Category: Analysis

Introduction

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel that is made from resources that can be renewed. Biodiesel does not contain petroleum. However, it can be mixed with petroleum diesel to form biodiesel mixture. It can be used in some vehicle engines for ignition purposes with minimum modifications or adjustments. Besides, it is non-toxic and easy to use. It is commonly produces through a chemical process known as transesterification.

Today, much attention is being paid to environmental protection. This is due to an increase of the number of vehicles and manufacturing industries, which use fossil fuel for production of energy. Therefore, in order to protect the environment, biodiesel has been developed as a substitute of fossil fuel (Zezza, 2012).

Biofuel is produced from biomass. Biomass comprises of organisms like crops, trash, as well as plants. The main aim of biomass is to make liquid transportation fuels, which comprise of methanol, ethanol, and ethane. These fuels present an alternative to petroleum dependent gasoline as well as diesel fuels (Zezza, 2012). One of the distinct advantages that biomass has compared to other renewable energy sources is that it can be renewed directly into liquid fuels for transportation of cars, trains, and airplanes (Biofuels, 2012).

One of the well-known companies that deal with biodiesel production in the US is Texas BioDiesel. The company has an exclusive right to market its innovative biodiesel manufacturing technology. The solid catalyst making procedure, which is exceptional to Texas BioDiesel is efficient and less expensive compared to other existing production techniques. Texas Biodiesel is able to produce a product, which is less costly than other biodiesels in the market (Texas Biodiesel, 2006)

There are 185 million vehicles in the United States, which are responsible for 2/3 of countries’ total oil consumption. Research indicates that the amount of available biomass can produce sufficient liquid transportation fuel for the replacement of all gasoline currently used in vehicles. Different studies also indicate that technological advancements will eventually make biofuel affordable.

Ethanol and biodiesel are two main kinds of biofuels. Ethanol is an alcohol, which is produced by fermenting any biomass high in carbohydrates, for instance sugars or starches, through a procedure, which is similar to that of brewing beer. It is commonly used to reduce carbon monoxide as well as other smog-causing emissions from vehicles as fuel stabilizer. However, flexible fuel vehicles that run on combinations of gasoline are now available.

Methods of Preparing Biodiesel

The most frequently used materials for the production of biodiesel include canola, palm oil or soy, tallow, or used cooking oil. Cooking oil has higher levels of free fatty acids compared to vegetable oils. This makes it difficult to process it into biodiesel. However, because of their lower value, cooking oils have lower cost of usage compared to vegetable oil. However, depending on the availability, it will be cheaper to use expensive available oil than using cheap oil that will cost a lot of money due to transportation from its place of manufacture (Biodiesel Production from Grain, 2006).

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Biodiesel is produced by mixing alcohol with vegetable oil and recycled cooking gases or animal fat. On the other hand, methanol, which is commonly termed as wood alcohol, is made from natural gas or biomass. There are different ways of converting biomass to methanol. However, the most effective method is gasification. Gasification encompasses vaporizing biomass at a high temperature, then removing impurities from the burning or hot gas, and thereafter passing it via a catalyst that eventually coverts or turns it into methanol. In most biomass plants in the US, gasoline is mixed with biofuel. This is similar to alcoholic drinks, but it is made from corn.

Another procedure of biogas production is called transesterification. It consists of four main steps, which are summarized further. The first step is pretreatment of oil feedstock or tallow to remove elements that will be harmful to subsequent processing stages. The second stage is transeterificatiom, which involves reaction of the pretreated triglycerides with methanol to make raw glycerol and methylesters. The third stage is methyl ester purification, which involves the removal of extra methanol catalysts as well as glycerol acquired from transesterification procedure. The last stage is glycerol purification, which involves eliminating methanol. Potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide are used as a catalyst in transesterification (Duncan, 2003). Figure 2 in the Appendix section illustrates the transesterification cycle.

Biofuels are a current development that has attracted attention presently because of the ever deteriorating supply of natural resources. This has led to the in-depth scientific research into matters of alternative energy. Therefore, biofuels have been found to be the next alternative because they are environmentally friendly and affordable compared to fossil fuels (Biofuels, 2009).

