The process of converting vegetable oils or animal fats to diesel fuel is not new. Biodiesel fuel has been produced and tested for years – but the procedure is expensive and time-consuming.
Researchers Bob Fox and Dan Ginosar at the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory say they have developed a faster and less expensive way than current processes, which produces an even higher grade fuel.
Biodiesel burns cleaner and more completely, meaning less pollution. It is also free of aromatic compounds, the substances that give fuel its cetane rating. However, aromatic compounds include toxic chemicals such as benzene and toluene. Biodiesel has a better cetane rating that regular diesel, without toxic aromatics, according to the researchers. In addition, because biodiesel is rapidly biodegradable, accidental spills would be less of a headache.
Fox and Ginosar’s new method results in the separation of the oil into biodiesel and glycerol. The usual method produces low-grade glycerol, which is worthless. However, the researchers say their method produces high-grade glycerol, which could be sold to pay for the “refining” process, resulting in biodiesel that costs about the same as regular diesel. Biodiesel made with the old process costs considerably more than petrodiesel, and is being tested in some urban areas with pollution problems.
Fox and Ginosar envision a time when waste oil-to-biodiesel conversion plants are connected to food processing plants everywhere. They have secured a provisional patent for the technology, but lack funding to refine the process and complete the project.
If biodiesel ever becomes widely used, however, truckstop parking lots are going to smell a lot different. Biodiesel smells like fried chicken when it burns.