As you may be aware, alternative fuels have been garnering
a lot of attention lately. There is nothing like record
fuel prices to pique the interest of the average citizen in an alternative
to traditional fuels. One of the fuels you
may have heard some “buzz” about is biodiesel. There is a lot
of interest in biodiesel these days, so we are going
to take a look at its benefits, challenges, and some myths surrounding this
fuel. As with any hot topic, there has
been a fair amount of both information and misinformation generated on the
subject, so we are going to try to
cut through some of the confusion surrounding this topic.
First of all, lets examine the chemical make-up of biodiesel. Biodiesel
is an alternative fuel that is produced
from renewable resources. It is derived from either plant or animal oils
which are processed to produce biodiesel.
Pure biodiesel contains no petroleum, is biodegradable, nontoxic, and is
effectively free of sulfur. It is
created through a chemical reaction called transesterification. Methyl
esters and glycerin are the two products
created from this process. Methyl esters are what we call biodiesel, and
glycerin is a commodity which is used
by the manufacturers personal care products.
There seems to be some confusion as to what exactly constitutes biodiesel.
A common question is if raw vegetable
or animal oil the same as biodiesel. The short answer is no. Biodiesel
has been extensively tested for
health and performance characteristics and is legally registered with
the Environmental Production Agency as
a legal motor fuel. Fuel-grade biodiesel must be produced to stringent
industry standards (ASTM D6751) to
insure proper performance. This cannot be said of raw vegetable oil.
Biodiesel is commonly blended with petroleum diesel. These blends are
labeled as BXX. For example, B2
would be representative of a mixture containing 2% Biodiesel and 98%
petrodiesel. Biodiesel has attained “mainstream” status in a blended formulations ranging from B2 – B20.
In most cases, biodiesel in a B20 or
lower blends, can be used in compression ignition (diesel) engines
with little or no modifications. For years,
Wix as a company has been an industry leader in biodiesel compatibility
research, and this exploration has paid
dividends. We are pleased to report that all of our diesel fuel filters
are approved for use with biodiesel blends
of up to B20.
Once seen as the less refined relative of the gasoline engine, the modern
diesel boasts technology and complexity
that would have been hard to imagine just 10 years ago. These advances,
in part due to tightening EPA
regulations, have created a shifting landscape to which manufacturers
have had to adapt. Now more than ever,
our commitment to innovation is necessary to keep pace with changing
Fuel delivery systems in particular have seen sweeping changes in
pressures and mechanical tolerances.
Combine this with diesel fuel that has been stripped of its lubricating
properties during the removal of sulfur so
that it meets tough new regulations, and you have the potential
for greatly accelerated injector wear and premature
failure. Laboratory studies have shown conclusively that biodiesel
in concentrations as low as B2 can
replace these lost lubricants and negate the potential for accelerated
fuel system wear.
When preparing to convert to a biodiesel blend it is important to be aware
of the fact that biodiesel has a “solvent” quality which will
result in the cleansing of the fuel delivery system. This typically translates
fuel filters more often as the system is rid of accumulated contaminants.
The duration of this process is dependant
upon the overall cleanliness of the fuel system. The amount of hours/miles
the system has been in use,
along with the quality of fuel and the level of preventative maintenance
system has seen, are all contributing
factors. After this initial clean-up, you can expect a return to typical
fuel filter service intervals.
Biodiesel also has different handling characteristics than petrodiesel
It has both a higher cloud and pour point
than petrodiesel, which impacts its usability in cold climates. Considerable
research is being devoted to improving
the cold-weather performance of biodiesel. Additionally, biodiesel has
8% less energy in its pure form
than petroleum diesel. Both of these factors are by in large negated when
it is blended with petrodiesel.
In closing, it is fair to say that biodiesel represents an opportunity
to lessen our dependence on petroleum and
realize environmental benefits at the same time. At Wix, our research
in this evolving technology is ongoing,
and we are excited about our continuing role in its development.