Kelsey Sanborn

Biodiesel- A Sustainable and Obtainable Energy Source

The Basics of Biodiesel

What is Biodiesel?
Biodiesel is a natural fuel produced by using domestic, renewable resources. Vegetable oil, animal fat, and even fish oil can be used to make it.

How is Biodiesel made?
The process of making biodiesel is called transesterification; in this process the fat or oil and the alcohol mixture is separated into two parts:

Glycerin (used to make soap) and

Methyl Esters (Biodiesel)

Diagram Two is a simple illustration of the process and uses of the reaction’s products.
Diagram Two- This picture was drawn and photographed by Kelsey Sanborn

For the process of transesterification to occur a few things are needed- an alcohol, catalyst, and vegetable oil or animal fat. First, the oil needs to be collected and kept in a container. Then, the alcohol and catalyst need to be mixed together and kept in another container. The reaction happens after the alcohol and oil have been mixed together. After the mixing stage, the glycerin is extracted and the biodiesel is sent to a washing station where all impurities are removed.

Diagram One- This picture was drawn and photographed by Kelsey Sanborn

  • Step One- The first part of the process begins here; this is where the oil is kept before it moves to the processing chamber.
  • Step Two- Methanol (alcohol) is mixed with a catalyst in this chamber.
  • Step Three- The alcohol is mixed with the oil in a process called transesterification. The transesterification produces two things- glycerin and methyl esters (biodiesel).
  • Step Four- The biodiesel is cleaned and any impure substances are removed.
  • Step Five- The flower represents clean, usable biodiesel.
  • Step Six- Fumes from the process are vented outside.

Diagram One illustrates the step-wise process of making biodiesel.

What is Biodiesel made in?
Since the production of biodiesel is something that can be done at home or in a biodiesel processing center the equipment varies greatly. In larger facilities, the process of making biodiesel takes place in the following way-

First, the oil is put into a large tank or barrel. Then the alcohol and catalyst are mixed in a smaller tank. After the oil is ready and the alcohol is mixed both liquids are filtered into a large processing tank. In this tank the alcohol mixes with the oil and the glycerin is separated from the biodiesel. During the final stage the glycerin is collected and the biodiesel is filtered to a wash tank to remove all leftover impurities.

Diagram 3- Created by Kelsey Sanborn

Diagram Three shows a small processing center created in the paint program.

When Biodiesel is made at home the equipment is usually on a smaller scale. To begin, the methyl and catalyst are mixed in a sturdy, plastic container that is safe for chemicals. As in the equipment in a larger setting, the oil is kept in a barrel or another sturdy plastic container. A water heater serves as the container where transesterification takes place.

Diagram Four shows a homemade Appleseed style processor created in the paint program.

Diagram 4- Created by Kelsey Sanborn

What happens after transesterification?
After transesterification biodiesel is mixed with regular diesel; like gasoline, there are different blends of biodiesel.
B20 is the most common of the biodiesel blends. This consists of 80% diesel and 20% biodiesel.
The other popular blends are B5 (5% biodiesel), B2 (2% biodiesel), and B100 (100% biodiesel).

How is diesel added to the biodiesel?
The diesel can be added to the mixture in a few different ways:
  • The right amount of diesel and biodiesel are added to the delivery truck at different times.
  • The two arrive at the truck at the same time via inline mixing.
  • They are mixed together in a separate mixing tank after the biodiesel exits the wash tank.

Uses of Biodiesel

Who uses biodiesel?
Many colleges, universities, and bus companies around the country are using biodiesel as their fuel source. Locally, Keene State College and the town of Keene use biodiesel as their main fuel source.

Where is biodiesel for vehicles sold?
There are biodiesel stations all over the country. If you are looking for biodiesel for your vehicle go to On this site just type in your zip code or the zip code of a place that you are traveling and find a list of stations that sell biodiesel as well as their contact information.

What has to be done to cars so they can run on biodiesel?
If you are planning on using a B20 blend, your diesel vehicle will run on the fuel with very little or no modification. A vehicle will only need modification when you want to use 100% biodiesel.

Is biodiesel only used for vehicles?
No! Companies are now using biofuel to heat homes. There are a few companies in New Hampshire, one in Keene and one on the Sea Cost, that are known for offering their customers a bio-fuel option.

Biodiesel and Green Chemistry

The Use of biodiesel follows one of the most important Green Chemistry Principles- the use of Renewable Feed-stocks.

Unlike gasoline and diesel alone, biodiesel is not produced solely from fossil fuels. Instead it is produced by using a renewable and common resource- vegetable oil.


Kermit the Frog was only partially right in saying that "It isn't easy being green". Going green can be an expensive change but the option of biodiesel is practical and affordable. The cost of a gallon of biodiesel is around the same price as a gallon of regular diesel (usually there is no more than a 15 cent difference). If you don't have a diesel car, consider heating your home with bio-fuel. Heating companies that provide bio-fuel will usually make your current system compatible with the new fuel source for you.


Interested in biodiesel?

There are many helpful resources online about every aspect of biodiesel. There are a few in particular that are helpful for someone looking for both basic and in-depth information-

  • will provide you with everything you need to know about biodiesel- from the basics, to fuel specs, to common myths about biodiesel this website has everything that an interested person could want to know.
  • Another helpful site is from the US department of Energy
  • The final site provided more resources for students that are interested in biodiesel and bio-fuels

Works Cited

Alternative and Advanced Fuels: Biodiesel. US Department of Energy: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Resources. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <>

Backyard Biodiesel. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <>

Biodiesel. Web. 26 Nov. 2011 <>

Biodiesel Equipment. Biodiesel Technologies. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <>

Biodiesel Tutorial. Make Biodiesel. Web. 1 Dec. 2011. <>

GreenerPro. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <>

How to make Biodiesel. CU Biodiesel- Fueling the Future. Web. 2 Dec. 2011. <>

In-line Mixing for better Blends. Chemical Processing. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <>