Everything you ever wanted to know about biodiesel

Last year, the government announced ambitious targets to double the use of renewable fuels in the UK over the next 15 years. Biodiesel is at the core of this campaign, and it is a fuel that most have heard of but few really understand. On the face of it, running your car on biodiesel sounds like a great idea. Good for the environment and great for your wallet. But is it really that simple?

What is biodiesel?

Biodiesel is a byproduct of vegetable oil and animal fat that can be extracted by centrifuge. It can be produced from material that has already been used in the food industry, making it a highly efficient way of reusing waste and putting it to good use. Biodiesel is a 100 percent renewable alternative to conventional diesel, and is classified as carbon neutral. So from an ecological perspective, it ticks all the right boxes.

Biodiesel also produces far fewer pollutants and toxins than fossil fuels. A study by Bioenergy Australia estimated that biodiesel could lead to harmful emissions being reduced by 85 percent compared with fossil fuel. However, these figures need to be taken with something of a pinch of salt, as the scale of benefits is highly dependent on the production methods used.

How is biofuel used?

 From the above, it will be obvious that you cannot simply pour the old oil from your deep fat fryer into the fuel tank of your car, whatever apocryphal tales you might read on the internet. Try to do so, and all you are likely to achieve is a damaged engine and potentially getting your car impounded for running it on a public road without paying fuel duty.

However, commercially made biofuel is big business, and it is already being used widely in fuel stations across the UK. Most blend it with conventional fuel, and while currently, the fuel you put in your car is only about five percent biodiesel, this figure is set to rise over the coming years.

Are there any risks?

Provided you use the blended biofuel that is sold at outlets across the country, there is no risk and you will not notice any difference in fuel economy or performance. Of course, if you put fuel from any other source into your tank, that is another matter. To do so could lead to serious damage, vehicle breakdown or even an accident.

Why isn’t there more investment in biofuel?

On the face of it, biofuel seems like a perfect solution to the world’s fuel crisis. However, it is seen by governments as little more than a stop gap, a way to reduce both our reliance on fossil fuels and the emissions they produce.

Part of the reason is that biodiesel is related to technology that is nearing obsolescence. Given the government plans to phase out petrol and diesel cars entirely by 2040, it is seen as a solution to a problem that will soon disappear forever. However, even if that target is met, “soon” is a subjective word. There will still be diesel cars on the road for many years to come, so biofuel has an important role to play in the medium term.