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Biodiesel – Can you use it in your car?


A field of oilseed rape – used in biodiesel

With environmental concerns growing larger with every flood and drought that hits the news, many drivers are looking for ways to cut down on their carbon footprint without affecting their lifestyle too much. One increasingly popular way is with the use of biodiesel in place of or in addition to standard diesel. But not all cars are suitable for this new fuel type. Here’s a guide to help you understand biodiesel and its uses.

What is biodiesel?


Flowering biodiesel plant

The term biodiesel refers to vegetable oil, either from plants such as rape seed or corn, referred to as “Straight Vegetable Oil” (SVO), or used cooking oil from places such as fast food restaurants, referred to as “Waste Vegetable Oil” (WVO). Biodiesel can be used as fuel for a diesel engine, either as a direct replacement or as an addition to normal diesel. As well as providing cleaner emissions than standard diesel, biodiesel can also work to clear any residue left in the fuel system, increasing efficiency. It is widely stated that biodiesel is a greener fuel than normal diesel as it does not require the same amount of effort to extract. Many environmental groups disagree, as the growing popularity of biodiesels has led to more demand for crops that produce the fuel, resulting in deforestations across the planet’s rainforests as companies search for space.

Because you can use waste vegetable oil as a biodiesel, it is often seen as being a cheaper alternative to diesel. Sourcing the fuel yourself may save money, but unless it is properly treated, you could be causing unseen damage to your car.

Wikipedia definition:“Biodiesel refers to a vegetable oil – or animal fat-based diesel fuel consisting of long-chain alkyl (methyl, ethyl, or propyl) esters. Biodiesel is typically made by chemically reacting lipids (e.g., vegetable oil, animal fat (tallow)) with an alcohol producing fatty acid esters.”

Can my car use biodiesel?


A biodiesel and ethanol pumping station.

If your car normally runs on petrol, then you must avoid biodiesel. This alternative fuel does not work on any car that requires a spark ignition engine to run. If you are looking for an alternative fuel for a petrol car, you must look at using Ethanol.

When it comes to diesel cars, it is important to do as much research as popular. Only four car manufacturers have 100% approved biodiesel for use in their diesel engines so far – Audi, SEAT, Skoda and Volkswagen.

For other manufacturers, caution is advised. Using the wrong fuel type can cause your engine to stop working completely. If you cannot get the information you need from your manufacturer, the recommended ratio of biodiesel to diesel is 50:50.

What are the dangers of biodiesel?

During the winter, some biodiesels made from waste cooking oil can freeze, so be extra careful when driving at this time of year. Biodiesels from Rapeseed oil will not freeze, so you may want to switch over to this type when the cold weather sets in. Alternatively, you can blend in some diesel with the oil to help resist the freezing effect.

Biodiesels can also contain a high concentration of water, which can lead to your engine smoking, reduced power, and more difficult starting. The fuel system can also become corroded by the water, and microbes can infiltrate and deteriorate the paper components of the filters in the system. It is important that the biodiesels used are prepared and treated correctly before use, to ensure that your engine is not affected. Fuels labelled with the specification EN14214 have some quality guaranteed. If properly maintained, biodiesel can increase the lubrication of the engine system that runs much smoother.

So should I use biodiesel?

As with most alternative fuels, research is a must before making any decision. If you are considering using a biodiesel, here is what you need to consider:

  • Will my car run safely on biodiesel?
  • Can I source biodiesel easily and locally?
  • Am I aware of the risks that come with using biodiesel?

If the answer to all three points is “Yes”, then biodiesel could be the fuel for you.


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