Diesel Fuel Alternative

September 14, 2016

What is Diesel?

Diesel engines were originally invented by Rudolf Diesel in the late 19th century. Diesel engines are a type of internal combustion engine. However, unlike engines which run on gasoline and use spark plugs to ignite the fuel, diesel engines utilized internal compression to ignite the fuel. The first diesel engines were designed to use liquefied coal dust as a source of fuel. Diesel also experimented with a number of vegetable oils, including peanut oil. Most modern diesel engines run on petroleum diesel, which is produced  in the fractional distillation of crude oil.

Biodiesel Blends

In recent years, an interest in renewable, cleaner energy sources has resulted in attempts to modify diesel fuel. A blend of petroleum based diesel and biodiesel fuel has become a fairly common alternative. Biodiesel is a liquid fuel produced from animal fats or vegetable oils, and it is generally cleaner to burn than petroleum based diesel, in addition to being a renewable source of energy. Although biodiesel can be combined in any percentage with petroleum based diesel, or can be used as a complete substitute for petroleum based diesel, in the United States, most biodiesel blends are twenty percent biodiesel and 80% petroleum-based diesel.

Vegetable Oil and a Diesel Alternative

Just as Diesel experimented with peanut oil as a source of fuel for his early diesel engines, vegetable oil is often used as a source for biodiesel today. SVO, or Straight Vegetable Oil, is new, unused oil. WVO, or Waste Vegetable Oil, is oil which is reused after cooking, and which may include byproducts as a result. Both types of oil can be used as an alternative to diesel fuel, either by processing the oil to run in conventional diesel engines, converting the engine to run on vegetable oil or simply using the oil as is in a conventional diesel engine.However, the latter alternative can cause damage to the engine in the long term and is generally not advised.

Other Biodiesel Alternatives

Researchers at the University of Kansas have developed a process which eliminates the need for one of three steps in the Fischer-Tropsch conversion of natural gas to synthetic diesel, which could result in more economical production of synthetic diesel from natural gas. This conversion process has been available since World War II, but is very expensive, which has inhibited the wide use of natural gas as a source of diesel fuel.  Research at other institutions has yielded promising results with using DME or dimethyl ether as a clean source of synthetic diesel. DME is usually produced from is normally produced by dehydration of methanol. However, DME used for biodiesel is derived from natural gas or coal.


Biodiesel is less efficient as a fuel source than petroleum based diesel, and is also presently more expensive to produce. However, a patented technique developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, called Principal Components Regression Plus, that identifies biodiesel fuels which represent a significant emissions improvement over conventional diesel fuels while maintaining or improving  the performance of the vehicle. Tbs technology cold make it easier for biodiesels to make their way to market, resulting in fewer emissions and ultimately saving consumers money.

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