Heat with biodiesel
Did you know that home heating oil is virtually the same as diesel automotive fuel? Just like filling up your gas tank with biodiesel, you can fill up your oil tank with a biodiesel blend—a cleaner heating fuel made from vegetable oils and recycled restaurant cooking oils that's available today in many areas. The best part: Not only do you cut your carbon dioxide and other emissions significantly, but you can also use a combination of regular home heating oil and renewable biodiesel without replacing your current oil-fired heating system.
How to heat with biodiesel
If you heat with oil, you can reduce your petroleum usage by using a biodiesel blend, which works in virtually any oil-fired furnace or boiler.
What is biodiesel?
Biodiesel is a clean-burning, renewable fuel made from vegetable oils and animal fats using a chemical process called transesterification. Biodiesel doesn't contain any petroleum, but can be blended at any level with home heating oil and can be used without modifications to your fuel tank, pump, or burner in concentrations of up to 20 percent. To use higher biodiesel fuel blends, modifications are required.
Pure biodiesel is called B100. Biodiesel blends are designated "BXX," where XX is the volume percent of biodiesel, and the remainder is conventional petroleum-based diesel. B20 is what's usually used in cars, buses, and other diesel vehicles.
In the US, about half of all biodiesel is made from soybean oil, the other half is made primarily from recycled restaurant cooking oil. In addition to soybeans, biodiesel can, however, be made from just about any vegetable oil including corn, canola, cotton seed, peanut, sunflower, and mustard seed. Making biodiesel from recycled restaurant cooking oil and animal fat uses a waste product that would otherwise be thrown out. New studies show biodiesel can also be made from algae.
What is Bioheat®?
The National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA) and the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) have coined the term Bioheat® to refer to fuels that are a mixture of home heating oil and biodiesel. Their goal is to create a standard, uniform product that American consumers will understand and recognize. Bioheat® fuel ranges from a 2 to 20 percent blend of biodiesel with petrodiesel heating oil. Bioheat is approved by The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), the standards organization that governs regular home heating oil. Bioheat is currently sold in every US state except Alaska, although it's not yet available in all locations. Check the National Biodiesel Board's list of Bioheat distributors to find a supplier in your area.
Using B20 biodiesel can reduce your home heating carbon emissions by 20 percent. With modifications to your heating system, you may even be able to use B99.9—or 99.9 percent biodiesel and only .1 percent petroleum-based diesel. Pure biodiesel, B100, can gel in cold weather, making it unsuitable for use in home heating applications or vehicles in cold climates. With B20, however, you can heat your house year-round, even in the coldest climates. While biodiesel gels in cold weather, as does regular petrodiesel heating fuel, B20 can be treated for winter use, using treatment methods similar to those used for No.2 diesel.
In Canada, there is also a product called BioHeat™, trademarked by Columbia Fuels, a Vancouver Island-based home heating oil company. BioHeat™ is a fuel blend consisting of 20 percent biofuel combined with ultra low-sulfur heating oil that can be used in any existing furnace oil system.
Preparing for the switch
Although you can switch to blends up to B20 without any special preparations, the following preparations can be helpful in making a seamless switch:
- Clean the furnace or boiler
- Replace the furnace oil filter
- If your oil tank is old, consider cleaning it
- Buy an extra oil filter to have on hand, especially with an older tank
- Consider starting with B5, then increasing the concentration after a few months or during the next heating season
Make your own biodiesel
If you fancy yourself a grown-up Jimmy Neutron, making your own biodiesel might be just the hobby for you. You don't have to own a fast food franchise or your own soybean field—homemade biodiesel can be made from recycled cooking and vegetable oils. Journey to Forever offers a thorough DIY biodiesel production guide along with links to biodiesel recipes. The transesterification process used to make biodiesel is surprisingly a lot like making soap. Keep in mind you'll need a large space for your biodiesel operation: check with one of the biodiesel kit vendors below for details.
