Industrial Applications of Biodiesel and How it Applies to Heating

Last updated on July 3rd, 2023 at 06:48 pm

Biodiesel has attracted lots of attention as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. There’s a wide range of potential uses for biodiesel, but processing it into a usable form remains a challenge. This post will examine how we may use biodiesel in the near future and the heating methods and equipment needed to make it feasible. 

Applications of biodiesel

“Biodiesel” refers to any biofuel that can replace traditional diesel as a fuel source. Biofuels are usually the byproducts of animal fats or vegetable oil compounds, which gain combustible properties when processed. Unlike traditional fossil fuels, they emit significantly fewer emissions, hence why there’s widespread interest to use them as fuel sources. With that said, there’s a varied spectrum of applications that biodiesel can serve. 

Uses of biodiesel 

  • Heating oils: Biofuel use for comfort heating has grown significantly, yet it has always been a staple. A classic example is using wood for wood-burning stoves. However, biodiesel can be used as a heating oil that burns clean, reducing the emission of harmful gases like carbon monoxide. 
  • Electricity generation: Biofuels can produce electricity through direct combustion, usually in a high-pressure steam system that can rotate fans. However, with biofuels, the emissions are far lower. 
  • Transportation fuel: The transportation sector—cars, trucks, ships, airplanes, trains, and more—are responsible for the majority of emissions. Biodiesels produce significantly fewer emissions than regular diesel, making these vehicles less polluting. 
  • Oil spill cleanups: It may seem like fighting fire with fire, but using biodiesel can help with the cleanup of oil spills. These fuels contain compounds known as methyl esters, which act as solvents since they reduce the viscosity of crude oil.  

Of course, the uses of biofuels surpass these four examples. It’s conceivably possible to replace any fuel source with them, provided they’re properly formulated and heated using the right methods. 

Why biodiesel is promising

The benefits of biofuels are holistic, presenting benefits on a global, local, and personal scale. That comes from the fact they’re derived from organic materials that don’t naturally release harmful emissions when burned. 

Reasons to use biofuels for industrial applications

  • Environmentally friendly: Biodiesel is much “cleaner” than petroleum diesel. For example, in one study, using a particular blend of biodiesel lowered CO2 emissions by 74 percent. Of course, reduced emissions of greenhouse gases translate to fewer effects on our global climate. 
  • Positive effect on human health and safety: Air pollution, much of which comes from petroleum-based fuels, is linked to rising rates of cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory, and infectious diseases. An industrial sector relying more on biofuels will produce fewer emissions, eventually contributing to safer, healthier air. 
  • Energy-secure: Since biofuels are largely derived from organic matter, massive quantities can be sourced. This makes them a highly renewable resource. 

Challenges of biodiesel 

The production and use of biofuels don’t come without challenges. Although the industrial use of biofuels has increased sharply over the years, there are still some constraints that make wider adoption of these fuels difficult. 

Reasons biofuel adoption is still a challenge

  • Expensive to produce: The production costs of biofuels remain high. This is one of the main reasons why the industrial sector has yet to adopt it as a fuel for the industrial applications it could serve. 
  • Monoculture: Biofuel sourcing may benefit significantly from monoculture, which refers to growing one crop heavily instead of a rotation of crops. However, this practice can have serious drawbacks for the environment since monoculture can attract destructive pests and increase the risk of total losses for farmers. 
  • Food and water shortages: Sourcing biofuels from regions where water or certain crops are scarce can further exacerbate a low supply. That is a major concern for low-income and impoverished communities that are already struggling to obtain adequate food and safe drinking water. 

Heating biodiesel with Wattco heaters

Another challenge associated with biofuel usage is finding heaters that can burn them for efficient heating. The chemical composition and thermodynamic properties of biofuels can make them too harsh for a heater (assuming the wrong heater or heating settings are used). 

For example, one North American producer of biofuels found their immersion heaters would frequently fail when heating biodiesel. Lab analysis showed that the issue stemmed from the fuel’s caustic properties, which were excessive for the heater. 

However, we made some alterations to their immersion heaters, such as lowering the watt density and adding a thicker, stainless steel sheath. That enabled them to heat biofuels with a far lower failure rate. 

Lessons to learn 

A key takeaway from this example is heating biodiesel doesn’t have to be an additional challenge. It’s a matter of analyzing the fuel you intend to use to understand its properties and then adjusting your heater to heat it optimally. 

Here at Wattco, we build custom heaters that will heat a biofuel to match its thermal properties so that neither the fuel nor the heater is damaged. We may do this using various methods, including the ones mentioned above such as adjusting wattages and sheath materials. Of course, certain heaters may be more suitable for biofuel heating, and we make recommendations for those as well. 

Get a quote for your biofuel-friendly heater today. Our representatives will help you find the exact setup needed for your industrial needs.