Considering it from an environmental viewpoint, fossil fuel consumption has increased significantly in the past 20 years, therefore, raising concerns about the existence of diesel and petrol in the next hundred years. The implication here is that in the next hundred years, there will be a shortage of fossil fuels if its rate of consumption continues to rise.  

Side Effect

The main disadvantage of using biofuels like ethanol is that it is corrosive compared to petrol. Corrosiveness makes metallic parts wear out at a faster rate. Therefore, they cannot be used in boats and aircrafts (Ngo, 2008).

Another benefit of using biodiesel is the fact that it is a renewable clean biofuel with combustion same as that of petroleum diesel. It is made from animal or plant products and has many benefits over traditional petroleum fuel comprising of reduced tailpipe emissions as well as biodegradability.

The key producers of biofuel in the US are national and international oil firms, which operate both in refining as well as distribution of biofuels. However, in the near future oil firms will not have farmland, but they will have lasting sourcing contracts. Besides, the bio market business will be controlled by local actors, for instance municipalities.

On average, there has been a global annual ethanol production growth by 15%. In 2009, ethanol production was at 66,635 million. Corn produces from the US and sugarcane from Brazil accounted for approximately 89% of worldwide ethanol production (Biodiesel Production from Grain, 2006).

Regulations

Different regulations have been implemented to encourage biodiesel production by international and governmental bodies. For instance, European Union directive on renewable energy demands that each member state has to make sure that 10% of fuel used for transportation is renewable electricity or biofuel by 2020.

Production Costs

Total cost of producing biodiesel is the sum of capital related charges and the production cost (Biodiesel Production from Grain, 2006). Entire capital cost of feedstock of 70,000 tonnes yearly costs about $20-30 million. However, prices of the main raw materials used to produce biodiesel, for instance tallow and feedstock, fluctuate significantly. Therefore, each year the cost of biodiesel production changes (Duncan, 2003).

The cost of operations includes maintenance, miscellaneous chemicals like the neutralizing acid as well as catalysts and labor. These costs also differ depending on the kind of processing plant used as well as on the size of the plant. Separately, each minor section of costs of production is indicated in Figure 1 in Appendix section of this paper. On the other hand Table 1 summarizes key expenses of production costs.

It should also be noted that bio-diesel production is economical if there is a good market of glycerin (Duncan, 2003). Glycerol is produced from different sources such as the oleochemical processing company. It is applied in different fields of a wide variety of industries comprising of resins, polyols, cosmetics, drugs, tobacco, and paper making. It is thus a complex market, and various nations have some level of production capability. In the last two years, glycerin prices have varied or fluctuated over $1,000 per tonne due to high demand from biodiesel production industries and low vegetable prices (Duncan, 2003).

Environmental Benefits

As it was mentioned earlier, the use of biodiesel reduces emission of gases that pollute the environment. Then again, use of biodiesel leads to a significant reduction of hydrocarbons as well as carbon monoxide and a slight rise in oxide of nitrogen. This evidently shows that continued use of biodiesel will make the environment cleaner than it is at the moment in the US.

In 2006, president Bush announced a plan of replacing more than 75% of oil imports by 2025. It was estimated that his aim would need 60 billion of gallons every year. Besides, Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 states that it requires 36 billion gallons for use by 2022.

Obstacles

The main obstacle to the production of biodiesel in the US is its cost. Presently, a gallon in the US goes for $2-$3. The use of components like vegetable oil, which is the most available feedstock for the production of biodiesel is more expensive than petroleum-based products. Moreover, the cost of vegetable oil has been rising because of high demand in other markets. Production of biodiesel using the common methyl process is also capital intensive.

In order to cope with this obstacle, it is recommended that companies should invest more in vegetable oil. They can do this by either opening up plants that produce vegetable oil or widen markets of acquiring vegetables to avoid the risk of running short of vegetable oil.

Conclusion

The idea of replacing fossil fuel with biodiesel arose due to the harmful effect that fossil fuel had on the environment. Evidence from various studies indicated that ozone was slowly depleting due to harmful emissions released from vehicles and industries. Carbon monoxide produced after combustion of fossil fuel comprise of the highest percentage of environmental pollutants. Besides, studies indicate that biodiesel fuel is one of the most environmental friendly fuels.

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