Uses of Biofuel
1. Producing Hydrogen for Fuel-Cell Vehicles
Researchers at InnovaTek have developed hand-sized microreactors that can turn biodiesel (or any other liquid fuel) into a hydrogen stream for use in an adjoining fuel-cell. Chevron has already invested $500,000 to develop hydrogen refueling stations for fuel-cell powered cars. InnovaTek hopes to eventually install the microreactors in vehicles, which would allow cars to fill up on biodiesel but be powered by a much more efficient and even cleaner-burning electric drivetrain.
2. Cleaning Up Oil Spills
Biodiesel is known for being environmentally benign, but who would have thought it could help clean up oil-spills? Biodiesel has been tested as potential cleaning agent for shorelines contaminated with crude oil, and has been found to increase the recovery of crude oil from artificial sand columns (ie, the beach). It’s also been used in commercial biosolvents shown to be effective in coagulating crude oil and allowing it to be skimmed off the surface of water. In 1997, the product Cytosol was licensed by the California Department of Fish and Game as a shoreline cleaning agent.
3. Generating Electricity
In addition to producing hydrogen for vehicle fuel, fuel-cells have power-generation applications that could utilize biodiesel. The military has already invested $1.8 million in mobile power-generation using this technology, and it could be available for civilian applications in the near future.
Biodiesel is already used in conventional power generation. In 2001, UC Riverside installed a 6 megawatt backup-generator system powered by 100% biodiesel. The project was a success, and operating smoke typical to diesel generators was virtually non-existent. Biodiesel can be used in backup systems where the substantial reduction in emissions really matters: hospitals, schools, and other facilities usually located in residential areas. It can also be used to supplement solar power in off-the grid homes (for instructions, see Kemp 2006).
4. Heating Your Home
Bioheat has has grown in popularity over the last few years, and biodiesel can be used as a home heating oil in domestic and commercial boilers (Number 2 heating oil is virtually identical to petrodiesel). While a 20% biodiesel blend (B20) can be used without modification, higher blends may affect rubber seals and gaskets in older equipment. High blends of biodiesel will also clean out fuel pipes, which can improve heating efficiency but may initially cause fuel filter clogging. A 20% biodiesel blend will reduce the emissions of both sulfur dioxide (SO2 – acid rain) and nitrogen oxides (NOx – pollutants that contribute to ground-level ozone) by 20% over the entire range of air settings.
5. Camping: Cooking and Illumination
It’s possible to use biodiesel instead of kerosene in some non-wick lanterns and stoves. For example, BriteLyt Petromax multi-fuel lanterns will work just fine with biodiesel (they’ll burn just about anything). BriteLyt also makes multifuel stoves. But at 4lbs., it isn’t something you’d want to take backpacking.
6. Cleaning Up Tools and Grease
B100 is such a good solvent that it can clean dirty or greasy engine or other machine parts. Fill a bucket with B100 (100% biodiesel), drop in the tool or part that needs cleaning, and see what happens (note: best to try this with less-expensive tools first). Also, biodiesel makes an awesome bike-chain degreaser/lubricator. If you chain starts to squeak, just add a little B100 and see what a world of difference it makes.
Biodiesel can also be used as an industrial solvent for metal cleaning, which is advantageous due to its lack of toxicity or environmental impacts.
7. Adding Lubricity to Diesel Fuel
In 2006, all diesel fuel was required to reduce its sulfur concentration from 500 ppm to 15 ppm. Since sulfur provided most of the fuel’s lubricity, a substitute is required to keep diesel engines functioning properly and avoid premature injection pump wear (ie failure). Biodiesel naturally has less than 15 ppm sulfur concentration anyway, and adding just 1 to 2% biodiesel can restore the lubricity to diesel fuel.
8. Removing Paint and Adhesives
Biodiesel can replace the exceedingly toxic products designed for paint removal. It’s probably best used for smaller-scale and non-critical applications (ie not on your car’s custom paint job).
Biodiesel can also be used to remove adhesive residues, like those left by duct tape.