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Publication Title | Biodiesel Tipsheet

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Biodiesel Tipsheet 50p
Machynlleth, Powys SY20 9AZ / Tel. 01654 705950 / Fax. 01654 702782 / email. info@cat.org.uk / website. www.cat.org.uk
As the impacts of global climate change become increasingly visible, interest in alternatives to fossil fuels is growing. Learn which biofuels are suitable for you, where to buy them, and how to make your own.
Interest in alternative transport fuels grows as the impacts of global climate change become increasingly visible, and as the international situation makes fuel security a vital issue. As oil prices increase and reserves become exhausted, investment in the alternatives to fossil fuels will become widespread. In the meantime, a number of adventurous and environmentally conscious individuals and entrepreneurs have begun to seek out change for themselves. A swift browse through the dozens of internet sites available on the subject proves that there is much you can do, even in the rather backward UK, to cut your CO2 emissions and your chances of running out of gas!
So, what can you do? You can buy biodiesel (new or
used vegetable oil that has gone through a process of transesterification), or a modified vehicle that will run on straight vegetable oil (SVO) – (using one of a number of methods intended to heat the SVO and reduce its viscosity). Or you
can do it yourself: make your own biodiesel at home, or install an engine conversion kit. If doing it yourself, or using SVO, then don’t forget that you will still be liable for fuel duty – HM Revenue and Customs require payment of duty on every litre of fuel used for transport on public roads (but not for boats, farm vehicles or generators). If producing fuel yourself you will need to register as a producer and for tax – you’ll need to register for tax as an SVO user too. (Contact HM Revenue and Customs for form EX103A and notice 179E, www.hmrc.gov.uk)
What’s best for me?
It depends on your level of commitment and technical know how. Experience shows that using biodiesel is quick, convenient and suitable for almost all diesel vehicles without any modification, whereas using 100% SVO requires a conversion kit, plus a certain amount of dexterity and skill to fit the kit (depending on your vehicle and the method of conversion you choose). Making your own biodiesel, however, is a potentially dangerous activity that requires proper preparation facilities and extreme care and attention to detail (though the process itself
is relatively straightforward once you understand the organic chemistry involved). Both forms of ‘vegetable’ fuel attract a reduced rate of duty – this will be reflected in the price you
pay your supplier of biodiesel or the tax you have to pay as a producer – the tax is currently 20p per litre less than that for fossil diesel. From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank by Joshua Tickell explains in detail how to turn used vegetable oil into a fuel
– either by creating biodiesel or by modifying your engine to run on SVO.
Buy
There are a number of organisations that are now producing biodiesel in the UK – from collectives to commercial companies. You can have fuel delivered to your garage in quantities from 20 to 200 litres, buy a tank for 1000 litres or even in some places pick it up from a refuelling station (see www.biodieselfillingstations.co.uk, which at the time of
writing lists over 200 outlets, though the majority are currently listing 5% biodiesel blends; only 23 suppliers are listed for 95-100% biodiesel). In France most diesel sold at the pump contains a small proportion of biodiesel, and in the UK a lot of Tesco service stations are also selling 5% biodiesel.
DIY
Biodiesel: as mentioned above, doing-it-yourself is perfectly possible, but isn’t simple and needs strict care and attention. You can buy the necessary chemicals and hardware from suppliers varying from your local pharmacy to dealers in secondhand laboratory equipment, or you can build your own ‘reactor’ following guidelines devised by organisations such as the Low Impact Living Initiative (LILI). You will need to set aside a safe working area with sufficient room to store volatile chemicals, oil feedstock and finished fuel and to house your reactor – its size will be dependent on the scale at which you intend to produce biodiesel i.e. tens, hundreds or thousands of litres at a time. CAT would advise all those considering producing their own fuel to first attend a training course: either at CAT or elsewhere (see Further information).
How biodiesel is made
The process of converting vegetable oil into biodiesel, whether used waste product or from crops such as oilseed rape (above), relies on an organic chemical reaction known as transesterification, a chemical process in which the vegetable oil molecule is broken up, glycerol is removed
and replaced by the much lighter compound methanol. The basic chemical process remains the same whether 1 litre
or 1 million litres is being produced, though the quality of
the feedstock oil will dictate the intensity and length of the process.
Note: Biodiesel can technically be produced from ethically unsound crops, such as palm oil grown on clearcut rainforest land. Similarly, source crops which require high energy input to be produced provide no net environmental benefit if using them to produce biofuels. Check what you’re buying!
Less paper, more trees: download this tipsheet and other titles at www.cat.org.uk/catpubs

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