What is biodiesel: advantages and disadvantages

What is biodiesel: advantages and disadvantages

Currently, the vast majority of energies that are used come mainly from fossil fuels, a source of highly polluting and non-renewable energy. Therefore, it is necessary to investigate other less polluting and renewable sources of energy. However, these sources also have their disadvantages.

In this article we will focus on analyzing one of these sources: biodiesel. Read on and review what biodiesel is, advantages and disadvantages.

What is biodiesel and what is its origin

It was in the 1890s that biodiesel began to be popularly known, with the invention of the diesel engine by the German engineer Rudolf Diesel. The diesel engine had a number of advantages over gasoline, one of which was its ability to operate with a variety of sources, such as vegetable oil. In 1900 and during the Paris Exhibition, a diesel engine using peanut oil was exhibited.

This fuel was later named biodiesel and is produced by a transesterification process. This process stimulates chemical reactions in the vegetable oil (cultivated especially developed for that purpose or commercial waste) and converts it into fuel for these diesel engines. Other raw materials are palm oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, soybean oil or even fats of animal origin. Although, due to its high production costs, most of this fuel is produced from residual vegetable oil from restaurants, food manufacturing or fast food establishments. Nowadays, developing crops for use as fuels is an industry with great potential, but the high cost of the transesterification process is the main drawback.

In recent years, the use of biodiesel has grown a lot, increasing from about 25 million gallons of biofuel at the beginning of 2000 to more than 2,800 million in 2016. According to projections on the availability of raw materials, the industry has been marked as aim to produce up to 10% of the diesel transport market in 2022.

What is biodiesel for?

Biodiesel has many possible uses, then we will explain what are the main uses of biodiesel:


Biodiesel represents a cleaner alternative to the use of oil as fuel, currently the majority. Other biodiesel alternatives such as solar or wind energy are not practical to be used in transportation.

Power source

Biodiesel cells have applications in the production of energy such as electricity. This electricity can be used in facilities such as schools, residential areas or hospitals.

According to scientists at the University of San Luis, it is possible to develop a fuel cell using cooking oil and sugar to produce electricity, which can be used to charge computers from mobile phones.

Heat source

Biodiesel can also be used to produce natural gas to heat the house. Unlike using wood to heat the home, biodiesel can reduce emissions of nitrogen and sulfur dioxide.

Clean spills of oil and grease

Biodiesel works as a cleaning agent in areas where water is contaminated by oil. It can also be used as an industrial solvent.

Replace fossil fuels

Fossil fuels are the predominant energy sources in the world today, but they are running out. The development of biodiesel would replace these fuels with renewable sources.

What are the advantages of biodiesel

In the following section we explain what the main advantages of biodiesel are:

  • Biofuels such as biodiesel are a renewable source of energy, since the crops from which they are produced can be re-cultivated.
  • In addition, biodiesel and biofuels are neutral in their carbon emissions, since the carbon produced in their combustions is compensated by the carbon absorbed by the crops that produce them.
  • Another advantage is that biodiesel is a source of energy that does not depend on foreign imports and global markets.
  • Biodiesel can be used in current diesel engines without making significant mechanical modifications.
  • They are also cleaner and more efficient fuels than fossil fuels, since less hazardous waste is generated during their manufacture.

Disadvantages of biodiesel

One of the disadvantages of biodiesel is that the land used for these crops reduces the amount of land available for growing food. This fact represents a great concern in developing countries, where food must be produced to feed an increasing population. In addition, these crops need large amounts of water and fertilizers, which could be used in food production.

Another concern is the effect of monocultures on balanced rural ecosystems. Large tracts of monocultures can have a detrimental effect on local flora and fauna.