Click here to learn about Tips on Switching Over AKA “Biodiesel Precautions“.
Aren’t diesels dirty?
It’s not the engine, it’s the fuel. The much-maligned diesel engine is not deserving of its bad rap. The diesel engine is one of the great feats of engineering, and was originally designed to run on vegetable oil as well as petroleum. It wasn’t until later with the growth of the petroleum industry that the use of vegetable oils was largely set aside.
In a way, the diesel engine is a victim of its own superiority. Because the engine is so forgiving, diesel fuel processing was done as cheaply as possible, making for toxic emissions. Now with the popular rediscovery of biofuels, and with its high torque and efficiency, the diesel engine can help us to reduce our CO2 emissions and our dependence on oil.
The fact is that if biodiesel is put in a diesel engine, it will have dramatically reduced greenhouse gasses, carcinogens, toxins, soot, hydrocarbons and sulfur compared to either a gasoline engine or a diesel engine running on petroleum diesel.
What kind of cars can I use biodiesel in?
You can use straight biodiesel in any vehicle with a diesel engine manufactured prior to 2009. Again, there is no conversion necessary to run an older diesel engine on biodiesel. Conversions are only necessary if you use SVO- unprocessed straight vegetable oil. However running more than a 5% to 10% blend of biodiesel (B5 or B10) in new Volkswagen and some other bluetech engines is not recommended. [Please read this linked article from Popular Mechanics April 2009, for a good technical explanation.]
Will using biodiesel void my warranty?
Depending on the manufacturer, running biodiesel in a newer car (post-2009) may void the warranty on your exhaust system, and effect the frequency for standard engine maintenance, such as oil changes. Until biodiesel is more accepted by car manufacturers, they will not all guarantee their exhaust systems for use with it. For example, VW North America is keenly aware of its TDI owners’ predilection for biodiesel and is keeping tabs on how their engines are doing on biodiesel, but right now, they don’t warranty the use of more than 5% biodiesel (B5) with their cars. For the most part this means that if you get a bad batch of biodiesel and it clogs up your injector, or any biodiesel blend of over B20 (20%) fouls your diesel exhaust filtration system, you (and your independent mechanic) are on your own. For more information, the NBB has a comprehensive warranties page.
Do you have to convert a car to run biodiesel?
NO. When you hear about engines being modified, it is only for SVO (straight veggie oil). Biodiesel will run in most any unmodified and unconverted diesel engine manufactured before 2009, be it tractor, generator, boat, or car. Vegetable oil is processed into biodiesel so that it has the physical properties that modern direct-inject turbo powered diesel engines require. If you have a much older car (pre-90’s), you may eventually need to replace some rubber fuel lines because the biodiesel will want to dissolve them, but it’s very inexpensive- $50 or so.
Will it hurt my engine?
No. Biodiesel that meets ASTM spec 6751 is better for your engine than petroleum diesel because it has higher lubricity and runs cleaner. If you have an older car with rubber parts in the fuel lines and gaskets, biodiesel will slowly degrade the rubber over time. Replacing these rubber parts with new synthetic ones is relatively cheap and easy, if you do it as maintenance and not emergency repair.
Bad or out-of-spec biodiesel (just like bad or out-of-spec petro-diesel) can be bad for engines, and can quickly clog an injector or ruin an injector pump. Every time bad biodiesel is sold, it has the potential to give biodiesel a bad name. The grassroots biodiesel movement is concerned with quality assurance for this reason.
How much does it cost to convert to biodiesel?
There is no cost to convert to biodiesel, because you don’t need to convert a diesel engine to run biodiesel in it. SVO (straight veggie oil) conversions range from $700 to a couple thousand dollars.
A B100 wacko friend of ours once wrote this:
“There are many costs associated with converting from diesel to bio. An incomplete list follows-
- It “costs” the petroleum industry when you stop doing business with them…
- I did spend some money upfront as a prudent measure regarding fuel lines on my 84, MB 300D. It “cost” me $8.73.
- It “costs” you extra for the fuel. This I view as my environmental tithe.
- The utilization of biodiesel will “cost” you in time as you become involved with it. Such as the time on the forums reading, posting etc., talking to folks in the parking lot and interacting with others in the biodiesel community.
