What is Biodiesel?

Biodiesel refers to a non petroleum-based diesel fuel that consists of short chain methyl or ethyl esters, made by Transesterfication of vegetable oil or animal fat (tallow). Biodiesel can be used in unmodified diesel-engine vehicles on its own or blended with conventional diesel. Biodiesel is different from the straight vegetable oil (SVO) – sometimes referred to as “waste vegetable oil (WVO)”, “used vegetable oil (UVO)”, “pure plant oil (PPO)” – of which usage requires conversion of the diesel engine.

The term biofuel – as opposed to fossil fuel – applies to any solid, liquid or gaseous fuel produced from plants or animal-derived products grown today, rather than those that have fossilized ages ago. Biodiesel is one type of biofuel used in diesel engines, produced from vegetable oils such as oilseed, rapeseed and soya bean, or from animal fats and even from algae. These natural oils consist of triglycerides, which reacts with alcohols in the presence of catalyst and produce fatty acid esters. These resulting esters show strikingly similar properties to petroleum-derived diesel, thus called biodiesel.

Why Biodiesel?
Biodiesel’s leading edge over other forms of renewable energy is its compatibility with existing diesel engines, even without modification. Biodiesel might just be the answer to the following issues.

I. Energy Independence
Ever increasing oil price has a disproportionate impact on the world’s poorest nations, 38 of which are net oil importers – with 25 countries relying solely on imported oil. Achieving energy independence through locally cultivated biofuels has become a driving force for many biofuel programmes being launched on daily basis in various parts of the developing world.

II. Closing the Gap of Trade Deficit
Biofuel is the answer when we want to use our own living renewable resources to power our own development and economic growth rather than depleting ancient reserves of other countries and building up national debt. Instead of looking to the Middle East for oil, the world could look to the tropics for biofuels. Biofuel production can save foreign exchange reserve by reducing energy expenditures, thus allowing developing countries to dedicate more resources into healthcare, education and looking after the needs of the citizens.

III.Economic Growth
Two-third of the people in the developing world make a living from agriculture. However, large number of poor local farmers are disadvantaged by price distortions due to subsidized food programmes. Planting appropriate biofuel crops can change the situation. At the community level, farmers that produce dedicated energy crops can grow their incomes and grow their own supply of affordable and reliable energy. At the national level, producing more biofuels will generate new industries, new technologies, new jobs and new markets.

Furthermore, several indigenous biodiesel species such as Pongamia are grown on wastelands, therefore it does not compete with food crops for the use of arable land.

IV.Cleaner Air, Healthier People
Biodiesel fuel burns up to 75% cleaner than diesel fuel made from fossil fuels. Bio diesel substantially reduces unburnt hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulate matter in exhaust fumes, thus reducing eye irritation and respiratory problems associated with fossil fuel exhaust. Sulphur dioxide emissions are 100% eliminated, as biodiesel contains no sulphur.

Biodiesel was also the first renewable fuel to successfully complete the EPA-required Health Effects testing under the Clean Air Act. Mutagenesis studies show that biodiesel dramatically reduces potential risks of cancer and birth defects.

V. Mitigation of Global Warming:
The carbon dioxide released during combustion of biodiesel is one that had been captured by the plant from the atmosphere during its lifetime, therefore there is no additional carbon emission from biodiesel. In contrast, the fossil fuels are adding a huge amount of stored carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere, where it traps heat within the Earth’s atmosphere like a heavy blanket and causes the world to warm up. Studies show that replacing petroleum-based diesel with biodiesel significantly reduces CO2.