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Biodiesel - A Viable Renewable Energy Resource

By Rutvik Solanki
Published in Projects
4 min read

Biodiesel is a renewable alternate source of petroleum and can be used in engines. It is Eco-friendly, non-toxic and it is thought to be future diesel. Petroleum is a natural source that is rapidly depleted. Biofuel is obtained from vegetable oil, algae, edible and non-edible beans. It is derived from triglycerides and fatty acids by trans-esterification and esterification, respectively. As we all know that fossil fuels are limited resources, we heavily depend on petroleum for transportation, industries, and agricultural machinery. Industrialization, urbanization, and increasing population are increasing the demand for energy. To satisfy our increasing energy requirements consumption of fossil fuel which are limited. In cities, air contamination increases because the diesel engine is a big pollution source by traffic in urban areas. Carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are rapidly increases and many other gasses from smoke are released. so pressure on researchers to search for alternate ways of diesel to reduce environmental pollution. In diesel engine emissions, using mineral diesel, the presence of sulfur results in sulfur oxides and sulfates. When these sulfur chemicals are released into the atmosphere they form sulfur dioxide which combines with water to form sulfuric acid. This acid is carried by winds to neighboring regions, dropping onto the land when it rains. This phenomenon is known as acid rain.

The finite nature of fossil fuels necessitates the consideration of alternative fuels from renewable sources. Bio-Diesel is an alternative to liquid fossil fuels prevalent in society.

This is an excellent sustainable resource of Energy and can be produced from oils. Here using non-edible oils and producing Bio-diesel actually puts us in a cycle where we produce CO2 by burning Bio-Diesel and at the same time, we need to grow trees for producing oils(edible/non-edible). Bio-diesel is free from sulfur (as it is derived from vegetable oils) and its use substantially reduces the emissions of SO2 and aromatics as well. Even on blending with mineral diesel, bio-diesel significantly reduces emissions. Currently, there are various options for sustainable energy sources but developing them would require a setup of totally new technology and infrastructure which would cost high and at the same time would not be of any help to Developing Nations. They still have areas that aren’t even electrified, so bringing new technology to rural areas is practically impossible. But what if we did not have to change the whole of the infrastructure and just by changing the source of energy, we could make the power cheaper and sustainable along with it being Eco-friendly. That would be a win-win situation and very beneficial. Most of our current diesel engines can be used with very minor changes in engines. It has better quality exhaust gas emission since the organic carbon present in it is photosynthetic in origin. It does not contribute to increasing the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and consequently to the greenhouse effect. In spite of the higher emission level of NOx, the emission from bio-diesel combustion contained lower amounts of CO, CO2, HC, and smoke.

Current Requirements

Currently, there are several ways to determine the number of reactants for maximum output but as the main purpose of Bio-Diesel to make rural areas self-sustainable in terms of energy has failed because the net rate that a person needs to pay for knowing the required amounts for one oil combination is very high as it includes the use of high-end technologies such as spectroscopy which is not available to a common man. Currently, the world works on the thumb rule and assumptions about the amount of catalyst and methanol to be used. The values used are not optimized and hence not cost-effective and neither Energy effective. Let’s say for increasing yield by 1 percent it might be taking 1 more hour of heat, which results in loss of more heat energy than gain in biodiesel. This could be stopped if we have a model that could predict outputs within a tolerance zone. People have tried to make models but are either not publicly available or not publicly useful as the conditions used by them are primarily different and hence the kinetics of the oil gets varied. Even the catalysts used by them were different which changes the amount by which the energies of activation of forward and backward reactions are altered which can lead to totally different values required for the optimized reaction. Furthermore, the models made are just by experimental analysis of one oil and no generalized model has yet been made according to current research while we want to make a correlation between various factors of input and the yield we get off the bio-diesel.

Design Package Development

An important reason why major biodiesel projects tend to fail is that they are major. The oil tends to degenerate, reducing its effectiveness for biodiesel conversion over time. The time for storage and transportation are major factors in the degradation of oil, making it unsuitable for the project. Thus, if we want to make biodiesel an effective system, the biodiesel setup must be decentralized. The oil needs to be produced locally and converted to biodiesel at the place itself.

For this purpose, we have done a project on creating a design package for a Mini-Biodiesel reactor that can cater to the needs of several households. This will not only impact the environment positively but also boost local entrepreneurship, where local entrepreneurs can be supplied with one set and produce and sell the fuel locally. Further, since the operating cost of the machine and the price of the raw materials is low, it can have a much cheaper price. The details of the project can be found here. For further details, cad files, and software code, you can contact me at rutvikrj26@gmail.com with the subject title “Support for Biodiesel Project”.

Some more info on model development can be found in another blog.


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