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Biodiesel: A fuel for future

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Rajeew Kumar

G.B.Pant University of Agriculture & Technology, Pantnagar-Uttrakhand


It is interesting to know that when Rudolf Diesel (Inventor of diesel engine) showcased his engine at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900, he used peanut oil for the demonstration means the first diesel engine was based on biodiesel.  Biodiesel is a generic name for fuels obtained by transesterification of a vegetable oil along with ethanol, compressed natural gas, and methanol.  Vegetable is a much more dense substance than diesel but biodiesel is very similar to diesel fuel. Biodiesel benefits from a viscosity that is twice that of diesel fuel and a molecular weight is roughly 1/3 of vegetable oil. Most Diesel engines were designed to use highly lubricating, high sulfur content fuel. Recent environmental legislature has forced diesel fuel to contain only a minimum amount of sulfur for lubricating purposes. Thus, the high viscosity of biodiesel makes it a perfect fuel of choice for diesel engines. Biodiesel produces a fuel with very similar combustion properties to pure diesel, but with lower viscosity.   Biodiesel is now recognized as one alternative to petroleum-based diesel in different part of world because it is renewable and has significantly lower greenhouse emissions - effectively zero, if renewable energy is used in its production. It has a number of additional advantages including creation of rural employment and development, improved air quality, and decreased reliance on external sources of oil.

Biodiesel around the world

Biodiesel is currently commercially produced in Germany, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, Malaysia and the United States, and is most advanced in the United States and Europe, which currently produce 2 billion and 1 billion litres of biodiesel per year respectively. Pure biodiesel is now widely available in Germany, Italy and Austria. In Germany there are over 1000 outlets where biodiesel is cheaper than standard diesel. France, currently the largest user of biodiesel in the world, has a minimum mix of 5% in all diesel sold with B50 (50 % diesel and 50 % vegetable oil) becoming more common and popular. In the US, an average net income increases for farmers of $300 million per year due to the production of biodiesel. In Indian condition, no any organized structure were established for the production of biodiesel, however India ranked second position in the production of oilseed in the world, having great potentiality to produce biodiesel. Author noticed that the farmers of some region of U.P, used the rapeseed oil for operating their diesel engine, so the farmers of India are taking an initiative to use biodiesel.

Global Significance: Both oil depletion and global warming will have significant local, regional and global impacts. Biodiesel is one means amongst many by which these impacts can be reduced. Bio-diesel degrades at the same rate as sugar. Within 28 days, pure bio-diesel degrades 85 to 88 percent in water. Blending bio-diesel with diesel also accelerates its biodegradability. A blend of 20% bio-diesel and 80 % diesel degrades twice as fast as diesel alone. It is the low toxicity, degradability and safety of bio-diesel that make it a safe fuel to use in environmentally sensitive areas.  Bio-diesel is also extremely safe to store. It has a flash point of over 300 degrees Fahrenheit whereas petro diesel has a flash point of around 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Storage and handling requirements are virtually the same as for diesel storage, except that copper, brass, lead, tin and zinc storage containers should be avoided. The best part of all this, is that bio-diesel can be used in any diesel engine at any ratio, with little or no engine modification necessary. However, as with all good things, bio-diesel has a downside. Bio-diesel has solvent like properties, which may release accumulated deposits on fuel tank walls, and fuel pipes. Initially there may be some inconvenience as fuel filters become clogged. Once the deposits have been removed, there will be no further problems.

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Please note that this is the opinion of the author and is Not Certified by ICAR or any of its authorised agents.