- It may “cost” you in the long run for plastic surgery to correct the lines in your cheeks caused by smiling as you drive down the road.
- There are environmental “costs” when you use biodiesel. NOx is one issue, the other is that biodiesel spills (such as changing your fuel filter) may eat dings in your asphalt driveway.
- But the biggest “cost” of all is associated with using a fuel that requires dependence on a domestic fuel source, requires you to support American workers and that it makes you use a renewable, clean burning fuel.
Some “costs” we can live with.
Can I legally make biodiesel and sell it to others?
The short answer is “No”, if you are thinking of small-scale neighborhood entrepreneur-ship. In the eyes of the EPA, any time a fuel or fuel additive enters commerce and is used on the road it must be registered with them which requires health effects testing etc…. Licensing and permits are required to “harvest” waste cooking oil feedstock from your local burger joints. And along with that goes things like NBB membership, ASTM testing etc… $$$$, yada,yada yada. The EPA defines entering commerce to include sale, trade, barter, exchange, so you cannot accept anything of value from your friends in exchange for the fuel including a plate of chocolate chip cookies. You can gift it for birthdays and holidays, or out of the goodness of your heart. You can give it a homey name, too, like “Methyl Ester’s Homebrew Bionic Tonic for Diesel Trucks and Farm Equipment“.
Are there biodiesel fuel standards?
Yes. ASTM spec 6751 describes the properties of biodiesel. It is important for sellers to sell certified ASTM spec fuel so that probems from off-spec fuel don’t cause problems with peoples’ cars and give biodiesel a bad name, as has happened from time to time in the past. The NBB has embarked on a certification program in order to protect the consumer from bad fuel.
Is biodiesel or its fumes toxic or dangerous?
Biodiesel has greatly reduced emissions compared with petroleum diesel. Obviously you don’t want to breathe it, but you’d rather have your kids inhaling the occasional whiff of biodiesel than its petroleum counterpart or gasoline.
How long have people been using biodiesel? Are there any long-term studies?
There have been extensive studies done in the U.S. by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Stanadyne Automotive Corp, among others. A study done by NREL and the US Postal Service can be found here:USPS/NREL Study. Hundreds of fleets and thousands of biodiesel enthusiasts have logged millions of miles running biodiesel. Aside from that, biodiesel is the only alternative fuel to have completed the Health Effects testing requirements of the Clean Air Act. Its effects on the environment and car engines are well known.
I’m going on a road trip. How do I find out where biodiesel is being sold?
Check the NBB’s Biodiesel.org Retail Fueling Sites page
Can I use biodiesel in my boat?
Yes- the same storage, temperature and engine issues apply for boats as they do for cars. As biodiesel is non-toxic and biodegrades very quickly in the environment, marinelife willl thank you for using it. The NBB’s Marine Biodiesel page has lots of good info. Biodieselnow has a good Marine Biodiesel forum.
Will biodiesel affect my fuel economy and power?
Your car’s fuel economy and power with biodiesel in the tank may be up to 10% lower than with petro diesel. This is because biodiesel has about 9% less energy content than petroleum diesel. Many people feel no difference, however, because biodiesel has a higher cetane rating which tends to make up for the less energy content.
Does it matter what kind of oil biodiesel is made from?
Yes. Different feedstocks have different cold-weather properties. A good way to think about what the best feedstocks are for you is to think of what feedstocks grow in your climate. Palm oil, for instance is a good feedstock for the tropics, while canola oil is more suitable for Canada. Animal fats are a good summertime feedstock, but are too viscous in winter for most climates. Also, the sustainability of certain feedstocks is something to consider. Large tracts of rainforest are cleared for palm oil. Soy and corn are large scale monoculture crops and are not the most ecologically sound. Not to mention trucking oils from various feedstocks around the country defeats the purpose of using biofuels. Here in California, we need to think about what plants are good for use as local feedstocks. Biodiesel made from local walnut oil has proven to be great and crops such as algae and jatropha have been identified as good potential sources of oil for California.
At present, most major biodiesel producers in California use a blend of mostly recycled and repurposed waste food oils, which, according the California Air Resources Board has the “greenest” carbon footprint of any of the alternatives to petroleum diesel.
Are there subsidies/ tax breaks for biodiesel?
Yes. Currently, those tax breaks and subsidies are biased toward the agricultural (especially soy) and petroleum industries, however. In the past the subsidy was only for biodiesel made from an agricultural product and used as a blend. The California Biodiesel Council has worked hard to counter this bias, and currently, most California-based manufacturers emphasize using waste or repurposed food oils.
I heard the U.S. Military is using biodiesel. Is this true?
The U.S. Navy is the largest consumer of biodiesel in the world. As of June 1, 2005, all U.S. Navy and Marine non-tactical diesel vehicles have been mandated to operate on a blend of 20% biodiesel fuel (B20).
What if everybody starts using biodiesel? Will there be enough? Will it drive up the price of the oil in our food?
As the demand for biodiesel grows, there will be more processing plants coming online to fill those needs. As biodiesel can be made from virtually any vegetable oil and some animal fats, creative solutions, such as using oils from algae, fungus, and jatropha have been identified as potential sources of oil to keep pressure off our food supply.
What about cold weather?
Biodiesel gels at higher temperatures than petrodiesel, which means in cold weather, you have to take precautions. Blending in petroleum diesel, kerosene or de-gelling fuel additives is a common practice in cold weather. See our Biodiesel Precautions page for more details.
Can you store biodiesel?
Yes. You can store biodiesel in HDPE (#2 plastic) containers for up to 6 months. After that it is recommended that stability additives be used to prevent deterioration.
What is the energy balance of biodiesel?
Very Good. It somewhat depends on the feedstock. Using soy, you get about 3 times as much energy as you put in. Other feedstocks, such as rapeseed, canola, and algae have an even higher (better) energy balance than soy. Petroleum diesel has a negative energy balance. It takes more energy to make it than you get out of it.
Should I do SVO or Biodiesel?
There is an ongoing and mostly fun debate between biodieselers and SVO’ers about which method to fuel your diesel engine is better. Obviously, as we’re the LA Biodiesel Coop, we are biased in favor of biodiesel, for the simple fact that it can reach the most people and have the most impact on reducing our use of petroleum. We recommend doing all the research on SVO and Biodiesel you possibly can and making an informed decision for yourself.
What’s the difference between B100, B99 and B20?
B100 is biodiesel. B20 is a blend of 80% petrodiesel with 20% biodiesel. B5 is a 5% biodiesel blend with 95% petroleum diesel. B99 is essentially pure biodiesel, but has 1% petroleum in it to receive a tax break for using it as a blend. The tax break is given to the blender who then (hopefully) passes the savings down to the consumer.
Why can’t I buy by-the-gallon from the Co-op, like I do at the gas stations?
The price savings to the membership comes from the fact that, collectively, we are buying in bulk, and individually, one gets to draw down from one’s stored bulk allotment, similar to drawing down cash from a savings account at a credit union. Thus, members don’t pay “extra” for retailer profits, overhead (like attendants wages) and for the “convenience” of buying fuel on demand, a bit at a time. On the other hand, members don’t have to hoard fuel (other than, say, a 5 gallon emergency reserve container) , so that, collectively, we can all enjoy affordable access to the greenest fuel on the road.
The Co-op does not speculate on large fuel contracts from our delivery service months in advance, based on the most recent price. Basically, we buy what we can afford on the spot market for about a month’s use. Otherwise, speculating on fuel we don’t have would harm the collective ability to provide affordable fuel for all Co-op members in the long run. In effect, members are pooling their moneys in advance for our next monthly buy.
Individual members are also limited by the allotment sizes to what they intend to use in about a month. The prices, and allotments, are as stated on the “payments” page — 25, 50 and 100 gallons. The Co-op does not sell either by the gallon, or in 200, 300 or 1000 gallon allotments, because it simply does not fit our small consumer co-op business model. The membership agreement clearly states that a member’s allotment purchase is based on one’s estimated monthly usage, that the minimum purchase is 25 gallons, and other increments are 50 and 100 gallons. If a member were to burn through fuel faster than 100 gallons a month, or has short-period special needs, (like an extended travel vacation), the option would be to buy allotments more frequently to match that accelerated use pattern (for example, every 3 weeks, rather than every 4).