Homemade biodiesel is usually made from waste oil and grease generated by restaurants. Check your local newspaper—many restaurants now advertise free oil to anyone who will take it—or call around. Another option: Become a greaser. Good Grease offers Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO) how-tos, forums, and a classified section to buy or sell WVO anywhere in the country.
Find it! Bioheat dealers, kits, and books
Ask your oil company if it offers, or plans to offer, biodiesel, or choose one of the companies listed below. New companies are joining the ranks of biofuel dealers every day. For the thrifty and adventurous, buy a biodiesel kit and make your own.
Author Greg Pahl tracks the history of biodiesel from its first use by inventor Rudolph Diesel to its current state. Along the way he describes biodiesel production, explores its environmental impact, looks at biodiesel fuels in the US and Europe, and explains the industry’s complex politics.
The Freedom Fueler makes 40 gallons of washed biodiesel in 24 hours for about 70 cents per gallon, and can convert even heavily used oils and fats. An added bonus: for every Freedom Fueler purchased, the company plants 50 trees to combat CO2 in the atmosphere!
Eco-friendly Bioheat home heating fuel is domestically produced from US feedstocks. Although not comprehensive, this site lists over 40 Bioheat dealers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, and Indiana. Locate a Bioheat dealer near you.
Heating with biodiesel helps you go green because…
- Biodiesel is a renewable fuel that can be made from virtually any vegetable oil.
- It's less toxic than table salt and biodegrades as quickly as sugar.
- A blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent regular petrodiesel can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 15 percent.
- B20 contains 20 percent less sulfur than regular No. 2 heating oil.
- Biodiesel produces lower particulate emissions.
- While increased nitrogen oxide emissions have been cited as a concern when using biodiesel for automobile fuel, NOx emissions are actually reduced when using biodiesel for home heating, due to the differences in the combustion processes.
A study by the Massachusetts Oilheat Council (MOC) and NORA found that by combining a blend of 80 percent low-sulfur heating oil and 20 percent biodiesel (B20), sulfur oxide emissions are reduced by 80 percent or more and nitrogen oxide emissions are lowered by about 20 percent. In addition, carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced by 20 percent and particulate matter by 10 percent.
The sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides contained in No. 2 home heating fuel are precursors to acid rain. In addition, 77 percent of the particulate matter produced in oil-fired heating systems is related to the heating fuel's sulfur content. Reducing sulfur also lowers the nitrogen content in the fuel during the refining process; nitrogen is a key cause of smog.
The Big Apple backs Bioheat
Using Bioheat could have a huge impact on air pollution, especially in major cities. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg's environmental vision, called PlaNYC, calls for the city to use B5 for all city-owned buildings in 2008. By 2012, he plans to have all city buildings heated with B20. In addition, legislation before the City Council would also require that New York City households that heat with oil—all 1 million of them—use B20 by 2013. Other cities are expected to follow suit.
It's estimated that New York consumes about 500 million gallons of fuel oil each year for heating—which equals about 5.3 percent of total US consumption. A switch to a 20 percent blend for biodiesel would mean that about 100 million gallons of Bioheat would be used each year instead of conventional petrodiesel. This would equal about 30 percent of national biodiesel production at today's levels.
Related health issues
The shift to biodiesel will have a major impact on lowering emissions of sulfur oxide and carbon dioxide, as well as particulate matter, the causes of many health problems. Particulates, for instance, contribute to respiratory illness, asthma, and cancer.In an article published in the Christian Science Monitor, John Nettleton, a biodiesel expert at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in New York City, points out that the net effect of using Bioheat is "getting a break on three of four pollutants," which "will be a major benefit in terms of public health."
Home brewing caveats
While buying Bioheat is perfectly safe, budding Jimmy Neutrons who brew their own will want to take precautions to avoid their experiments turning out like most of Jimmy's. There are hazards associated with making your own biodiesel, namely: poisonous fumes, dangerous chemicals, and fires. Dangerous fumes should be avoided by always using a closed reactor. Fires are most often caused by using an open reactor or poor ventilation in the presence of an ignition source. Wear protective gloves, an apron, and eye protection when working with methanol, which can cause blindness and death and can be absorbed through the skin, and sodium hydroxide, which can cause severe burns and death.
