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Biodiesel: A brief glance.

Alejandra Mariel Reyes Salazar

Biodiesel is an ecological fuel made from natural compounds. Biodiesel is typically made by chemically
reacting lipids with an alcohol. The raw materials are vegetable oil, animal fat or waste cooking oil. The most
common vegetable oils are: soybean, peanut, coconut, sunflower
sunflower, canola, corn (maize) and castor.

Producing diesel using natural compounds is not a recent discovery. In 1903,, Rudolf Diesel used peanut oil
as fuel on the first diesel engine.

Making biodiesel.. Tranesterification

Every vegetable-oil
oil molecule is composed of three fatty acid chains attached to a molecule of glycerin. This
is why they are described technically as triglyceride, or three fatty acid chains and glycerine.

Transesterification involves breaking every triglyceride molecule into three fatty acid chains and free
glycerin molecule. During the process, alcohol is added, and each of the fatty acid chains attaches to one of
the new alcohol molecules, creating three mono
alkyl esters. Once separated from the glycerin, the alkyl
ester chains
hains then become what we called biodiesel.

Tranesterification reaction

The alcohol used in the process can be either ethanol or methanol. Methanol is usually preferred because
it iss cheaper and tends to produce a more predictable reaction. On the downside, methanol dissolves
rubber, can be fatal if swallowed,
wed, and must be handled with extreme caution. Ethanol, on the other hand, is
generally more expensive
nsive and may not always produce a consistent, stable reaction. On the upside, ethanol
is less toxic and is made from a renewable resource.

The catalyst is the substance that initiates the reaction between the vegetable oil and the alcohol. It cracks
the triglycerides and releases the alkyl esters. There are two main catalysts that can be used, sodium
hydroxide (NaOH) and potassium hydroxide (KOH). Sometimes a third catalyst, sulfuric acid, is used by
commercial biodiesel producers as a pretreatment for w waste
aste cooking oils to prevent excessive soap


Biodiesel is biodegradable. Its toxicity is lower than table salt. It has 5% le
ss specific energy than gasoil, but it
makes up because it has a greater cetane rating (55), and therefore, the energetic performance of both fuels
are essentially the same. Besides, itt prolongs the lifespan of the engines, because biodiesel lubricates better
than gasoil.

Biodiesel supposes a reduction between 25 – 80% of the CO2 emissions produced by petroleum-based
fuels, becoming an important element to reduce greenhouse gases; besides, it does not have sulfur
compounds. It may combine with other fuels making a stable mixture. It could be used as an additive in
gasoline motors. In order to use se biodiesel, it is not necessary to make changes in the engine.

Biodiesel: A brief glance.

The production of biodiesel is an alternative for the ground use, because it will avoid erosion and


Due the fact that biodiesel has a great solvent capability, it may dissolve waste material in the fuel lines and
block the filters; so it is convenient to use it in new vehicles or in good state, and change frequently the

In the logistics area, there are some problems storing the biofuel – being a hydrophobic product and
degradable, it cannot last a long period of time. The average chemical yield for oilseeds – sunflower, peanut,
rice, cotton, soybean or castor – gets on 900 liters of biodiesel per hectare; this may be inconvenient for
countries with little cultivable surface.

Unfortunately, producing biodiesel has become a very profitable alternative because maybe in the future
it could substitute gasoil; causing a great exploitation of oilseeds cultivations. As biofuels can be obtained
from essential products, this could cause shortages and then an uncontrollable escalation of its price,
affecting greatly developing countries.

Comparative chart of some properties between gasoil (mineral diesel) and biodiesel

Cetane Ignition Maximum Ignition Cloud Flash point Biodegradability
rating point (°C) % sulfur point (°C) point (°F) (°F) (%)
Biodiesel 55 65 0.04 65 8 266 38
Gasoil 42 52 0.05 52 6 147 26

A glimpse to the future. Conclusions

Nowadays, biodiesel is used in many countries in the whole world; for example in Germany, Austria and
other Central Europe countries are using pure biodiesel. France uses mixtures of biodiesel in low percentage
(5%). U.S.A. is selling biodiesel mixtures. There is a great interest in Japan to produce and use this product.
The biggest producers of biodiesel in Latin America are Brasil, Argentina and Ecuador.

Biodiesel is seen not as potentially replacing conventional diesel fuel, but as extending its usefulness in
targeted applications. There is a growing interest, for example, in using biodiesel in situations where
workers may be exposed to diesel exhaust for extended periods. One of biodiesel’s most promising future
roles could be as a fuel additive. Biodiesel is also being considered as a replacement for some petroleum-
based lubricants.

BRUICE, Paula. Organic Chemistry. 5 edition. Pearson Prentice Hall, United States, 2007.

ESPINOZA, Fernando. Estudio y aplicación del biodiesel. Ingenius. [Online] May 2007 [Quoted in March 15,
2010]. Available in Universidad Politécnica Salesiana (Ecuador)
PAHL, Greg. Biodiesel: Growing a new energy economy. 2 edition. Chelsea Green Publishing Company,
United States, 2008.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY. Just the basics: Biodiesel. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
[Online] August 2003 [Quoted in March 14, 2010] Available in U.S. Department of Energy.