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What is biodiesel?

Biodiesel is a diesel fuel made from vegetable oil used in traditional diesel engines. This distinguishes biodiesel from simple vegetable oils and other waste oils which can only fuel specially modified diesel engines. Biodiesel is the product of a chemical reaction between vegetable oils or animal fats with an alcohol such as ethanol or methanol.

Biodiesel is produced from a very wide variety of sources and its colour can change accordingly. Pure biodiesel has much greater lubricating properties than standard diesel fuels. Evidence suggests it may improve vehicle efficiency and lessen engine wear. Some typical feedstocks used for biodiesel include:
  • Coconut
  • Palm
  • Peanut
  • Rapeseed
  • Soy
  • Sunflower
  • Used cooking oils

How is biodiesel used?

Biodiesel is used to fuel traditional diesel engines. This can be pure biodiesel, commonly known as B100, or created by adding biodiesel as a supplement to traditional diesel fuels. The latter method is very popular globally, with biodiesel being added at a variety of concentrations, most of which are 20% (B20), 5% (B5) and 2% (B2). This method of use is supported by various state and national governments around the globe, through various incentives of legislations requiring renewable additives to be used in transport fuels.

Biodiesel is used to power a wide variety of vehicles, from typical diesel powered cars through to aircraft, trains, trucks and buses. Even Disneyland has joined the biodiesel craze, using biodiesel produced from the waste products of its own kitchens to power Disney trains.

Biodiesel is also used to fuel traditional domestic and commercial heating furnaces, both as a single fuel source and as an additive to traditional heating oils. These mixed blends are often referred to as “bioheat” and are popular in the USA, Canada and across Europe.

Who uses biodiesel?

The largest single global consumer of biodiesel as of 2010 is Germany, followed by the United States and France. China, India and Brazil are significant emerging biodiesel markets, with government incentives recently put in place to encourage the development of these markets.

Where does biodiesel come from?

Germany accounted for roughly 15% of all biofuel production globally in 2010. Brazil accounted for 12% of global production in 2010, making them the second largest single producer, with Argentina a close third on 11%.

Europe is the largest producing region globally, accounting for more than 65% of global production in 2009.
Biodiesel production is set to grow across a wide variety of locations in coming years with government initiatives supporting the industry becoming increasingly popular. China, India and Australia are significant emerging biofuel producers.

Visit our Hydrocarbons and Energy section for more information about fuel sources.
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