Biodiesel is a hotbed of controversy and the popular press abounds with concerns that using crops to make biodiesel and other biofuels will result in food shortages and worldwide deforestation.
Will we run out of food?
One concern raised in the media is that using corn and other grains for biofuels will cut into our food supply and raise food prices. Most of these reports, however, are focused on ethanol. Ethanol is an alcohol produced using a process similar to beer brewing, which is blended with gasoline and used to fuel vehicles. Biodiesel, on the other hand, is produced by mixing an alcohol (usually methanol) with vegetable oil, animal fat, or recycled cooking grease, and is used as a fuel for both diesel vehicles and home heating.
All commercial ethanol comes from corn kernels and requires large amounts of fossil fuels to manufacture. The future of ethanol lies in using cellulose (cornstalks, grasses, and other non-food sources) and technologies that use organisms (bacteria or fungi) to break down the cellulose.
If we're going to use cropland for fuel, the next debate becomes: which produces better energy yields—ethanol or biodiesel? University of Minnesota researchers found that the net energy gain is 93 percent for biodiesel derived from soybeans as opposed to 25 percent for ethanol from corn. But a better choice for the future manufacture of biodiesel—and other biomass fuels— is using alternative crops such as switchgrass or mixed prairie grasses, which can thrive on marginal land with minimal amounts of fertilizers and pesticides. This would also help to quell the food-or-fuel argument.
Will we run out of land?
A joint report by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) published in April 2005 found that US land resources could produce a sustainable supply of biomass fuel to replace 30 percent or more of the country’s present petroleum consumption. US agricultural lands are capable of producing almost 1 billion tons of biomass per year and still meet food, feed, and export demands.
Currently, the amount of sustainably removable biomass from agricultural lands is about 194 million tons per year. Five times this amount—or about 1 billion tons—could be produced within 35 to 40 years using a combination of measures such as increasing crop yields using technological advances, adoption of no-till cultivation, and allocating more land use for the production of perennial crops.
Pass the mustard
In addition, the DOE's Mustard Project shows how mustard can be grown for the dual purposes of making biodiesel while at the same time producing an organic pesticide. The US could produce over 6 billion gallons of mustard oil biodiesel for less than a dollar per gallon. The biomass from the mustard (after harvesting the seed for biodiesel) is then used to make the alcohol needed for biodiesel production. Used in a crop rotation with wheat, the remaining mustard plant—the roots, stems, and leaves—are then plowed under, as they have been for centuries, providing a green manure and natural pesticide for next season's wheat crop.
Tax breaks and subsidies
While consumers of Bioheat don't directly get tax breaks, companies that produce and distribute biofuels do, and can then pass those savings on to customers.
For example, on January 24, 2008, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer provided a home heating fuel (Bioheat) tax credit in his proposed 2008-2009 executive budget. By providing a credit of up to 20 cents per gallon to companies that offer Bioheat, fuel distributers can offer a cleaner-burning, domestically produced, renewable product that can be priced more competitively with conventional heating oil.
Did you know?
Automotive diesel fuel is almost identical to home heating oil, but carries a much higher tax rate. A red dye is added to home heating oil to make red diesel and tell the two apart. Red diesel, which contains less sulfur, is cheaper and would presumably work in vehicles. Home heating oil is therefore required to include this special red dye, which can be detected in even tiny amounts of fuel, just to make sure no one tries to use home heating fuel in their diesel car to avoid paying the automotive fuel tax.
- biodiesel: A clean-burning diesel fuel made from natural, renewable sources such as new or used vegetable oil.
- catalyst: An agent that speeds up a chemical reaction or allows it to occur under different conditions.
- No. 2 diesel: Refineries produce heating oil as a part of the distillate fuel oil product family, which includes heating oils and diesel fuel. Fuel oil is classified into six classes according to its boiling temperature, composition, and purpose. In this classification, No. 2 fuel oil is diesel oil, therefore home heating oil is commonly referred to as "No. 2" oil.
