Written by Brooks Schmitt
|Thursday, 02 September 2010|
What is Biodiesel? Biodiesel is slightly refined vegetable oil, generally mixed to varying degrees with petrodiesel. This vegetable oil can be found at any fast food joint, and the exhaust coming from the car ends up smelling like whatever was fried in the grease used to power the engine. In an ironic twist, vegans and vegetarians around the country drive around in biodiesel vehicles, leaving behind a lingering aroma of fried chicken. Biodiesel supports U.S. agriculture, cuts a vehicle’s emissions by 50-75%, and helps to wean us from our dependence on foreign oil.1
Diesel Motors: Diesel vehicles not only get great mileage, but also have the longest lasting engines on the road, commonly running for more than 400,000 miles. Whether you’re driving a Ford, GMC, Chevy truck, or a Mercedes or Volvo station wagon, all diesel vehicles can be converted fairly simply to Biodiesel. For pre-1985 vehicles, you should swap out your fuel filter, and change your fuel lines to a newer fluorinated plastic to prevent swelling in the lines. All rubber seals in the fuel system should be replaced. Eventually, you will notice your vehicle losing power every 1500-2000 thousand miles, which will indicate that it is time to swap out your fuel filter.2
Biodiesel Quality: Biodiesel is formed from a reaction between vegetable oil and an alcohol (such as methanol) at a minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. By mixing the oil with methoxide, the residual fatty acids from the frying process are isolated in the form of glycerin, and settle into the bottom of the tank. Once this is drained, what is left behind is biodiesel.3 A poor quality batch of biodiesel does not remove enough of these amino acids and can wear down your engine. There are a number of ways to test the quality of your biodiesel. The simplest is to put your biodiesel in a glass bottle with a cup of water. Within a half hour the fuel should separate from the water; if it doesn’t, and forms a thick, mayonnaise like fluid, you should not use the fuel.
Weather Issues: Biodiesel ceases to flow at about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, which is called the “pour point.” Thus, winter can be a problem. No. 2 diesel can withstand much colder temperatures, so mixing the biofuel with standard petrodiesel can amend thickening issues. There are several other ways to solve this. There are number of anti-gelling additives which can be used to prevent thickening, such as Wintron XC30 and Arctic Express Biodiesel Antigel.4 There are also a number of heating systems which can run off a twelve volt battery, which warms the fuel to an operable temperature. The Journey to Forever lists a number of great heating systems.
Obtaining Biodiesel: More and more biodiesel stations are springing up around the country. The site biodiesel.org lists all the locations where you can find biodiesel. If you are more chemically and mechanically minded, you can attempt to track down your own vegetable oil and make a “homebrew.” The Popular Mechanics Article on how to make Biodiesel is a great step-by-step resource to guide you through this process.
With a little motivation and the right vehicle, we can all do our part to limit our oil consumption. The biodiesel nation is growing every day, and is certainly a big step in the right direction away from the current environmental quagmire that is the American transportation system.
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|Last Updated ( Thursday, 10 February 2011 )|