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What is biodiesel? It is a fuel which is manufactured from vegetable oils or animal fats that can be used in diesel engines. It is a modified oil, some people use straight vegetable oil in their vehicles and it is important to realize that this is not biodiesel. A diesel engine by design is a multi-fuel engine. It will burn just about any oil. However, the fuel injection system on a modern diesel engine has evolved over the years to use petroleum diesel.
This means that in order to burn a vegetable oil in a diesel engine, we need to change the oil so that it has similar properties to those of petroleum diesel. This is done via the biodiesel process.
The reason vegetable oils or fats are not suitable for burning in a diesel engine is their 'thickness' or viscosity is too high. In effect what we are doing in the biodiesel process is 'thinning' out the oil.
The chemicals that are used in the biodiesel process are methanol and caustic soda. Both of these chemicals are readily available. It is a matter of combining the oil methanol and caustic soda together in the correct proportion to produce biodiesel.
Typical sources of oil for biodiesel are soybean, canola, sunflower, Jatropha, rapeseed and used cooking oils. Biodiesel's biggest benefit for the environment comes from recycling old cooking oil. This turns a waste product which is polluting and harmful, to a fuel which saves the environment.
Biodiesel may be used as fuel for any diesel engine, usually without modification. Although it is mostly suited for use as a fuel for diesel engines, it has also been used in aircraft, train engines, generators and home-heating systems. It also makes a great paint brush cleaner, paint remover and light lubricant.
One of the biggest advantages of biodiesel is that it is renewable. Unlike fossil fuels, which will one day run out, biodiesel can be manufactured year after year from renewable crops. In a world in which our lifestyle depends on cheap and plentiful energy, biofuels will take on an increasingly important role in reducing dependence on crude oil.