Facts

What is biodiesel?

Biodiesel is a clean-burning, biodegradable, and renewable fuel made from animal fats, recycled cooking oils, restaurant grease and other oils. Biodiesel is typically combined with conventional petroleum diesel at various levels such as B2, B5, B20, and B50 but can also be used alone in dedicated form (B100). A B2 blend would be 2% biodiesel and 98% petroleum diesel fuel.

How is biodiesel made?

Biodiesel is made by combining renewable materials such as animal fats and oils with an alcohol, such as methanol or ethanol, and a catalyst, such as sodium hydroxide, in a process called transesterification. This process creates two products -- methyl esters (the chemical name for biodiesel) and glycerin (a valuable by-product often used in soaps and other household products).

Are all biodiesels the same?

Different fats and vegetable oils as well as their blends produce somewhat different biodiesel fuels but they are all required to meet the same biodiesel fuel standards. For more on these standards please see Quality.

Who uses biodiesel?

Biodiesel is used all across Canada. Toronto Electrical Services, Guelph Transit and other government and private sector fleets have driven millions of kilometers on this fuel through all seasons with a variety of diesel engine vehicles.

What is the shelf life of biodiesel?

As with most fuel, biodiesel is not recommended to be stored for longer than six months. If the biodiesel is not used before this time it should be reanalyzed to ensure that the fuel meets ASTM specifications. Longer storage periods are possible depending on the composition of the fuel and storage-enhancing additives.


Environmental

Can biodiesel help fight global warming?

Absolutely! When biodiesel displaces petroleum, it reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO2). Substituting biodiesel for petroleum diesel can reduce life-cycle carbon emissions (LCEs) by 78 per cent or more, depending on the feedstock used. Tallow based biodiesel has been shown to reduce LFEs by 99%.

Does biodiesel hold less of a health risk then petroleum diesel?

Compared with petroleum diesel fuel, biodiesel emissions have decreased levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and nitrated PAH compounds that have been identified as potential cancer causing compounds. Test results indicate PAH compounds are reduced by 75 to 85 per cent with biodiesel use, with the exception of benzo(a)anathacene, which was reduced by roughly 50 per cent. Targeted nPAH compounds are also substantially reduced with biodiesel fuel, with 2-nitrofluorene and 1-nitropynene reduced by 90 per cent, and the rest of the nPAH compounds reduced to only trace levels.

Does biodiesel take more energy then it gives back?

Taking into account planting, harvesting, the fuel’s production and transportation to the consumer biodiesel still has one of the highest “energy balance” of any liquid fuel. For every unit of fossil energy it takes to make biodiesel, 4.5 units of energy are gained.

What is biodiesel’s biodegradability?

Biodiesel degrades about four times faster than petroleum diesel. Within 28 days, pure biodiesel degrades 85 to 88 % in water.

Performance

Can I use biodiesel in colder climates?

Yes. Although cold weather operability is a concern, biodiesel can be safely used in blends of B2 to B5 without any modification to your vehicle. We have been running our Montreal fleet on B5 through the cold Montréal winters since 2001.

Can biodiesel be blended with petroleum?

Yes. Biodiesel has the ability to be on its own (B100) as well as blended with petroleum in any percentage (B2 – B99). B20 is made up of a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent diesel.

Can I use biodiesel in my existing diesel engine?

Biodiesel can be used in any diesel engine with little or no modification. All diesel vehicles built for low-sulfur diesel fuels use biodiesel-compatable materials such as teflon, viton and nylon. When using a B20 blend biodiesel will provide similar horsepower, torque and mileage to 100% diesel run engine.

Will using biodiesel void my warranty?

The use of B20 will not void the engine warranty of any major U.S. diesel engine manufacturer unless the biodiesel is the cause of the equipment malfunction. Engine and vehicle manufacturers provide a material and workmanship warranty on their products. Original engine manufacturers (OEMs) will not and cannot void warranties based solely on the use of biodiesel. If an engine that uses biodiesel experiences a failure unrelated to biodiesel use, it should be covered by the OEM’s warranty. In cases where biodiesel is responsible for an equipment malfunction, the fuel most likely does not meet specification and the fuel supplier will be accountable.

How does biodiesel compare in price to other alternative fuels?

The true cost of a fuel must include factors beyond the price of the fuel itself. Biodiesel can be used in today’s engines, and use today’s fuelling and maintenance infrastructure while ensuring long equipment life. As such, biodiesel has become regarded as the lowest cost option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

What is biodiesel’s flash point?

A fuel’s flash point is defined as the lowest temperature at which the vapor above a combustible liquid can ignite in air. Biodiesel’s flash point is over 200º Fahrenheit, which is above the flash point of petroleum based diesel which is around 125º Fahrenheit. Tests have shown that the flash point of biodiesel blends increase as the percentage of biodiesel increases. Therefore, biodiesel and blends of biodiesel with petroleum diesel are safer to store, handle, and use than conventional diesel fuel.

Are there any precautions that I should be aware of?

Biodiesel is an excellent solvent. During initial use of high blends, dirt that has collected in the fuel tanks, fuel lines, and pumps can be dislodged and clog the fuel filter. For this reason, biodiesel use should start at low blends then move into higher blends.

Sources:

Canadian Renewable Fuels Association. "Biodiesel FAQ" March 10, 2010.

Canadian Renewable Fuels Association. "Biodiesel Fact Sheet" March 10, 2010.

National Biodiesel Board. "FAQ" March 10, 2010.

National Biodiesel Board. "Biodiesel Basics" March 10, 2010.

National Biodiesel Board. "Fuel Fact Sheets" March 10, 2010.