- low-sulfur heating oil: In the 1990s, the EPA mandated that diesel used for transportation have a sulfur content of no more than 500 parts per million (ppm). This mandate doesn't apply to heating oil, which averages between 2,000 and 2,500 ppm of sulfur. Low-sulfur fuel oil produces significantly lower levels of air pollutants including sulfur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter (PM).
- particulate matter (PM): A mixture of dry solid fragments, solid cores with liquid coatings, and small droplets of liquid of varying shape, size, and chemical composition. PM of concern is 10 µm or smaller, less than one-sixth the size of a human hair (or 60 µm). Airborne particulate matter sources include burning fuels (gasoline, oil, diesel, wood) as well as fine powders such as carbon black toner. PM may cause health problems, particularly for the elderly, people with heart and lung disease, as well as children and infants.
- transesterification: Transesterification is the chemical reaction between the esters of two different alcohols, resulting in ethyl acetate and methyl alcohol. In terms of biodiesel production, it is when glycerin (used in soap production) is removed from fat or oil, leaving behind methyl esters and glycerin.
- Wired - Fungi Make Biodiesel Efficiently at Room Temperature Making biodiesel requires heating the mixture for several hours to bond the methanol to the oils, which wastes energy. The enzyme lipase can make the bond without heating, but it's expensive. Scientists at the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology found a simple solution: a fungus that produces lots of the enzyme, which can then be made into pellets and used in a no-heat method for making biodiesel.
- The Motley Fool - Pretty Woman, Ugly Stock While filling your oil tank with Bioheat is virtually risk free, you may want to do your homework before adding a biodiesel stock to your green investment portfolio. Check out this hilarious—and informative—article on the pitfalls of investing in alternative energy stocks, in this case the biodiesel company Earth Biofuels, with celebrity backers that include Willie Nelson, Julia Roberts, Morgan Freeman, and race car driver Rusty Wallace.
- Pahl, Greg,(2003) Natural Home Heating: The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company: 42-43
- National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA) - Bioheat®
- Consumer Energy Council of America - Bio-Fuels Facts
- University of New Hampshire Biodiesel Group - Widescale Biodiesel Production from Algae
- US Department of Energy - Mustard Hybrids for Low-Cost Biodiesel and Organic Pesticides
- Mass Energy Consumers Alliance - Use of Biodiesel as a Heating Oil in New England
- SeQuential - Home Heating with Biodiesel
- US Environmental Protection Agency - What You Should Know about Biodiesel in New England
- National Biodiesel Board (NBB) - Cool Customers
- Columbia Fuels
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- Cyberlipid.org - Your www Site For Fats and Oils
- The National Biodiesel Board - Biodiesel Basics
- National Biodiesel Board - Bioheat Offers Cost-Competitive, Environmentally Friendly Alternative to Regular Home Heating Fuel
- WIVB-TV Buffalo - Clean Air Advocates Commend Governor for Biofuel Tax Credit
- The Christian Science Monitor - New Yorkers turning to biodiesel for heat
- Journey to Forever - Biodiesel Processors
- Journey to Forever - Mike Pelley's Biodiesel Method
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory
- Wald, Matthew L., "Is Ethanol for the Long Haul?" Scientific American(January 2007): page
- RenewableEnergyAccess.com Biodiesel Edges Out Ethanol
- US Department of Energy and US Department of Agriculture - Biomass as a Feedstock for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply
- Biodiesel Magazine - Bioheat dealer supplies biodiesel to New York market
- WiseGEEK - What is Red Diesel?
- Pahl, Greg,(2003) Natural Home Heating: The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company: 264
- Bio Energy - Wood Stoves
- Edison Electric Institute - Energy from Fuel Oil
- Consumer Energy Council of America (CECA) - Low Sulfur Heating Oil: Evaluating the Impacts on Consumers
- California Environmental Protection Agency - Air Resources Board: Ambient Air Quality Standards (AAQS) for Particulate Matter
- BDPedia.com - How is Bio-diesel Produced from Plant Oils?