QUESTION: What is biodiesel?
ANSWER: Biodiesel is a clean burning fuel made from either virgin vegetable oil or from recycled cooking oil. It's made primarily in the mid-west now, but we're hoping to have our own biodiesel production facility up and running by this spring. Operating a diesel vehicle on biodiesel is the best way to minimize your contribution to global warming.
QUESTION: What can I do with biodiesel?
ANSWER: You can use it as a fuel for your oil heat burner or to run any diesel engine.
QUESTION: What's the difference between recycled oil, biodiesel and a biodiesel blend like B3 or B20?
ANSWER: Recycled cooking oil that you pick up from a fast food restaurant is just waste cooking oil. It generally needs to be filtered and dewatered, but then it can be used directly in converted “greasecars” and special heating systems.
Biodiesel is recycled cooking oil that has gone through a chemical process which removes the glycerin contained in the oil. Once the glycerin is removed, the biodiesel fuel can be used directly in any home heating oil burner or diesel engine without modification. Biodiesel is most often used in blends with diesel fuel and heating oil because straight biodiesel (B100) begins congealing at around 45 degrees F.
Biodiesel Blends like B3 and B20 are blends of biodiesel mixed with diesel fuel or home heating oil. Biodiesel can be blended with petroleum heating oil and used at up to a 20% blend in any home heating system without making any modifications to the system. A 3% blend of biodiesel with 97% home heating oil is called B3. A 20% blend of biodiesel with 80% home heating oil is called B20. The number coming after the "B" tells you the percentage of biodiesel contained in the mix.
QUESTION: Can you mix biodiesel with regular home heating oil?
ANSWER: Biodiesel can be blended with petroleum heating oil and used at up to a 20% blend in any home heating system without making any modifications to the system. A 3% blend of biodiesel with 97% home heating oil is called B3. A 20% blend of biodiesel with 80% home heating oil is called B20.
QUESTION: Can we use biodiesel in our heating oil system without making any changes?
ANSWER: No changes are required for up to a B20 blend. Because biodiesel burns cleaner, heating oil dealers delivering biodiesel blends report a reduction in the amount of service required on their customers' furnaces. You can get more information from the National Biodiesel Board website (nbb.org) and from the Massachusetts Oilheat Council.
QUESTION: Do we need to clean out our tank before we start using biodiesel?
ANSWER: No. You can just start filling up with this 3% biodiesel blend at any time.
QUESTION: What is Northeast Biodiesel?
ANSWER: Northeast Biodiesel is a 1.75 million gallon/year recycled cooking oil biodiesel production facility. Northeast Biodiesel will be owned by the 500+ members of Co-op Power and the employees of Northeast Biodiesel. Community ownership of Northeast Biodiesel ensures that the jobs and the fuel will stay local and benefit our communities.
QUESTION: I'm concerned about everything I'm hearing about biofuels. Is biodiesel still a good thing?
ANSWER: Co-op Power and Northeast Biodiesel have been working together to keep the biodiesel plant as sustainable as possible. We still believe it's a very good idea, from an environmental, economic, and social perspective, for us to build this plant. There are many areas of concern about biodiesel and other biofuels, but this plant come out on top in each one.
One concern is about where the raw material comes from to make the biodiesel. Clear cutting rainforest in order to grow palm oil clearly is not good for the environment. Using corn oil to make ethanol in such quantities that people don't have enough food to eat isn't good for humanity. Our raw material is recycled cooking oil and animal fats. These are waste products that don't take away from our food resources and don't harm the environment in the way they're made. in fact, our biodiesel plant will just help keep the environment cleaner by giving incentives to restaurants, cafeterias, and food processing plants to bring us their recycled cooking oils.
Another concern is about the size of the biodiesel plant. Large chemical companies are building huge biodiesel plants making 50 million gallons of biodiesel a year and more. Our biodiesel plant will make 1.75 million gallons a year initially, with plans to expand to 3.5 million gallons a year. We picked this size because we wanted to keep it small enough so that it could collect the recycled oil it needed in a reasonable distance from the plant.
Another concern is whether you get enough energy out of a gallon of biofuel to make it worth your while to make it. Scientifically, you're asking if the energy returned is greater than the energy it took to make it. If you put one unit of energy into making ethanol, you get about one unit of energy back. If you put one unit of energy into making soy biodiesel, you get about 3.2 units of energy back... a little better. If you put one unit of energy into making recycled-oil biodiesel, you get 5.4 units of energy back... better still. Many people are talking about cellulosic ethanol and cellulosic biodiesel. These fuels are very exciting because scientists believe we'll get more than 20 units back from one unit of energy invested. Unfortunately, the technology isn't ready yet... and may never be. At Co-op Power we don't wait around for new discoveries. We do what we can do now and then retool in the future when we need to.
Another concern is the lifecycle carbon emissions. Biodiesel made from recycled cooking oil produces 86% less greenhouse gases than diesel or gasoline.
It's hard to figure it all out with so many complicating factors. That's one of the reasons we like having so many people involved in the conversation, helping us to be sure we haven't missed anything.