What is biodiesel?
Biodiesel is a diesel fuel substitute used in diesel engines made from renewable materials such as:
- Plant oils: canola, camelina, soy, flax, jatropha, mahua, pongamia pinnata, mustard, coconut, palm, hemp and sunflower;
- Waste cooking oil:yellow or tap grease;
- Other oils: tall, fish, and algae;
- Animal fats:beef or sheep tallow, pork lard, or poultry fat; and
- Potentially from cellulosic feedstock consisting of agriculture and forest biomass.
How is it made?
The feedstock goes through a process called transesterification and consists of fatty acid methyl esters (FAME). Transesterification is a reaction between the oil or animal fat with an alcohol and a catalyst. The chemical reaction of transesterification produces two products - glycerol and an ester called biodiesel. Raw vegetable oil or animal fats which have not undergone a chemical/refining process is not considered biodiesel and is not recommended for use in diesel engines.
Biodiesel is one common example of a renewable diesel. Hydrogenation-derived renewable diesel (HDRD) is another type of renewable diesel produced by hydrotreating of similar fat or oil based biodiesel feedstock. Other technologies to turn biomass into renewable diesel are being developed.
Feedstock use in renewable diesel
Biodiesel: vegetable oil, waste cooking oil, animal fats, fish oil, and algae oil.
Hydrogenation-derived renewable diesel (HDRD): vegetable oil, waste cooking oil, animal fats, fish oil, and algae oil
Emerging Fuels Technologies, Fischer-Tropsch, Biomass to Liquid: cellulosic feedstock
Biodiesel is mixed with diesel to create a blend. This blend is comprised of pure biodiesel, also referred to as B100, blended with petroleum diesel at varying concentrations (Bn). The n refers to the percentage of biodiesel in the blend. Common blends are:
|Blend||Pure Biodiesel (B100)||Petroleum Diesel|
Biodiesel has several environmental benefits:
- It is renewable: biodiesel is made from renewable resources
- It is biodegradable: neat biodiesel (B100) degrades faster than petroleum diesel.
- Potential for reusing waste products: certain waste products such as animal fats can be redirected away from our landfills.
- GHG reductions: compared to diesel, biodiesel has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by over 80% on a lifecycle basis.
- Reduces several tailpipe emissions: using biodiesel reduces several tailpipe emissions such as particulate matter, hydrocarbon, and carbon monoxide from most modern four-stroke CI or diesel engines. Footnote 1 Although, some studies measured a small increase in nitrous oxide (NOx) emission when using B100 instead of diesel.
- Less toxic: a biodiesel blend would be less toxic than petroleum diesel.
Biodiesel can be produced locally in Canada and can provide local economies with a new market for their agricultural products and waste (reducing industry's disposal costs).
Agro-industry residues such as slaughterhouse waste, restaurant cooking oil, non-food-grade virgin oil or agricultural surplus once destined for a landfill is a commodity in the biodiesel business.
On a national level, biodiesel incorporated in the energy mix will encourage new business opportunities, greater investment, employment, and provide a new energy alternative.
Biodiesel can be used with some precautions in diesel engines in many sectors including on-road vehicles, off-road mobile equipment and vehicles and stationary equipment.
- Fleet vehicles
- Heavy-duty trucks
- School buses
- Urban transit buses
- Agricultural equipment
- Construction equipment
- Forestry equipment
- Locomotives (trains)
- Marine vessels
- Mining equipment
- Electricity generators (gensets)
Safety and Performance
The information provided below can be found in the Final Report with respect to diesel equipment users.
- B2: 2% biodiesel mixed with 98% diesel
- B5: 5% biodiesel mixed with 95% diesel
- B10: 10% biodiesel mixed with 90% diesel
- B20: 20% biodiesel mixed with 80% diesel
- B100: 100% biodiesel with no diesel content
The majority of North American engine manufacturers now endorse up to a B5 biodiesel blend. The Engine Manufacturers Association issued a technical statement indicating biodiesel use up to B5 should not cause engine or fuel systems problems. As biodiesel is more widely tested and used, manufacturers will be in a better position to support the use of higher blends. Warranty coverage of B20 and higher is offered by select manufacturers under specific conditions.
However, similar to using regular diesel, some manufacturers may limit the scope of their warranties by stating that failures from the use of any fuel cannot be attributed to a factory defect. Therefore, the cost of repair under these circumstances (if any) would not be covered by certain warranties.
It is recommended that you contact your engine manufacturer, dealer, or consult your equipment owner's guide for more information on warranty coverage; particularly, if you plan to use blends above B5.
In general, the NRDDI projects increases the confidence in the use of up to B5 in engines under the conditions encountered, as there were no engine failures reported.
