Biodiesel basically replaces the petroleum-based diesel or petro-diesel and therefore, it can be used wherever the petro-diesel is used. However, in most applications, biodiesel is used in conjunction with the petroleum-based diesel, i.e., biodiesel is blended with the petro-diesel in different proportions depending on the availability of biodiesel as well as its costing, the engines or equipment in which the blend is to be used as fuel, and the desired performance. Specific ratios of biodiesel and petroleum-based diesel may be necessary for different applications or end-uses. The ratios of blending the two fuels are also dependent on the government regulations in the respective countries.
The present blog article focuses on the major applications of biodiesel and its different blends with petro-diesel.
The major consumption of biodiesel is for blending it with petroleum-based diesel in various proportions for burning it in the diesel engines automobiles. However, different vehicle manufacturers recommend different blends containing various levels of biodiesel for their diesel engines. The vehicle owners need to use the biodiesel-petro-diesel blends recommended by the respective manufacturers as the vehicles’ warranty given by the manufacturers may become void. The vehicle manufacturers also indicated the quality of biodiesel permitted in their diesel engines and also the raw materials from which the biodiesel was produced, in some cases.
Historically, in 2004, Halifax city in the Nova Scotia province of Canada, allowed its fleet of city buses to be operated using fish oil based biodiesel. It took several years to refine the biodiesel usage to run the buses smoothly on biodiesel. The entire bus fleet was successfully converted.
Daimler Chrysler first allowed use of 5% biodiesel in the engines of the then newly launched Jeep model in the European market during the year 2005. The company indicated its intention to increase the warranty coverage to 20% biodiesel blends for standardized biodiesel quality in the USA.
Volkswagen has allowed diesel fuels containing B5 and B100 biodiesel blends made from rapeseed oil and meeting the European Standard EN 14214 to be used in their vehicle engines.
Mercedes Benz allows only the B5 blend, i.e., fuel containing only 5% biodiesel to be used as fuel for its engines. The company has indicated concerns about ‘production shortcomings’, i.e., non-uniform production of biodiesel due to various factors including the raw materials used.
Many companies who have their own vehicle fleets have started using several biodiesel blends in their vehicles after standardization, governmental guidance and regulations and availability of biodiesel in the respective countries. Some companies are even producing biodiesel from the waste cooking oil generated in their businesses and using that biodiesel as a fuel for their vehicle fleets.
For example, McDonald’s of the UK announced in 2007 that it would start producing biodiesel from the waste oil by-product of its restaurants and the biodiesel to be used to run its vehicle fleet.
In India, the major oil companies either produce the biodiesel in their own plants or even buy the biodiesel produced by other manufacturers located across the country. This biodiesel is blended with the petroleum-based diesel and sold to customers at the retail petrol pumps for their diesel engine vehicles. The blending ratios are governed by the regulations as well as economics of biodiesel production.
Railway engines were using coal as a fuel initially. However, with the advent of diesel engines, most of the railways started using diesel engines and petroleum-based diesel as their fuel. Later, a large portion of these railway engines were converted to electricity-driven engines to pull the rakes, wherever feasible. Due to various reasons, many railway engines are still run on diesel engines. Many of these have been modified in the last decade or more to consume biodiesel – either in pure form (B100) or in blends with the petroleum-based diesel.
Virgin Trains West Coast, a British railways operating company, claimed to run the UK’s first train on biodiesel in the year 2007. They used a blend of 20% biodiesel with 80% petroleum-based diesel (B20 blend). In the same year, the British Royal Train completed the first journey on 100% biodiesel fuel (B100), which was produced by Green Fuels Ltd. The company has been operating its trains in the UK on pure biodiesel since then. However, electrification of the railway tracks may compete with conversions to biodiesel.
In the USA, a short-line railroad in Eastern Washington ran a train on a fuel blend containing 25% biodiesel and 75% petroleum-based diesel (B25) in 2008.
In 2009, Disneyland made an announcement to run its trains on biodiesel produced from its own used cooking oils, instead of soybean oil.
Indian Railways started using fuel blends containing 5% biodiesel (B5) for its diesel railway engines. A report on the roadmap for converting the Indian railway engines to run on biodiesel was also published. However, most of the railway tracks are being electrified leading to higher use of electric railway engines. In some cases, CNG-run railway engines are also being used. It is likely that all the diesel engines of Indian Railways will be converted to electric engines in the near future. Solar energy and fuel cells are also being developed for running trains.
