How Does Biodiesel Work

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The very good news is that biodiesel fuels work well in virtually any diesel engine capacity, particularly in passenger cars and trucks. Although the chemical composition of biodiesel is somewhat different from conventional diesel fuel, it offers combustion properties that are very similar, including, very importantly, the amount of stored energy it packs per ounce and its cetane number.


\*/ The cetane number or cetane rating is the measure of combustibility under pressure used as a relative measure to rank diesel fuels.

There are a couple of issues to be dealt with when using biodiesel, however. First, some types of biodiesel have a higher-temperature gel point (the point where they begin to solidify similar to Jell-O in a refrigerator) than conventional diesel fuel. This could lead to cold-weather starting problems because of lack of fuel flow, but it doesn't seem to be a major problem. And it can be addressed by the addition of a fuel heater, if necessary. Another more vexing problem is the solvent qualities of biodiesel. Introduced into an engine that has been using conventional diesel fuel, the solvent action of the biodiesel fuel can loosen deposits and "gunk" and lead to fuel filter and fuel injector clogs.

Although there are a few problems, the important thing to note is that the potential downsides are few and easily addressed while the upsides of using biodiesel are many. Undoubtedly the best-case scenario from a clean-air point of view is the use of biodiesel in clean diesel engines that use modern features such as common-rail fuel injection technology and stringent exhaust treatment steps such as particulate filters and urea-injection catalytic converters. This combination of new technology and biologically based fuels can be labeled "new diesels."

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