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Published on March 26th, 2008 | by Clayton

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Top 15 Unexpected Uses For Biodiesel

biodiesel, alternative fuels, biofuel, pump, station, green

[social_buttons] While virtually everyone is familiar with the use of biodiesel as a substitute for diesel fuel, there are a few novel uses that may not have crossed your radar. Biodiesel can produce hydrogen, clean up oil spills, degrease your tools, heat your home, and more.

Here’s My Top 15 Unexpected Uses for Biodiesel:

1. Producing Hydrogen for Fuel-Cell Vehicles

This was the big story of the month: 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. See the full story here.

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 (see #1), 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).

Petroleum usage by electrical utilities in 2006 amounted to 115,370,000 barrels of oil, an amount that could be completely replaced by US biodiesel production.

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.

There may be a business in your area that specializes in bioheat. Check out Portland Green Heat for an example.

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.

I’ve always wondered if traditional camp-stoves could handle biodiesel. For example, the MSR WhisperLite Internationale and the Primus Multifuel are designed to run on a number of fuels, including gasoline, diesel, and kerosene. There is some anecdotal evidence that they can use biodiesel, but I thought it would be better to ask the manufacturer, MSR. Here’s the response I got from Cascade Designs (a distributor):

Clayton,

Thank you for contacting Cascade Designs Inc.

We have seen stoves come back that had biodiesel used in them and they are severely clogged to the point that the stove cannot be revived. So the short answer is no one cannot use biodiesel in any of our stoves. Rest assured that our designers are taking this into consideration and a stove that can burn biodiesel is being discussed for the future.

Keep in mind, however, that many auto manufacturers say the same thing about using B100 in their diesel cars and trucks. I suspect the stoves mentioned above might have been clogged by the owners trying to use straight vegetable oil (brilliant idea). For lamps and stoves that will work with biodiesel, check out the resources available on JourneyToForever’s list.

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.

The last 7 uses I’ve heard about but wasn’t able to substantiate. If you know something about these, or have a resource to contribute, feel free to add it here:

9. Asphalt Cleanup Agent

10. Hand Cleaner

11. Crop Adjuvant

12. Screen Printing Ink Remover

13. Auto Wax Remover

14. Corrosion Preventative

15. Metal Working Lubricant

So how can you find Biodiesel in your area? Check out 6 Ways To Find And Use Biodiesel Anywhere.

For more information on using biodiesel, see Gas 2.0′s biodiesel guide or the following posts:

Biodiesel Guide: 7 Steps to Buying a Diesel

Learn How To Make Biodiesel On YouTube

How Biodiesel Fuel-Cells Could Power The Future (And Your Car)

Study: Buying Biodiesel May Be A Gamble

NEW: First Algae Biodiesel Plant Goes Online April 1, 2008

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About the Author

In a past life, Clayton was a professional blogger and editor of Gas 2.0, Important Media’s blog covering the future of sustainable transportation. He was also the Managing Editor for GO Media, the predecessor to Important Media.



  • http://store.midwestlabs.com/Blog/ Brent Pohlman

    Excellent Article! I am going to reference it on our Blog Site, http://store.midwestlabs.com/Blog/

    I really learned a lot in a short read.

  • http://store.midwestlabs.com/Blog/ Brent Pohlman

    Excellent Article! I am going to reference it on our Blog Site, http://store.midwestlabs.com/Blog/

    I really learned a lot in a short read.

  • Matt Snyder

    Hi Clayton,

    Maybe you remeber me. My name is Matt Snyder. I wrote you about my bioreactor design. I am having a problem and the internet seems too big to be helpful on its own. I need some very specific “green info” and I’m hoping you will be able to help me.

    What I need is a complete list (including trace elements) of the nutrients required by the algae species haemetoccus pluvialis. I also need to find out which species of algae produces the greatest percentage of lipids by mass, as well as the nutrient list for that species as well. Can you help me? I’m ready to turn the world on its ear by demonstrating the ability to grow 20Kg per day within a 30′x80′ space on a consistant basis. As soon as I achieve this first reactor coming online the funding will become available for many many more. I need your help in a big way. I’ll talk to the others involved to see if I can give you an exclusive before the press releases.

    Many thanks for your time and efforts.

    Matt Snyder

  • Matt Snyder

    Hi Clayton,

    Maybe you remeber me. My name is Matt Snyder. I wrote you about my bioreactor design. I am having a problem and the internet seems too big to be helpful on its own. I need some very specific “green info” and I’m hoping you will be able to help me.

    What I need is a complete list (including trace elements) of the nutrients required by the algae species haemetoccus pluvialis. I also need to find out which species of algae produces the greatest percentage of lipids by mass, as well as the nutrient list for that species as well. Can you help me? I’m ready to turn the world on its ear by demonstrating the ability to grow 20Kg per day within a 30′x80′ space on a consistant basis. As soon as I achieve this first reactor coming online the funding will become available for many many more. I need your help in a big way. I’ll talk to the others involved to see if I can give you an exclusive before the press releases.