However, many other developing countries still consume petroleum-based diesel as well as its blends with biodiesel to run their trains.
AIRCRAFTS – AVIATION
Biodiesel meeting the requirements of aviation fuel for aircrafts has been produced and used to fly aircrafts of different types in the past more than a decade.
In the year 2011, the commercial airliner United Airlines flew the first commercial aviation flight (Boeing 737-800) on a microbially produced biodiesel, using Solajet, Solazyme’s renewable jet fuel derived from algae (algal oil). A blend of 40% Solajet biodiesel and 60% petroleum-based jet fuel was used. The flight took off from Houston and landed at Chicago in the USA. The Dutch carrier KLM has also used biofuel produced by AltAir Fuels for their flights from Los Angeles, USA, since 2016.
Today, specific grade of biodiesel is being produced based on different raw materials included used cooking oils, for use in aircrafts. It is now called as sustainable aviation fuel or SAF. Several companies have started producing this SAF biodiesel and signed up supply agreements with various commercial airlines across the globe.
SHIPS AND OCEAN LINERS
Biodiesel has been used to run ocean going ships. The ocean liners also run on diesel engines which are capable of using blends of biodiesel and petroleum-based diesel. Several different blends are used in this application as well.
However, at present, with the trend of using cleaner fuels, newer fuels like hydrogen are being tested and implemented for ocean-going ships on a large scale. This trend may give a setback to biodiesel in this application.
Biodiesel can be blended with petroleum-based heating oil in various proportions and used as fuel to heat domestic and commercial boilers. Such mixtures or blends have been standardized in various ratios for specific heating applications. These heating oil biodiesel blends are slightly different than the blends used for transportation. They are also taxed differently. One such heating oil biodiesel blend is ‘Bioheat”, which is registered trademark in the USA and Canada, and is a blend of biodiesel and traditional petroleum-based heating oil.
ASTM 396 recognizes blends of up to 5% biodiesel with petroleum-based heating oil as equivalent to pure petroleum-based heating oil. Mostly, blends containing higher levels up to 20% biodiesel are used as heating oil.
Similar to the diesel engines, some rubber parts in furnaces may be damaged by the use of biodiesel blends as heating oil. Therefore, care needs to be taken to frequently check and replace those parts for uninterrupted operation of these furnaces.
Some government authorities in several countries have passed laws and regulations to ensure use of a minimum level of biodiesel (about 2%) in heating oils.
Biodiesel is suited for use in power generators. Various types of back-up power generation systems with varying capacities have been designed to use biodiesel as fuel. These generators consume 100% pure biodiesel (B100), eliminating the byproducts (of petroleum-based diesel) that result in smog, ozone and sulfur emissions. Thus, use of such power generators burning biodiesel leads to substantial reduction in carbon monoxide and particulate matter.
Biodiesel has been used as a fuel to run thermal power generation plants.
In remote areas, especially in India, several individuals and associations have started producing biodiesel from different locally available raw materials. The resulting biodiesel, though of differing quality, is being used in power generators to augment scarce supply of electricity in those regions.
Biodiesel is also being used to run agricultural machinery, like tractors, agricultural processor equipments, etc. The biodiesel consumption is basically for operating the diesel engines which power these machines. Suitable blends of biodiesel with petroleum-based diesel are used in these applications. This end-use more prevalent in remote areas where the availability of petroleum-based diesel is scarce and biodiesel produced from locally available raw materials is available.
OIL SPILLS CLEANING
Crude oil spills are happening quite frequently, especially on the high seas and near shorelines. Cleaning of these oil spills is a major task which is also costly. About 80 to 90% of oil spill costs go into shoreline cleanup. Crude oil is found to be significantly soluble in biodiesel, depending on the fatty acid types present in it, which in turn is derived from different feedstock. Therefore, biodiesel has been used as a solvent for crude oil spills cleaning on sea shores. Biodiesel coating on the spilled oil on shorelines lowers the viscosity of the crude oil. Biodiesel also has higher buoyancy than crude oil. Due to these factors the crude oil coated with biodiesel is removed effectively from the shoreline by the tides. Laboratory simulation has shown that 80% of oil can be removed from cobble and fine sand, 50% in coarse sand, and 30% in gravel. Once the crude oil is removed from the shoreline into the ocean, the mixture of oil and biodiesel on the water surface can be removed manually using skimmers. The residual mixture is easily biodegraded.
Biodiesel, due to its better solvent properties, can be used to remove paints and adhesives.
It can be used as fuel in cooking stoves, replacing kerosene.
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