Here Are Some Answers to Some Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is biodiesel?

Biodiesel is a fuel for vehicles with diesel engines that is made from vegetable oil. Through a chemical reaction known as transesterification, the vegetable oil becomes thinner and converts to a substance nearly identical to petroleum diesel. With fewer impurities in it than petroleum diesel, biodiesel burns cleaner, making it a more environmentally sustainable choice. Ithaca Biodiesel Cooperative makes biodiesel from recycled waste oil from local restaurants, making it the most sustainable type of biodiesel there is. Even when the percentage of biodiesel used is small (5% biodiesel, known as B5, or 20% biodiesel, known as B20, are commonly used), the reduction in emissions is significant. The more biodiesel you mix into your regular diesel, the greater the environmental benefit.

2. What is straight vegetable oil (SVO)?

Straight vegetable oil, also known as SVO, is pure vegetable oil. It’s the kind you might buy in the supermarket or see in a restaurant deep fryer. SVO used for fuel is usually recycled waste vegetable oil, or WVO, that has been filtered to remove food particles and water, although you can use brand new cooking oil from the store. It is possible to run diesel vehicles on SVO – several members of Ithaca Biodiesel Cooperative do! – however, because SVO is thicker than petroleum diesel and biodiesel, it is necessary to convert your car by installing a second fuel tank, fuel line, and switch system. This specially installed switch allows you to change fuel lines from diesel to vegetable oil after your car has had a chance to heat up and then to switch back before you are about to stop driving. It’s important not to leave the veggie fuel line engaged while the car is off because the oil can gel in the engine and cause damage to the fuel injectors.

3. How are biodiesel and SVO different, and when are they used?

Biodiesel is made from vegetable oil. It’s thinner than vegetable oil, but still slightly thicker than petroleum diesel. Straight vegetable oil (SVO) is pure vegetable oil, filtered but otherwise unmodified. Because a vegetale oil fuel conversion kit with two tanks is designed to heat vegetable oil in a car, SVO can be used to fuel your car throughout the winter as long as the vehicle starts on diesel and gets hot enough for the SVO. On the other hand, you can put biodiesel straight into any diesel engine without modication to the vehicle in different percentages depending on outside temperatures. In warm summer weather, you can use up to 50% biodiesel (also known as B50) without knowing anything more about the car (see question number 8 below). In cold winter weather, you can safely use up to 20% biodiesel (also known as B20). In colder weather, as in below 15 degrees farenheit, biodiesel becomes even more viscous than petroleum diesel and can gel inside the engine, causing major damage. In these colder temperatures it is best to use less than 5 percent biodiesel.

4. Why is biodiesel better for the environment?

Biodiesel is made from oil that comes from plants, so the carbon dioxide that is released when the oil is burned is the same carbon dioxide that was absorbed by the plant from the atmosphere during the plant’s lifetime. Thus, unlike fossil fuels, biodiesel and SVO release no new carbon into the atmosphere when they’re burned. The carbon was in the atmosphere already. This means that biodiesel made from WVO is carbon neutral.

5. What is climate change?

Climate change is the process of rising global temperatures and increased extreme weather patterns that the earth is undergoing right now, caused by greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide) that are released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal are burned. Visit www.climatecrisis.net to learn more about the causes of climate change and ways to preserve the environment.

6. What is peak oil?

Peak oil is the point when the maximum possible global oil production will be reached. Scientists and economists differ on when this will happen, or indeed if it has happened already. After the peak is reached, production is predicted to decline steadily and perhaps dramatically, leading to a world energy crisis. In a nutshell, our consumption of nonrenewable (fossil) fuels cannot continue to increase year after year as it has done in the past. It’s essential that we decrease our fuel consumption, increase fuel efficiency, and switch to alternative fuels wherever possible. Powering your diesel vehicle with biodiesel and/or SVO is a great way to minimize your contribution to peak oil.

7. Can I put biodiesel in any vehicle?

No. Biodiesel can only be used with diesel engines.

8. Can I put 100% biodiesel in my diesel engine?

You may be able to put 100% biodiesel into your vehicle in the warm summer months, but it’s important to research carefully what material your fuel line is made of before using B100. Biodiesel has solvent properties; over time a rubber fuel line or even just a rubber gasket can become corroded and eventually leak if you use too high of a percentage of biodiesel in your tank. Most car and truck manufacturers suggest a maximum of 20% (B20). Many tractors, trucks, and even some cars have fuel lines that are made exclusively of metal, and some have flexible fuel lines which are compatible with biodiesel. If your vehicle has rubber lines, you can purchase a kit for approximately sixty dollars to change out the rubber parts for biodiesel-compatible lines. These vehicles could handle 100% biodiesel in warm weather; however, even an engine with all metal or biodiesel-compatible fuel lines can’t handle more than B20 in the winter for the same reason that no car can—too much biodiesel can gel in cold weather. On a positive note, the solvent properties of even the failsafe B20 percentage can actually extend the life of your engine. Biodiesel cleans out the accumulated tar in your fuel line and keeps everything running smoothly. For this reason, when you first start using biodiesel, you might need to change your diesel fuel filter more often than usual until the tar and muck from the engine have been loosened and cleaned out. Finally, biodiesel replaces some of the lubrication ability that is lost when most of the sulpher in diesel fuel was removed a few years ago, making diesel itself a cleaner fuel than other petroleum fuels.

9. How is biodiesel different from ethanol?

Ethanol is an alcohol made from corn, among other things. Its use is limited to gasoline powered engines. A lot more energy is used to make a gallon of ethanol than is created. Biodiesel is a vegetable oil–based fuel. It’s use is limited to diesel engines. The energy needed to make a gallon of biodiesel is much closer to the energy value of the resulting gallon of fuel.

10. What is a cooperative?

A cooperative is a democratic organizational structure in which people can become members and share ownership in the corporation. These member owners receive certain benefits, such as sharing profits and the right to vote on certain issues. Ithaca Biodiesel Cooperative has three levels of membership for workers, consumers, and investors. We are worker and community owned and supported, bolstering our local economy.

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