    Many thanks for your time and efforts.

    Matt Snyder

  • Chad

    These various uses are great but if all the airable land is being used for BioDiesel what the heck are we going to eat?!?

  • Chad

    These various uses are great but if all the airable land is being used for BioDiesel what the heck are we going to eat?!?

  • http://gas2.org Clayton B. Cornell

    Good thought Chad.

    It really depends on finding a sustainable source of biodiesel. I really don’t think using soybeans to make biodiesel is as bad as using corn to make ethanol. And since nobody really eats soybeans anyway, your talking about price increases to meat and dairy products.

    But keep in mind that biodiesel manufacturers in places like the Pacific Northwest produce 1 million gallons of biodiesel each year from recycled vegetable oil.

    So even if we stopped using food crops, we’d still have some biodiesel to go around (though maybe not very much).

  • http://gas2.org Clayton B. Cornell

    Good thought Chad.

    It really depends on finding a sustainable source of biodiesel. I really don’t think using soybeans to make biodiesel is as bad as using corn to make ethanol. And since nobody really eats soybeans anyway, your talking about price increases to meat and dairy products.

    But keep in mind that biodiesel manufacturers in places like the Pacific Northwest produce 1 million gallons of biodiesel each year from recycled vegetable oil.

    So even if we stopped using food crops, we’d still have some biodiesel to go around (though maybe not very much).

  • Fire Starter

    The obvious one you left out is… you can use it to start a fire. :-)

  • Fire Starter

    The obvious one you left out is… you can use it to start a fire. :-)

  • Banpreet Boparai

    Hi Matt,

    I am doing a similiar research on biodiesel and have hit few dead ends. I/we have biodiesel industrial production information but the main problem is find a suitable raw material, more research on algae (seem like the best source so far) needed for that.

    With the help of german biodiesel company we have some plant and machinary specification for production level. Again we had some problems there (temp. issues). Haven’t seen or read about your reactor designs yet, but will do some searches on that.

    Integrating into the current market is another issue. The demand for biodiesel is limited for now, just making the product is not enough.

    I don’t know how to contact you but would love to disscus few things and may be help each other out.

  • Banpreet Boparai

    Hi Matt,

    I am doing a similiar research on biodiesel and have hit few dead ends. I/we have biodiesel industrial production information but the main problem is find a suitable raw material, more research on algae (seem like the best source so far) needed for that.

    With the help of german biodiesel company we have some plant and machinary specification for production level. Again we had some problems there (temp. issues). Haven’t seen or read about your reactor designs yet, but will do some searches on that.

    Integrating into the current market is another issue. The demand for biodiesel is limited for now, just making the product is not enough.

    I don’t know how to contact you but would love to disscus few things and may be help each other out.

  • Banpreet Boparai

    Also, I found some article about the recearch on Algae but haven’t found that journal paper yet. Thats might be what you are looking for…

  • Banpreet Boparai

    Also, I found some article about the recearch on Algae but haven’t found that journal paper yet. Thats might be what you are looking for…

  • haha

    What about biodiesel for sex lube?

  • haha

    What about biodiesel for sex lube?

  • Luke

    #15 Metal Working Lubricant. Absolutely! We use Canola Oil as a cutting lubricant / coolant. Pros / Cons are many; breadown, temp, recovery/loss. We purchase in 250 gal containers and don’t worry about the toxic fallout, the crew loves it. Biodiesel falls into the same scope of fluids. We tried Crisco and even olive oil (expensive) and all the B-grades of B-diesel, simply to find out…works great!

  • Luke

    #15 Metal Working Lubricant. Absolutely! We use Canola Oil as a cutting lubricant / coolant. Pros / Cons are many; breadown, temp, recovery/loss. We purchase in 250 gal containers and don’t worry about the toxic fallout, the crew loves it. Biodiesel falls into the same scope of fluids. We tried Crisco and even olive oil (expensive) and all the B-grades of B-diesel, simply to find out…works great!

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  • http://www.ecounit.com Kent Ragen

    The applications are impressive, but the inputs seem too costly to be justifiable, at least in mass quantities. What raw materials are showing the most promise in terms of volume and sustainable supply?

    Kent

    http://www.ecounit.com

  • http://www.ecounit.com Kent Ragen

    The applications are impressive, but the inputs seem too costly to be justifiable, at least in mass quantities. What raw materials are showing the most promise in terms of volume and sustainable supply?