Some facts concerning biodiesel and its usage:
- Engine Warranty: The use of biodiesel and biodiesel blends has not been approved by all engine manufacturers. Your use of the fuel may effect your warranty; therefore you should check your owners manual or with your engine manufacturer before using biodiesel blends over B5. The NBB’s standards and warranties page has a list of engine manufacturers’ satements about the use of biodiesel in their engines.
- Developmental Fuels: Biodiesel (B-100) and biodiesel blends over B-5 that do not meet ASTM D-975 petroleum specifications are sold as development fuels in California. As such, the fuel vender and users must comply with California Business and Professional Code and the DMS regulations. For reference see The California DMS Field Reference Manual: Article 5. Engine Fuel Standards.
- Solvent Properties: Biodiesel, in addition to being fuel, is an effective solvent, and will act accordingly. This means that:
- Biodiesel will dissolve existing solids—created through usage of petroleum (”petroleum”) diesel—in your vehicle’s fuel system. These solids will clog your vehicle’s fuel filter. When this happens depends on many factors, but can be recognized by the following symptoms: power loss, engine sputtering, difficulty starting, and poor fuel mileage. When you notice these symptoms, you will have to replace your vehicle’s fuel filter (possibly more than once, depending on the amount of petroleum solids in the fuel system). The biodiesel-coop.org recommends keeping at least one spare fuel filter on hand at all times. Clogging of fuel filters also occurs with old fuel storage containers that contained petroleum diesel. When dealing with such large fuel tanks, fuel filters may have to be changed many times, and cleaning of the tank before biodiesel usage may be a more suitable alternative.
- Biodiesel will, over time, dissolve most types of paint. For this reason, the biodiesel-coop.org recommends keeping a clean, soft, dry rag on hand when fueling, to gently wipe off any spillage. When the rag becomes soaked with biodiesel, put it in a dark, closed storage container to await proper disposal. Do not leave fuel-soaked rags crumpled up in the sun. Under such conditions, the rags are prone to spontaneous combustion due to oxidation and the heat generated during that process.
- Biodiesel will degrade rubber components in older vehicles’ fuel systems faster than petroleum diesel. These components include some hoses, seals, and o-rings. Most diesel vehicles made after 1993 use synthetic components, eliminating this problem. Please contact the manufacturer for answers on specific parts. Should your rubber components need replacement, we recommend viton substitutes. Call us for more information.
- Cold Weather Properties: Depending on its feedstock, biodiesel can gel at temperatures as high as 40 degrees Fahrenheit or higher without added anti-gel. If you operate in cold weather take precautions to prevent gelling which can include blending with petroleum or the use of cold weather treatments. This is especially recommended for vehicles with electronically-controlled, highly-sensitive fuel injection systems, such as those found in Volkswagen TDIs and Chevrolet/GMC Duramaxes.
- Vehicle Emissions and Performance: Because every engine is different, the biodiesel-coop.org makes no claims about the emissions or performance when burning biodiesel fuel. Biodiesel will not have the same effects on every vehicle. Because the BTU value of biodiesel is slightly less than that of petroleum diesel no. 2, a small loss of power and fuel economy is to be expected, although this is mitigated by biodiesel’s higher lubricity and cetane number.
- Biodiesel Storage: Biodiesel should not be stored more than 6 months without topping off or cycling. Biodiesel can oxidize when exposed to air and light for extended periods, resulting in a “rancid” fuel that can have negative effects on your vehicle’s performance. Biodiesel needs to be stored properly, in a dark container, away from air and water. Use a filter with a water separator. Like diesel, biodiesel can attract bugs and biological contamination. The potential for contamination should be taken very seriously, and guarding against it is the member’s responsibility. Large fuel containers must be vented properly.
- Fuel Additives: Biodiesel, in this document, is defined as 100% biodiesel (B100) and biodiesel blends are identified by the blend concentration. For example B20 contains 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel. If you would like to use an additive in your fuel, for whatever reason, we recommend you contact us for recommendations. If you plan on blending biodiesel with petroleum diesel, remember: the better quality the diesel, the better the blend. Environmentally if you must blend with petroleum diesel use D975 specification fuel and try to only use low sulfur fuel.
In addition to the above precautions and disclaimers, the coop reminds you that many mechanics have not heard of biodiesel, nor worked on vehicles using it as fuel.