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A Student's Guide to Alternative Fuel Vehicles

Biodiesel - a lot like diesel fuel, but made from vegetable oil or animal fat.

Deep fat fried?
Biodiesel is not regular vegetable oil and is not safe to swallow. Biodiesel is biodegradable though, so it is much less harmful to the environment if spilled. Biodiesel is made through a process called transesterification. This process makes vegetable oil and animal fat into esterified oil, which can be used as diesel fuel, or mixed with regular diesel fuel.

Ordinary diesel engines can run on biodiesel. Practically any type of vegetable oil or animal fat can be used to make biodiesel. But the most popular types of vegetable oils are soybean and rapeseed oil. Soybeans are used to make tofu and soy sauce. Soybean and rapeseed oil have been tried as biodiesel because they are less expensive than most other types of vegetable oil. Although soybean and rapeseed oil are more expensive than regular diesel fuel, most other types of vegetable oils are too expensive to even be considered for use as diesel fuel. Animal fat also is too expensive for this use, but used oil from restaurants has been tried for biodiesel.

Biodiesel has been shown to produce lower tailpipe emissions than regular diesel fuel. The best thing about biodiesel is that it is made from plants and animals, which are renewable resources.

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Page updated: April 22, 2002
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