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What is biodiesel?
Availability and Cost
Safety and Performance
Government Programs and Regulations

What is biodiesel?

Biodiesel is a non-toxic and biodegradable fuel that is made from vegetable oils, waste cooking oil, animal fats or tall oil (a by-product from pulp and paper processing). Biodiesel is produced from these feedstocks through a process called transesterification, by reacting the oil with an alcohol (usually methanol, although ethanol can also be used) and a catalyst (such as sodium hydroxide). The resulting chemical reaction produces glycerine and an ester called biodiesel. The majority of biodiesel is produced by this method.

Compared with conventional diesel, biodiesel combusts better with a higher cetane rating and produces fewer life cycle greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) which contribute to climate change.

Biodiesel blends, a mixture of petroleum diesel and biodiesel, can be used in any diesel engine. As biodiesel can be blended with diesel in any concentration, the blend level depends on economics, availability, the desired emissions level, material compatibility and combustion characteristics. An increasing number of Original Equipment Manufacturers are endorsing the use of lower biodiesel blends, e.g., 5% in their engines. Some manufacturers now extend warranty coverage for new diesel powered vehicles to use lower blends of biodiesel, provided the fuel meets applicable standards. Some manufacturers also provide vehicles pre-filled with biodiesel blends.

In colder climates, biodiesel tends to lose viscosity, particularly at higher blend levels. To counter this effect, changes to the feedstock source or additives may be needed to address the cold flow properties of this fuel. Research and testing is underway to reduce biodiesel production costs and address cold weather problems.