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March 17, 2018  |  Login
Using Biodiesel to Power Vehicles and Homes

By Dan Chiras


Diesel hybids offers great promise as a solution to power cars and homes. Although diesel is derived from crude oil (petroleum), a diesel-like fuel can also be manufactured from an assortment of vegetable oils, for example, corn oil, canola oil, and soy oil. The diesel-like product, known as biodiesel, is a combustible, clean-burning, and renewable fuel. It could eventually power many of the nation's trucks, cars, busses, vans, ships, and trains, perhaps even jets. Biodiesel could also be used in diesel hybrid vehicles, assuming they make it to the market.

Because diesel hybrids are so efficient, and because they could burn biodiesel, they represent one of the best choices for personal transportation in an oil-short world.

How is Biodiesel Made?

Biodiesel is made by mixing vegetable oil with a solution of methanol containing sodium hydroxide (lye).The oil is usually heated. The methanol-lye mixture is then added to the vegetable oil. This solution is heated some more, then stirred for a period of time, usually about an hour. When the chemical reaction is complete, out comes biodiesel - long-chain fatty acids that burn very nicely in diesel engines. The only waste product is glycerol, a dark, thin, oily substance that can be purified and added to soap. (For those who want to know more about biodiesel production, see below.)

Biodiesel can be burned directly in virtually all diesel engines without any modification of the engine or problems. The only exception is older diesel engines. (For advice on older diesel engines click here.)

Biodiesel can be burned full strength or can be mixed with ordinary petroleum-derived diesel, a biodiesel blend.

The Chemistry of Biodiesel Production

Biodiesel is made by first mixing methanol (methyl alcohol), derived from natural gas, with sodium hydroxide or lye. The result is a chemical called sodium methoxide. It is then reacted with vegetable oil consisting of triglycerides. Triglycerides consist of a single molecule of glycerol chemically bonded to three fairly long-chain fatty acids. The chemical reaction between sodium hydroxide and

triglycerides in vegetable oil slices off the long-chain fatty acids. The fatty acids are bonded with the methanol, creating biodiesel (with glycerol as a by-product). Both methanol and lye must be handled very carefully. Skin and eyes should be covered and workers should be careful not to breathe the fumes from any open reactions.




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