Over the last 20 years, biofuel, biodiesel and biomass have all made great attempts to become household names for alternative fuels and their production. However, only recently have these fuels been improved upon to create new generations of more reliable biofuels for use across a wide range of applications: fuel, power and heating.
This hasn’t just given the world clean burning alternatives to using up the limited resources of fossil fuels like diesel and heating oil, but it has offered a great alternative to producing and sourcing the raw reserves from the ground needed to produce fossil fuels.
Biofuels such as HVO fuel are paving the way to a cleaner and greener future, with a huge reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and storage problems.
What are biofuels?
Unlike fossil fuels, which take a very long time to naturally develop beneath the earth’s surface, biofuels are man-made fuels which are derived from the conversion of biomass; plants, food crops, animal fats, wood, food waste and organic materials. They work in the same way as fossil fuels do but, they generally release much lower harmful emissions.
How are biofuels produced?
There are many ways in which biofuels can be produced which offers an exciting future for biofuels but one which creates a lot of confusion when explaining the production in a ‘nutshell’.
The idea of most biofuels is to allow the sugars and starch to ferment much like you would with alcohol, which by the way, is a popular element of many biofuels. This can then be used as a mixture with normal diesel, like Stagecoach’s BioBuses which will use normal road diesel to start-up the engine and then run on bio-diesel throughout the journey.
What are biofuels made from?
In the early days of biofuel production, also known as first-generation biofuels, little was known about what could and couldn’t be used for their production. These types of biofuels tend to be less efficient, not as practical and less reliable than newer generations of biofuels: second-generation and third-generation versions.
First-generation bio-fuels are the first era of green fuels and were produced from things like vegetable oil and food-crops like rapeseed. Early bio-fuels like these would never make it into mass production because of their disadvantages of taking up good land for farming crops and potentially damaging to engines, although they certainly helped lead the way for much better research, production and wider use of materials for the second and third generation bio-fuels.
Second-generation biofuel production, like HVO fuel, came about from the challenges of first-generation biofuel production and tackled the issues of using up valuable farming crops and oils. This advanced version of biofuel production looked into the waste aspect of crops and relied less on crops which could be used for food and utilising waste oil rather than oils which could be consumed first.
Third-generation biofuels aren’t more advanced than second-generation versions, however because they use algae as the source, they are recognised as a separate way of sourcing the material required for production. The beauty of using algae for biofuels is that important food crops don’t need to be grown especially for fuel and this also frees up farmland, which is much better for food growth for consumption.
Why are biofuels produced?
There are many reasons for producing biofuels but the main focus was to tackle the fast depletion of fossil fuel stocks and climate change.
As the years have passed, each generation of biofuel has somewhat surpassed its predecessor and shown us that many options for creating sustainable fuels from almost anything, including household waste.
There are plenty of advantages to the production of bio-fuels as we’ve already discussed, including:
✓ Reduced CO2 and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions
✓ Less strain on existing fossil fuels
✓ Lowered pollution to ground and water from spills and accidents
✓ Renewable (won’t run out of it)
✓ Can be used alongside fossil fuels
✓ Lots of eco-friendly options for production
Some disadvantages also crop up with the production and use of biofuels which keeps driving new ideas forward:
✓ Not currently as efficient as fossil fuels
✓ Can damage equipment and engines
✓ Can increase the cost of food production
✓ Production of bio-fuels isn’t yet carbon-neutral or carbon-negative
Common examples of biofuels
Following years of research and production of biofuels, many variations have been created. Some work well for one process but not for others, some offer better efficiency under certain constraints such as altitude where others use much more fuel to cover the same distance with fossil fuels.
Below is a list of common biofuels:
HVO fuel – a premium quality second-generation biofuel that offers a clean burning alternative for diesel. It’s made from 100% renewable raw materials – like vegetable and animal oils and fats – and has zero fossil and FAME content, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90%.
Biodiesel – currently one of the most popular biofuels amongst Europeans. A lot of new vehicles, especially in the transport and public transport sectors, are now able to use blends of biodiesel with normal road diesel.
Bioethanol – another popular biofuel which seems to work well at higher altitudes. It’s easy to produce but, drawbacks include more fuel usage (less efficient) and the ethanol can have be corrosive to fuel tanks and seals within the engine. (No not the cute marine animals).
Biogas – another common biofuel which you probably guessed is a gas, rather than most other biofuels which tend to be in liquid form. It is produced by way of anaerobic decomposition of a wide variety of organic matter. The organic matter used can range from waste food, food crops and even manure! It’s mainly made up of methane and CO2 which does throw up certain issues regarding greenhouse gases because of methane’s ability to retain even more heat than CO2.
You can find out about more bio-fuel types at BioFuel.org.uk
What is biodiesel?
One of the UK’s most popular biofuels is biodiesel. It is a non-toxic, renewable and clean-burning biofuel which can be mixed with or used as an alternative fuel to diesel.
Similar to ultra-low sulphur diesel in power and energy content, it can be used alone or alongisde mineral diesel.
How is biodiesel made?
Biodiesel is typically made from vegetable oil or animal fat, including palm, rapeseed, soy, linseed, coconut, mustard and canola oil. Using methanol in a chemical process strips glycerine and methyl esters from vegetable oil and animal fats. The process of separating glycerine from animal fat and vegetable oil produces little waste because of the many uses which glycerine has.
Advantages of biodiesel
✓ Virtually zero sulphur
✓ Zero aromatic content
✓ Signifcant reduction in particulates and hydrocarbons
✓ 70% reduction in carbon monoxide emissions
✓ Biodegradable and non-toxic
✓ Reduced maintenance costs
✓ 150°C flashpoint compared to 60°C for mineral diesel
Where can biodiesel be purchased in the UK?
Speedy Fuels is a bulk biodiesel supplier that blends our own fuel with vegetable-based oil, ensuring you receive the highest quality product. Call us now on 0330 123 5665 to speak with our fuel experts.
How much does biodiesel typically cost?
Due to the growth of crops and logistics behind the process of biodiesel, it currently costs more than ordinary road diesel gallon for gallon. In the future, as techniques become refined and the collection of materials for the production become refined, prices should become much more competitive.
5 facts about biodiesel you probably didn’t know…
- It’s the only alternative fuel approved by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)
- It emits up to 85% less cancer-causing agents when burned
- The first diesel engine invented by Rudolph Diesel was designed to run on peanut oil (arachide oil)
- Roughly 1 billion gallons of bio-diesel are produced annually
- 5% biodiesel mixed with 95% normal diesel is recommended however 30% biodiesel to 70% diesel should be fine for most engines
Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel (pictured) was a German inventor and mechanical engineer born in the 19th century, famous for the invention of the diesel engine.
After Diesel’s death, the diesel engine underwent further development and became a very important replacement for the steam piston engine in many applications, including trains, agricultural machines, trucks and lorries, as well as modern cars.
* Speedy Fuels HVO fuel complies with BS EN 15940 being the British Standard for paraffinic diesel fuel which is a new generation of cleaner transport fuel for use in road vehicles. If your vehicle is still within the manufacturer`s warranty or if you have taken out mechanical breakdown insurance, we recommend you check with the manufacturer or insurer that use of our product will not affect your cover. We cannot be held responsible for any issues with your vehicle connected to its age or pre-existing condition.