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The beauty of biodiesel

Biodiesel is nontoxic, biodegradable and reduces emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and particulates. Unlike other alternative fuels, it can be used in unmodified engines, even in its pure form.

Biodiesel can be made from almost any oilseed crop, animal fat or restaurant waste grease. It is produced primarily from soybean oil in the United States and rapeseed in Europe.

The fuel is produced by plant or animal oil transesterification: oil is combined with alcohol to produce the chemical compounds esters and glycerin. Esters are used for biodiesel and glycerin is the coproduct used in dozens of products such as soaps and cosmetics.

The cost is slightly higher than regular diesel, but the federal government offers a rebate to companies blending biodiesel, making it competitive with petrodiesel

In fuel blends with 20-percent biodiesel or lower, it performs as well as conventional diesel. “This product looks like, stores like, pumps like, and burns like diesel fuel. It requires no modifications in our fueling infrastructure, no extensive training for driver or mechanics, and no major modifications to the vehicle,” writes Denny Coughlin, Minneapolis Public Schools bus fleet manager, in the February 2006 issue of School Transportation News.

“The fuel tank, lines, filters and injectors will generally accept lower levels of biodiesel mixtures with no noticeable changes.”

Minnesota is one of several states that has adopted American Society of Testing and Materials biodiesel quality standards. The National Biodiesel Board also offers a “seal of approval” stamp for biodiesel marketing.

While most highway vehicles use 2- to 20- percent biodiesel blends, pure 100-percent biodiesel is used in environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands and national parks because it is nontoxic and biodegrades as fast as sugar. It’s also used in enclosed areas such as warehouses and mines because its flash point is nearly twice as high as petrodiesel — 300 degrees F — making it safer to store and handle. ¦

Biodiesel green power

In Minnesota, by using a 2-percent biodiesel blend, we can annually: