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A Brief History of Biodiesel

The history of biodiesel starts in the mid 1800's. In those days the process of transesterfication (what we do to make biodiesel) was used to separate glycerine from oil. Glycerine is a useful product being widely used in the cosmetic, food and explosives industries.

Rudolf DieselWhen Rudolf Diesel demonstrated his diesel engine at the Paris Show in 1900, he ran it on straight peanut oil - not biodiesel.

By the early 1900's petroleum fuels were plentiful and cheap. Increasingly more sophisticated fuel injection systems were designed to run these fossil fuel derived oils. Over the years this has meant that vehicles have evolved to run thinner fossil diesels rather than thicker vegetable oils.

Until the oil crisis of the 1970's it was not economically viable to run an engine on anything but fossil diesel. Once the price of crude oil increased though, there was an incentive for research on alternative fuels. It was already pretty much accepted that unmodified vegetable oil was not suitable for modern injection systems. The transesterfication process was pretty much old science and was used to reduce the viscosity of the oil, producing biodiesel (biodiesel technically is termed a Fatty Acid Methyl Ester).

In 1983 in Austria, Dr. Mittelbach developed a commercial process to turn old cooking oil into biodiesel. Dr. Thomas Reed is credited as being the first person in the US to turn old cooking oil into biodiesel on a small scale in 1989.


An important point here is that a diesel engine runs perfectly on biodiesel however some parts of fuel injection systems can have compatibility issues.


In the 2000's when crude prices started rising again and with a new world awareness on pollution and global warming, bio fuels again become popular. Government subsidy of bio fuel industries became common, especially in the first world. This has given industry the economic security needed to invest in bio fuels.

It is interesting to note that the history of biodiesel has shown that countries who have government support and subsidy for their bio fuels industry have large scale commercial production (the US, EU) while countries who do not have such subsidies do not.



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