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Biofuels are defined broadly as solid, liquid, or gas fuels consisting of, or derived from biomass.  Biofuels are considered an important means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing energy security by providing a viable alternative to fossil fuels. 

A Spectrum of Biofuels


Organic materials such as dung and agricultural waste can easily be treated in biogas plants to produce energy (biogas) and fertilizer (slurry).  Biogas is generated if organic materials are allowed to rot in closed, airless tanks at suitable temperatures (20-40°C).  This is ideal for Equatorial areas.  The process is called "anaerobic digestion".  Bacteria convert the organic matter into combustible biogas (methane, carbon dioxide) and fertilizer (ammonia). 


Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) is the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages.  It can be used as a fuel, mainly as an alternative to gasoline, and is widely used in cars in Brazil.  Because it is cheap, easy to manufacture and process, and can be made from very common materials, such as corn, it is steadily becoming a highly respected and researched alternative to gasoline throughout much of the world. 


Butanol may be used as a fuel in an internal combustion engine.  Because of its long hydrocarbon chains cause it to be fairly nonpolar, it is more similar to gasoline than ethanol.  Butanol has been demonstrated to work in some vehicles designed for use with gasoline without any modification.  It can be produced from biomass as well as fossil fuels.  Some call this biofuel biobutanol to reflect its origin, although it has the same chemical properties as butanol produced from petroleum. 


Biodiesel (methyl esters) refers to a diesel-equivalent processed fuel derived from biological sources (such as vegetable oils) which can be used in unmodified diesel-engine vehicles.  It is thus distinguished from the straight vegetable oils (SVO) or waste vegetable oils (WVO) used as fuels in some diesel vehicles.  Biodiesel is biodegradable and non-toxic, and typically produces about 60% less net carbon dioxide emissions than petroleum-based diesel, as it is itself produced from atmospheric carbon dioxide via photosynthesis in plants. 

Biofuels provide sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels, harnessing one renewable source of power - today's living plants.  Unlike petroleum fuels, which require millions of years before the conversion process is complete, the use of biomass can be planned for and replaced relatively quickly.  Biodiesel is one alternative fuel that is a safer and cleaner burning fuel.  The use of biodiesel and other alternative, biomass based fuels can help us remove ourselves from dependence on others and the political complications found in today's global economy. 

Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO) and Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO)

Many vegetable oils have similar fuel properties to diesel fuel, except for higher viscosity and lower oxidative stability.  If these differences can be overcome, vegetable oil may substitute for #2 Diesel fuel, most significantly as engine fuel or home heating oil.  For engines designed to burn #2 diesel fuel, the viscosity of vegetable oil must be lowered to allow for proper atomization of the fuel, otherwise incomplete combustion and carbon build up will ultimately damage the engine.  Many enthusiasts refer to vegetable oil used as fuel as waste vegetable oil (WVO) if it is oil that was discarded from a restaurant or straight vegetable oil (SVO) to distinguish it from Biodiesel. 

Tips & Hints

  1. Look before you leap.

    Do your homework first.  Research the biofuel you are thinking of using.  Get to know it more than you ever got to know petroleum based fuels.  There may be challenges and they will only be more difficult to deal with if you choose not to educate yourself.  Change often requires a little effort.

  2. Buy from a trusted source.

    With the exception of SVO & WVO, only use ASTM Certified Biofuels.  Here is the ASTM Standard for Biodiesel, for instance, Biodiesel ASTM

  3. Get it on.

    Biodiesel — It's clean, green, and renewable and chicks dig it.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why should I care about Biofuels? The US is the #1 consumer of petroleum oil in the world.  The US consumes 20,802,000 barrels per day of petroleum, 69% of this is for transportation.  Biofuels are cleaner burning, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  The oil will not be around forever. 

  2. Isn't it true that rainforests are being clear cut to grow feed stock for Biofuels?  Yes it is true that there are people in the World that are more interested in capitalizing in the short term on the "Crop of the Day".  Right now those crops are the feed stock for much of the Biodiesel that is supplying the European market.  There are much better ways to create the feed stock.  Being part of a one problem in order to solve another problem is not a solution. 

  3. What about Ethanol and corn affecting the price of everything? Yes, this is a problem too.  In this case, there are also better ways to provide feed stock for ethanol.  Sugar cane for instance, instead of being burned, the stalks can be used to make Ethanol.  I have just one word for you — HEMP. 

  4. How do I get started? Do a lot of research.  Join a discussion group and ask questions.  Learn about the Biofuel your plan to use.  If you're going to use it in a vehicle, get the vehicle inspected and make any necessary modifications and or upgrades to fuel systems and fuel lines.  If you plan to run it in a rental generator, find a rental company that has experience, is willing to put it in writing that they allow the use of Biofuels, and if possible find a company that "Wants it to work".  Then just pour it in the tank. 

Information on Biofuels

Sources for Biofuels

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