Like petroleum diesel, biodiesel can form crystals in cold weather which can lead to filter plugging. Laboratory tests show that a biodiesel blend forms crystals at a higher temperature than petroleum diesel. Actual experience with cold weather operations is influenced by many factors including the type of feedstock used as some types of biodiesel form crystals at lower temperatures than others, depending on the feedstock and characteristics of the fuel.
Potential solutions to cold weather problems are similar to those for petroleum diesel. They include using fuel additives and engine block or fuel filter heaters and storing vehicles in a building.
Several studies including the NRDDI projects have shown the successful use of biodiesel blends in cold weather up to a certain low concentration. It is important for the fuel provider to choose the right biodiesel formulation, and the fuel blend level is adjusted, to meet the Canadian General Standards Board recommended temperature specifications for the season and region of use. If you are unfamiliar with this subject it is recommended you discuss cold weather use with your fuel provider.
Biodiesel acts like a mild solvent and has a cleansing effect. It "cleans out" sediments formed over time in equipment and storage fuel tanks which can cause occasional filter plugging, especially in the early stage of switching from petroleum diesel to biodiesel blends. However, when it is used in low concentrations, such as B5, it should not cause major issues. The NRDDI projects did not encounter any engine failures due to the cleansing effect.
In its research, the US National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) found the cleansing effect should not be an issue with B5 and lower blends. Although, it is still wise to keep some extra filters on hand and monitor potential filter clogging a little more closely at the beginning.
Material Compatibility and Older Equipment
Older diesel engines were not necessarily designed to use biodiesel blends. Certain parts such as seals, gaskets, and connectors made with non-compatible rubbers or metals can be altered if the biodiesel blend is high. Consulting your engine manufacturer or equipment owner's guide (for the specific model-year of the equipment) will help you assess what maximum blend level is recommended. Today, most engine manufacturers accept the use of blends up to B5 without voiding the warranty; however, the blend must always meet industry approved standards.
NREL has found there have been no significant material compatibility issues with B20 (unless the B20 has been oxidized). NREL found B20 or lower blends minimize most issues associated with materials compatibility. This conclusion provides even more confidence in the minimal effects which can be expected with B5.
In the NRDDI projects, where vehicle model years varied from 1967 to 2010 but most were of model year 1994 or newer, operation on B5 was not shown to cause any significant loss-of service incidents.
It is recommended that you consult your dealer or vehicle guide; particularly, if you plan to use biodiesel blends above B5 in older equipment.
Since an increasing number of engine manufacturers are endorsing B5 the NRDDI projects did not generally examine long term effects, such as wear, materials compatibility or longevity and did not find any issues which could be specifically attributed to these effects.
Stationary and Heating Equipment
Although there is limited experience with the use of biodiesel as a heating fuel in Canada, no significant adverse effects from using biodiesel in low-level blends in furnaces and boilers have been reported from initial trials. The NRDDI Imperial Oil project tested biodiesel blends in space-heating furnaces. The results found that biodiesel use in furnaces should not exceed B10 in order to be compatible with existing seals in fuel pumps for late-model equipment. It remains a good practice to contact your furnace manufacturer; particularly, if you plan to use blends above B10.
The use of B5 in power generators in remote northern Canadian locations was demonstrated in both warm and cold seasons in the NRDDI Manitoba Hydro project without any issues or requiring additional maintenance.
Biodiesel-powered engines have been shown to deliver similar torque and horsepower as diesel-powered engines.
Neat biodiesel (B100) has about 8% less energy content than diesel. As the diesel blend level is lowered, differences in energy content become proportionally less significant; blends of B5 or lower cause no easily noticeable differences in fuel consumption in comparison to diesel.
It is important to keep in mind your driving habits – when and where you drive, how often, the speed you travel, your aggressiveness on the road and other factors – have a lot to do with your vehicle's fuel consumption and costs. Inefficient driving practices can cause a greater increase in your fuel consumption and costs in comparison to switching your fuel from petroleum diesel to a B5 biodiesel blend.
All fuels have a limited shelf life. Long-term storage and storage with temperature variations leads fuel to degrade. Although biodiesel has been known to have a shorter shelf life than most petroleum diesels, fuel standards are designed to ensure all fuels have adequate long term performance. Adding proper additives is expected to address long-term storage concerns.
As summer fuel may be less suitable for winter, it remains a good practice to deplete fuel supplies before the season changes to ensure fuel remains appropriate for the expected temperature.
For low-level blends of biodiesel such as B2 and B5, end-users should be able to keep using their existing tanks. However, as mentioned above it is advised to keep extra filters on hand due to biodiesel's cleansing effect.
B100 is considerably less flammable than petroleum diesel, presents low-pressure storage at ambient temperatures, and is safer to handle and transport.
The National Renewable Diesel Demonstration Initiative Projects/Study
Formation kinetics of saturated monoglyceride (SMG) based particles in biodiesel and petrodiesel blends, Royal Military College of Canada, 2010.
