dry bottle, a funnel, and a sieve. Transfer the used oil to the bottle using the sieve and the funnel. You can also add the oil from canned food. The last step is to find an oil collection place in your city. In many cities, there are containers to collect used oils from houses and also restaurants, and other establishments. Just check online where the nearest collection place is located.
Recycling the Oil
After the collection, the oil is transported to plants, where it’s transformed into useable biodiesel. In these plants, the glycerin is separated from the oil, leaving us with two different products: biodiesel and glycerin, which can be used to produce soap, for example. Each plant has a different production capacity. Recently, Christof Industries worked on upgrading a biodiesel plant in the Netherlands. The plant used to produce 66,000 tonnes of biodiesel every year. Now, with the help of our global teams, they increased the production capacity by 142%, and are able to transform old oil into 160,000 tonnes of biodiesel annually. After production, suppliers distribute the biodiesel goes to different fueling stations.
Biodiesel, when produced from waste, is a great source of energy. And the best part of it is that everybody can contribute. We can easily help by collecting cooking oil so that biodiesel plants have access to it and transform the waste into value. This way, we can produce an alternative clean source of fuel while protecting the environment.