TREND - Forever renewable

The development of renewable energy sources is of great importance for securing present and future energy supplies, decreasing oil dependence and environmental impact and strengthening rural economies. Biodiesel is a renewable fuel that is rapidly gaining ground.

DATE 2023-11-28 AUTHOR Birgitta Lundblad

There is strong public and political support for alternative fuels. An EU directive states that before the end of 2010, 5.75% of the fuel should come from renewable sources. In the USA, a minimum of 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuels is to be sold by 2012. In the last few years biofuels has shown tremendous growth and, last year alone, biodiesel production in Europe grew by 65%.

Biodiesel is a renewable fuel derived from vegetable oils or animal fats. It is a low-emission, environmentally-friendly alternative to petroleum diesel. Biodiesel can be blended at any level with petroleum diesel to create a biodiesel blend. It can even be used in its pure form in modern diesel engines.

With agricultural commodity prices approaching record lows and petroleum prices approaching record highs, it is clear that more can be done to utilize domestic surpluses of vegetable oils while, for example, enhancing energy security. Increased utilization of renewable fuels such as biodiesel results in significant microeconomic benefits for both the urban and rural sectors, and the balance of trade.

Strong incentives

“There is an increased demand for methods and techniques which enable the use of renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuels”, says Thomas Zachrisson, Head of Alfa Laval’s Life Science & HSS (High Speed Separators) segment. “Biodiesel is becoming an increasingly important energy source. Factors such as environmental concerns, employment in rural areas, energy independence, political incentives and legal enforcements are important driving forces in this industry.” Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification where fat or oil reacts with alcohol to create FAME (fatty acid methyl ester), the chemical name for biodiesel and glycerol. The glycerol is a valuable by-product used in many industries such as food, pharmaceutical and chemical.

Biodiesel can be used in existing engines and fuel injection equipment with little impact on operating performance. It works in any diesel engine with few or no modifications to the engine or the fuel system. It should be noted, however, that biodiesel has a solvent effect that may release deposits accumulated on tank walls and pipes from previous diesel usage. The release of deposits may end up in fuel filters initially, so fuel filters should be checked more frequently at first.

Reduced emissions and high energy balance

Biodiesel has large environmental benefits. Independent tests have demonstrated biodiesel’s significant reduction of virtually all regulated emissions, and showed that biodiesel does not pose a threat to human health. Biodiesel contains no sulphur or aromatics, and use of biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine results in substantial reduction of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulate matters. A US Department of Energy study showed that the production and use of biodiesel, compared to petroleum diesel, resulted in a 78.5% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. In addition, the exhaust emissions of sulphur oxides and sulphates from biodiesel are essentially eliminated compared to petroleum diesel.

Biodiesel also has the highest energy balance of any transportation fuel. For every unit of fossil energy it takes to make biodiesel, 3.2 units of energy are gained. This takes into account the planting, harvesting, fuel production and fuel transportation to the end user.

"Biodiesel is a focused area for Alfa Laval. With our equipment accounting for almost half of the vegetable oil processing equipment in operation today and a large range of products designed particularly for biodiesel, we have already gained a strong foothold in this industry. We will continue to develop new and better systems and equipment to set future industry standard," concludes Thomas Zachrisson.

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