- The kinetics of formation of SMG-based particles at various temperatures starting from the cloud point by monitoring sediments in the fuel against time; the chemical composition of the sediments was determined and compared to the base fuel.
National Renewable Diesel Demonstration Initiative Infrastructure Project, (PDF, 972 Kb) EcoRessources, 2010.
Sector: Petroleum Industry
- A study to examine infrastructure readiness for the addition of an average 2% renewable diesel to diesel and heating oil in Canada in 2011.
Final Report (PDF, 5.7 MB), Alberta Renewable Diesel, 2009.
Sector: On-road vehicles
- Cold weather operability of heavy-duty trucks, school buses, and industrial heavy-duty fleets;
- Experience with blending infrastructure.
Renewable Diesel Characterization Study (PDF, 3.5 MB), Climate Change Central, 2008.
- Characterizing cold climate applicability of biodiesel blends;
- Test renewable diesel blends from a variety of feedstock;
- Identify the most promising cold climate renewable fuel feedstock and blend.
Biodiesel Research & Demonstration Project, (PDF, 1.3 MB) (in English only) Washington State Ferries, 2009.
Sector: Off-road marine vessels
- Test current fuel specifications for biodiesel blends;
- Develop biodiesel product handling guidelines for use in a marine environment;
- Demonstrate that biodiesel can be successfully used in marine applications in the Pacific Northwest.
Assessment of the Biodiesel Infrastructure in Canada (PDF, 3.1 MB), Natural Resources Canada, 2007.
Sector: Fuel Industry
- Infrastructure challenges and barriers related to the distribution of biodiesel blends.
Biodiesel Demonstration and Assessment with the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM), (PDF, 150 Kb) Montreal Biobus, 2003 .
Sector: On-road vehicles
- Test the use of biodiesel as a source of supply for public transit;
- Assess the viability of the fuel as part of the routine operation of a bus fleet, particularly in cold weather;
- Measure biodiesel environmental and economic impact.
Sector: Off-road marine vessels
- Test the use of B100 as an alternative for tour boats of various sizes;
- Assess the economic viability and benefits of biodiesel in that industry's routine operations;
- Measure the environmental impacts.
Biodiesel Seaward Bound (PDF, 1.5 MB), BioShip, 2006.
Sector: Off-road marine vessels
- Operability and emissions of marine vessel power generators using biodiesel
Effect of Biodiesel Impurities on Filterability and Phase Separation from Biodiesel and Biodiesel Blends, (PDF, 480 KB, in English only) Flint Hills Resources, 2007.
- Evaluate biodiesel impurities and filterability and phase separation from biodiesel and biodiesel blends.
Guidelines for Handling and Blending FAME (PDF, 365 KB), Conservation of Clean Air and Water in Europe, 2009.
- Test B20 biodiesel blends in on-road vehicles on their norma routes from August 2005 to August 2006.
Biodiesel Basics (PDF, 509 KB), US Department of Energy, 2011.
Scope: General biodiesel information
Biodiesel Blending Guide (PDF, 248 KB), British Columbia Transit, 2008.
Scope: Guide to purchasing and blending biodiesel.
Government Programs and Regulations
Federal Government Regulations
The Renewable Fuels Regulations, published on September 1, 2010 in the Canada Gazette, Part II, require an average of 5 per cent renewable content in gasoline as of December 15, 2010. The regulations were amended in 2011 to require an average 2 per cent renewable content in diesel fuel and heating oil. For more information on the Renewable Fuels Regulations, please visit Environment Canada.
Federal Government Programs
The National Renewable Diesel Demonstration Initiative (NRDDI)
The NRDDI was launched in December 2008 to address industry and end-user questions about renewable diesel use by demonstrating how it would perform under Canadian conditions in advance of the intended renewable fuels regulation. The NRDDI final report was provided to the regulator to inform development and implementation of the intended regulation.
ecoEnergy for Biofuels
The ecoENERGY for Biofuels Initiative is investing up to $1.5 billion over 9 years to boost Canada's production of biofuels. The initiative provides operating incentives to producers of renewable alternatives to gasoline and diesel based on production levels and market conditions. It makes investment in production facilities more attractive by partially offsetting the risk associated with fluctuating feedstock and fuel prices.
Next-Generation Biofuels Fund
The 2007 Budget made $500 million available to Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) to invest with the private sector in establishing large scale demonstration facilities for the production of next-generation biofuels.
- The National Renewable Diesel Demonstration Initiative: Natural Resources Canada’s renewable diesel demonstration program
- Environment Canada: Federal Renewable Fuels Regulations
- Sustainable Development Technology Canada: Next-generation biofuels fund
- U.S. Department of Energy: Alternative fuels and advanced vehicles data center
- U.S. National Biodiesel Board
- Engine Manufacturers Association