It’s fair to say that the automotive world has continually made strides towards being more environmentally friendly. Not only are modern engines more efficient than they used to be, there’s also been significant progress in what goes into those engines. We’re seeing more and more alternative fuels, and biofuels like biodiesel are one of those.
Biodiesel is an alternative to fossil fuel, and it is typically made from vegetable oils, like soybean and canola, or animal tallow or fat. It’s usually blended with regular petroleum diesel at different concentrations. So even the regular diesel that you get at the pump likely has 5% biodiesel mixed in. In Australia, biodiesel is widely available.
In the following sections, we’re going to see what biodiesel is all about. First, we’ll explore what biodiesel is, followed by its pros and cons and whether or not you can use it in your vehicle without modifying the engine.
Let’s get started!
What Is Biodiesel? What Is It Made of?
There are generally two types of biofuels available in the world today: ethanol and biodiesel. Biodiesel is an alternative to regular diesel fuel. It is a blend of diesel fuel mixed with modified vegetable oils, mainly soybean oil, one of the most common and most affordable options.
Aside from soybean oil, biodiesel can also be made with canola, algae, used cooking oil, and even animal tallow.
You'll rarely find biodiesel used in its pure form. Instead, biodiesel is blended with diesel fuel at a rate of 5% to 20% of the mixture.
Here’s a curious fact:
Even regular diesel sold at petrol stations is often already blended with a small percentage of biodiesel. In other words, there’s probably a little bit of biodiesel running through your engine right now, even if you don’t realise it.
Can You Use Biodiesel for All Diesel Engines?
Generally, yes, you can use biodiesel for all diesel engines. As mentioned above, there’s probably biodiesel running through your engine right now, even if only at small concentrations. B5 diesel, consisting of 5% biodiesel and 95% petroleum diesel, is the most common blend used in most fleet vehicles worldwide.
Another standard blend is B20 which consists of anywhere between 6% and 20% biodiesel mixed with regular diesel. Biodiesels at B20 and below can be used in all diesel engines without need for any modifications.
However, in case you plan on using anything with a higher biodiesel concentration, you’ll need to check your engine’s specs and warranty to know what it can or can’t handle as far as biodiesel fuel is concerned.
How Do I Know It's Safe to Use Biodiesel for My Car?
If your car is designed to run on regular diesel fuel, it's safe to fill the tank with biodiesel. As mentioned earlier, the typical diesel you use day-to-day probably already has around 5% of biodiesel in it.
Moreover, light-, medium-, and even heavy-duty diesel vehicles can accommodate fuels with up to 20% biodiesel as-is without making any changes to the engine.
Only when the fuel has biodiesel concentrations of above 20% do you need to start doing your homework to see if your engine can take it. Of course, be sure to read the engine warranty and follow what it says. Manufacturers know what their engines can or can’t do.
Needless to say, you cannot use biodiesel of any concentration in a car with a petrol engine. This is because biodiesel works only for vehicles with compression-ignition engines, i.e. diesel engines.
Biodiesel Vs Diesel
At first glance, you can already guess that biodiesel is friendlier to the environment than fossil-derived diesel. But are there other qualities that make biodiesel superior to regular diesel?
Well, there are, and here are the most glaring:
- Safer: Biodiesel is free from hydrocarbons and sulphur. Remember: it's made from vegetable oils, the same type of oils we use to cook our food. So, it's non-toxic and also biodegradable.
- More affordable: Biodiesel is made from vegetable oils and not fossil fuels. Plus, it’s also much easier to process. Combine those two, and you get a much cheaper fuel overall.
- Harmless to the engine: You can switch to biodiesel fuel right now, and your engine won’t skip a beat. Not only is biodiesel compatible straight away, but it’ll also help lubricate your engine parts as well.
- Better for the environment: The emissions resulting from biodiesel combustion are a lot less harmful than what regular diesels emit.
To paint you a complete picture, it’s also important to know that biodiesel has its fair share of drawbacks. For instance:
- Has stricter storage requirements: Biodiesel is primarily made from vegetable oils and not fossil fuels. So, it must be stored at an ideal temperature. If temperature is too high, the biodiesel could grow mould. Too low, and it could become too thick to pump into your diesel tank. The same could also happen inside the vehicle’s fuel tank when driving in cold conditions.
- Higher lubricity: The higher lubricity that comes with switching over to biodiesel is excellent for preventing wear and tear. Unfortunately, it also causes deposits to form inside the fuel system, leading to clogs in the fuel filters.
- Food security issues: From a big-picture perspective, biodiesel can also lead to food security issues. Directing an increased volume of soya and canola towards biofuel production means reducing the availability of those crops for human consumption.
Simply put, the biodiesel you need for your fuel tank and the cooking oil you fry your food with compete for the same raw materials.
Is Biodiesel Sold In Australia?
Yes, you can most certainly get your hands on biodiesel in Australia. What’s reassuring is that Aussie biodiesel is regulated under the Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000.
As mentioned earlier, biodiesel can be made from various natural oils like soybean and canola oil. Australian biodiesel begs to be different, however, because it is produced using locally-produced tallow, which is rendered animal fat mostly coming from beef or mutton.
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By Ray Hasbollah