Published on April 29th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor
Turning Fat into Fuel: The Production of Biodiesel
Biodiesel can be made from a variety of sources. Oil seed crops are some of the most reliable because they can be grown easily, but another common source is used restaurant oils, comprised mostly of vegetable oil but may also include lard or beef tallow, or other forms of animal fats.
Despite its biological origins, the production of biodiesel needs a few steps to be ready for your vehicle. Raw materials (feedstock) must be refined before it’s suitable for conversion into fuel. These refining steps are fairly basic and environmentally friendly. All debris like twigs, leaves, crumbs and other non-fat particles are filtered out. Then, the feedstock is treated to remove any water that may be present. If the water is left in the batch, it will cause the fat to turn into soap instead of biodiesel when it’s processed. For more information about biodiesel production, see this biodiesel 101 post here. And did you know you can also make biodiesel from algae?
Once all debris and water is removed, the oil is reacted with alcohol to produce biodiesel and glycerol. Excess alcohol will also be present along with a trace of remaining water. All of these unwanted products are separated from the fuel before it’s sold.
Due to the flammable nature of the oil, the reaction components and the resulting fuel, processing facilities are regulated as industrial operations. This means that it can only be mass-produced in industrial areas, despite the existence of numerous manuals on running diesel engines on used cooking oil. It makes sense that municipalities don’t want to have unskilled hobbyists making hundreds of gallons’ worth of explosive fuel in residential neighborhoods.
One issue that is holding up the conversion of truck fleets to biodiesel fuel is a lack of availability. This shortage means that in many cases, the fat-based fuel must be mixed with regular diesel. A ratio of 20 percent biodiesel to 80 percent regular diesel is common.
Trucking companies have been implementing many new practices and technologies in recent years to reduce their carbon footprints. One of these methods is the use of alternative fuels for powering their fleets. There are many alternative fuels, but one of the most promising is biodiesel.
Trucking companies that wish to be even more environmentally friendly should consider fuel management practices to ensure they’ll be able to run their fleets on minimal fuel. One of these methods is the use of EOBRs, or electronic on-board recorders. These devices, along the software that goes with them, allow companies to plan the best routes for their vehicles. They also let dispatchers find trouble spots and detect fuel-wasting practices.
Other fuel-saving practices include making sure that the truck fleet is well maintained. Frequent tune-ups, watching tire inflation and other basic measures can increase fuel efficiency by a surprising amount. Some companies even insist that the trucks be driven at a speed that is lower than the legal maximum in order to make fuel stretch further.
Many fuel saving methods have no downsides, while others will need to be given a proper cost-benefit analysis to ensure that the profits aren’t being destroyed in the pursuit of lower fuel usage. If you’re thinking of converting your fleet to biodiesel, do the math to find which fuel-saving methods are truly effective. That way, you can help the environment without sacrificing the bottom line in the process.
Biofuel cartoon from Mckeown Biofuels.