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  what is biodiesel  

Biofuels News


Biodiesel Fuel facts

What is biodiesel?

Biodiesel is the name of a clean burning alternative fuel, produced from domestic, renewable resources. Biodiesel contains no petroleum, but it can be blended at any level with petroleum diesel to create a biodiesel blend. It can be used in compression-ignition (diesel) engines with little or no modifications. Biodiesel is simple to use, biodegradable, nontoxic, and essentially free of sulfur and aromatics.

How is biodiesel made?

Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification whereby the glycerin is separated from the fat or vegetable oil. The process leaves behind two products -- methyl esters (the chemical name for biodiesel) and glycerin (a valuable byproduct usually sold to be used in soaps and other products).

What is biomass?

Biomass is generally made up of woody plant residue and complex starches. The largest percentage of biomass used to create energy is wood, but other bioproducts, such as fast-growing switchgrass, are being investigated as sources of energy. The three largest sources of biomass used for fuel are cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Biomass processing results in the end-products biochemicals, biofuels, and biopower, all of which can be used as fuel sources. Biochemicals involve converting biomass into chemicals to produce electricity; biofuels are biomass converted into liquids for transportation; and biopower is made by either burning biomass directly (as with a wood-burning stove) or converting it into a gaseous fuel to generate electric power. Currently, production of electricity from biomass constitutes 3.3 percent of the United States' energy supply.

What is ethanol?

Ethanol, also called grain alcohol or ethyl alcohol, can be made from any starch- or sugar-based feedstock. Corn is the most common feedstock used in the United States, whereas sugar cane is the preferred feedstock in Latin America. The energy content of ethanol is approximately two-thirds that of gasoline by volume. For that reason, and because of its higher cost, ethanol is typically used as a gasoline additive.

How is ethanol produced?

There are two different methods for producing ethanol, both based on breaking down plant matter into simple sugars and starches and then fermenting them to produce alcohol. Ethanol is primarily made through a distilled ethanol process whereby the sugars and starches from the feedstock are boiled and concentrated into grain alcohol (basically "moonshine," although ethanol is denatured to prevent the fuel from being consumed). The process can also use microbe fermentation (with a byproduct of CO2) or a wet-milling procedure that also yields high-fructose corn sweetener. The fermentation process can easily break down simple sugars in the fruits or edible portions of plants; examples of commonly-used feedstocks include corn kernels, sugar cane, milo, cheese whey, and potato waste. New technologies are emerging that can break down the more complex sugars that compose other parts of plants, such as the fibrous stalks, husks, grasses, and wood. Converting these sources of cellulosic and hemicellulosic biomass into ethanol opens up a new avenue for fuel supplies, since this waste biomass is readily available and renewable in large quantities. What are essentially agricultural wastes will soon commonly be converted into a usable energy source.


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