Biodiesel 101

Samples of biodiesel

A Renewable Alternative Fuel

Biodiesel fuel is a cleaner burning, renewable alternative to diesel fuel made from any biologically based oil. While commercial biodiesel is commonly made from virgin vegetable oils pressed from soybean, canola, peanut, or sunflower seeds, many small processing facilities around the world take advantage of waste fryer oil from restaurants.

"The use of plant oil as fuel may seem insignificant today, but such oil can, in time, become just as important as petroleum and these coal-tar-products of the present day."

— Rudolf Diesel, 1912

Biodiesel is a renewable resource that is non-toxic, biodegradable, and energy efficient. It is the first alternative fuel to pass the heath effect tests of the Clean Air Amendments of 1990 and the only fuel that can directly replace petroleum based diesel in cars. Studies conducted by the US National Renewable Energy Lab found that tailpipe emissions in diesel engines using biodiesel have a significantly reduced amount of carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter released into the atmosphere.  
Small-scale production is a growing trend on farms and at colleges around the country. The Biodiesel Project at Dickinson College began as a research project and continues to provide the campus with opportunities to study and explore biofuels, solar hot water, and other renewable energies.

Biodiesel is created via the transesterification process, which simply stated, turns waste vegetable oil (WVO), mixed with lye and methanol, into a useable renewable fuel.  The biodiesel fuel, in support of our sustainability initiative at Dickinson, is then used to power college vehicles and machinery.