Biodiesel explained: what is it?

The term biodiesel comes from the greek word, bios, life + diesel, from Rudolf Diesel, the inventor of the first diesel engine.

Biodiesel is a way of utilising vegetable oils and animal fats as a neat diesel fuel, or in blends in any proportion with petroleum-based diesel fuels.

Rudolf Diesel designed an engine capable of being fuelled not exclusively on petrol but with a plurality of different vegetable oils.

Biodiesel is very similar to petrodiesel in mechanisms of functions but not on ecological impact.

Biodiesel is associated with higher ecological sustainability: it is renewable, biodegradable, non-toxic, and essentially free of sulfur and aromatics.

Current applications

Today, due to increased environmental awareness in the general public supported by mounting evidence that diesel exhaust poses major health hazards (diesel exhaust has been classified as a potential human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer), reducing diesel pollution has become a public priority.

For this reason people started to look at biodiesel as an environmentally friendly fuel which can easily substitute petrodiesel since it can be used in any diesel engine without modification. [2]

The diesel engine is one of the most widespread engines in the world. It has been the engine of choice for heavy-duty applications in agriculture, construction, industrial and on highway transport for more than 50 years and during all these times it run almost exclusively on petrol. [3]

Today, 86% of the world energy need is met by fossil fuels [4] and 40% of the total energy consumption worldwide is in the form of liquid fuels such as petrol and diesel.

In this scenario, the transportation sector is almost 100% dependent on this kind of liquid fuels. [5] biodiesel


We can already start to take advantage of the different products that can be used to produce biodiesel instead of keep using petrodiesel.

We can classify them in 4 main feedstock groups:

– 1) Vegetable edible oil (like rapeseed, soybean, mustard, palm oil, sunflower, hemp, peanut, cotton, algae);

– 2) Waste vegetable oil used for cooking;

– 3) Non-edible oils (like jatropha, neem oil, castor oil and tall oil);

– 4) Animal fats (like tallow, lard, and yellow grease mainly derived from poultry, beef and pork);


Benefits of biodiesel:

1. It is renewable.

2. It is energy efficient.

3. It can displace petroleum-derived diesel fuel.

4. It can be used in most diesel equipment with no or only minor modifications.

5. It can reduce global warming gas emissions.

6. It can reduce tailpipe emissions.

7. It is non-toxic, highly biodegradable, and suitable for sensitive environments.

8. It can be made domestically from either agricultural or recycled resources.

9. It is non-flammable and safe to handle, transport and store.


If you want to discover why the modern production of biodiesel may not sustainable, check out our article “Drawbacks of modern production of biodiesel

If you are intersted in learning more about biofuel feedstocks, check out “Cannabis as a resource for biodiesel & biofuel” or “Solutions for biofuel: algae, non-edible oils & waste cooking oils“.


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[1] Health Assessment Document for Diesel Engine Exhaust. National Center for Environmental Assessment, Office of Research and Development, US EPA. Washington D.C. (2002), 9-11.

[2] Ayhan, D. (2009). Progress and recent trends in biodiesel fuels. Energy Conversion and Management, 50 (1), 14-34.

[3] Knothe, G.; Van Gerpen, J.; Krahl, J.; (2005) The Biodiesel Handbook, Champaign, Illinois:AOCS Press.

[4] Ahmad, M., Khan, M., Zafar, M., & Sultana, S. (2011). Biodiesel from Non Edible Oil Seeds: a Renewable Source of Bioenergy, Economic Effects of Biofuel Production. InTech Europe.

[5] González-García, S., Luo, L., Moreira, M. T., Feijoo, G., & Huppes, G. (2012). Life cycle assessment of hemp hurds use in second generation ethanol production. biomass and bioenergy, 36, 268-279.

Andrea Cristofoletto

Andrea Cristofoletto is a certified Yoga Teacher and has been studying the ancient science of yoga in India under the guidance of Sri Yogacharya Lalit Kumar from the Himalayan Tradition. He has deepened his knowledge on the therapeutic use of asana, pranayama, chanting, meditation and kriya techniques under the wise guidance of Ratheesh Kumar Atmaram. He has a BSc in Foreign Languages - Business Communication Specialist and graduated with a thesis on the socio-economic importance of the hemp fibre throughout history. Andrea has gained his experience through direct training in hemp fields practising organic agriculture.

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