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Speaker Abstract

The Good and the Dark Side of Biodiesel

Joseph M. Perez and Wallace A. Lloyd
Tribology Group, Chemical Engineering
The Pennsylvania State University

The surge to produce alternative fuels to reduce petroleum has resulted in the rapid growth of biodiesel facilities in the U.S., both as large plants and small “home brew” production units. Penn State has been a leader in researching the use of vegetable oils both as fuels and lubricants for over 10 years. A field study using both biodiesel and biodegradable hydraulic fluids has been in progress for over four years. The transesterification process to produce biodiesel is an old established process that is easy to use. Chemically, a triglyceride is converted to fatty acid esters by simply heating the triglyceride in the presence of an alcohol and a catalyst. The reaction results in biodiesel and a by-product, glycerol. The biodiesel produced is a clean burning fuel that can be used to replace No. 2 petroleum diesel fuel. The good side of using biodiesel has been well documented. The advantages include: a renewable resource, reduction of petroleum imports, an improved cash-value product that helps the farmers, and no modification required for use in diesel engines. On the dark side, as we make progress issues have arisen in addition to the known disadvantages of oxidative stability and low temperature characteristics of the fuel. A number of the new dark side issues that have arisen with the growth of this new industry are technical while others are economical and socio-political. Several of these to be discussed include those involving safety, economics and food versus fuel issues. A possible show stopper is the question of consistent quality product.