    Kent

    http://www.ecounit.com

  • Jeremy

    When you consider that farmers are paid to NOT grow food, and that there are millions of acres of land not being used for anything productive, it sort of negates the what about land for growing food argument. I hear this so much it makes me want to start swinging. There is a ton of unused land out there and many different oil producing crops. I am a little saddened that others have come to fruition so quickly with the Algae plants since I was trying to get one in motion almost 4 years ago. Anyhow there are creative solutions to almost any problem, and land availability is not much of a problem. It is funny that no one seems to care about all of the prefab McMansions going up in Americas farm belt that consume thousands of new acres every year, when at the same time they complain that a product which has a genuine ability to democratize fuel might take up too much land.

    On a second note BioDiesel is not very good for starting fires as it requires compression and heat in order to combust. If you just try to set a cup of it on fire it wont work.

  • Jeremy

    When you consider that farmers are paid to NOT grow food, and that there are millions of acres of land not being used for anything productive, it sort of negates the what about land for growing food argument. I hear this so much it makes me want to start swinging. There is a ton of unused land out there and many different oil producing crops. I am a little saddened that others have come to fruition so quickly with the Algae plants since I was trying to get one in motion almost 4 years ago. Anyhow there are creative solutions to almost any problem, and land availability is not much of a problem. It is funny that no one seems to care about all of the prefab McMansions going up in Americas farm belt that consume thousands of new acres every year, when at the same time they complain that a product which has a genuine ability to democratize fuel might take up too much land.

    On a second note BioDiesel is not very good for starting fires as it requires compression and heat in order to combust. If you just try to set a cup of it on fire it wont work.

  • Steve

    Are you sure that sulfur provides lubricity? I’ve read that the process that removes the sulfur also degrades the lubricity.

  • Steve

    Are you sure that sulfur provides lubricity? I’ve read that the process that removes the sulfur also degrades the lubricity.

  • Carolred

    “While a 20% biodiesel blend (B20) can be used without modification, higher blends may affect rubber seals and gaskets in older equipment. ”

    I have heard that all blends can attack rubber seals. What is your source for this claim?

  • Carolred

    “While a 20% biodiesel blend (B20) can be used without modification, higher blends may affect rubber seals and gaskets in older equipment. ”

    I have heard that all blends can attack rubber seals. What is your source for this claim?

  • Jack

    Hello Matt and Boporaia,

    Matt, I can see three source for help:

    1. An article in today’s, I believe Austin American Statesman, (Sunday, October 26, 2008) stated the University of Texas at Austin maintains a catalogue of 3,000 algas. MS Vista vaporized this mail so I cannot offer more detail.

    2. In 1996, when the National Renewable Energy Lab shut down its algae biomass program, all of its (3,000) cultures were transferred to the University of Hawaii.

    3. NREL in Denver may lead you to a current algae researcher.

    Or, perhaps, I could. I attended undergraduate school to learn to grow algae in the ’60s. You can email me at: infopr@mindspring.com. Good luck.

    Jack Miller

  • Jack

    Hello Matt and Boporaia,

    Matt, I can see three source for help:

    1. An article in today’s, I believe Austin American Statesman, (Sunday, October 26, 2008) stated the University of Texas at Austin maintains a catalogue of 3,000 algas. MS Vista vaporized this mail so I cannot offer more detail.

    2. In 1996, when the National Renewable Energy Lab shut down its algae biomass program, all of its (3,000) cultures were transferred to the University of Hawaii.

    3. NREL in Denver may lead you to a current algae researcher.

    Or, perhaps, I could. I attended undergraduate school to learn to grow algae in the ’60s. You can email me at: infopr@mindspring.com. Good luck.

    Jack Miller

  • http://www.missionnewenergy.com Prem Chandran

    We are producers if plam methyl ester (biodiesel) in Malaysia and looking to develop new markets in the US for various uses of biodiesel. We currently market in Europe our biodiesel used to blend with petroleum diesel.

    Would appreciate any contacts.

    Thanks

    prem

    • http://Web divya

      hi
      there is a fren of mine who has this agriculture farm of these seeds which on processing would give oil this biodiesel …. but he does not know how to move wit this business ccan use please help him out … you can mail him at mohimeenbagdali10@gmail.com.. you can tel him tat you got to know fron divya… thank u

      • chad

        use REAL words! your NOT a little ity baby! GROW UP!

  • http://www.missionnewenergy.com Prem Chandran

    We are producers if plam methyl ester (biodiesel) in Malaysia and looking to develop new markets in the US for various uses of biodiesel. We currently market in Europe our biodiesel used to blend with petroleum diesel.

    Would appreciate any contacts.

    Thanks

    prem

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  • http://Yahoo remi

    i think he’s done a wonderful job

  • http://Web ABBY

    wow

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  • http://www.hulseyenvironmental.com/ firewalker22

    wow, grease from a grease trap to degrease your tools…what will they think of next?

  • chad

    lol

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