How to Heat Your Home With Biodiesel
While biodiesel has mostly been used to power vehicles that run on diesel until now, it can also be a great replacement for heating oil in an oil-fired burner or furnace. When referring to it as a heating fuel, the terms most often used are “bioheat” and “biofuel.” Biodiesel has numerous advantages over fossil fuels, some of which are:
- Non-toxic and biodegradable – it’s made from new and/or used vegetable oils, recycled restaurant grease or animal fats
- Renewable source of energy – fossil fuels take millions of years to be created, while biodiesel can be produced in only a few months
- A greener alternative – biodiesel is far less polluting than petroleum fuel; additionally, the plants that are grown to produce biodiesel balance the CO2 emissions created when the fuel is used.
Using vegetable oils or animal fats as a fuel source dates back to the beginning of the 20th century so it’s not a new idea, rather an idea that has been revived. Biodiesel is made through a relatively simple process – by combining grain or wood alcohol with vegetable oil or animal fats. With sodium hydroxide as a catalyst, the chemical reaction results in two products: glycerine and biodiesel. If you’ve decided to start using biodiesel in place of the generally used #2 heating oil, there are a few things to keep in mind. The good news is you won’t need to buy any new heating equipment because biodiesel will work just fine with your current heating system; underground or indoor storage tank works best.
If you have an outdoor oil tank, biodiesel much like regular fuel oil will thicken or gel once the temperature outside reaches below freezing. There are a few things you can do to prevent this – you could build a shed around your tank and use a small heating appliance to keep the temperature above freezing. You could also have your heating oil company install an adhesive electric heat sheet on your oil tank – heat sheets are generally placed at the bottom of the fuel tank to make use of the principle that heat rises which will stir the oil with a thermal action and increase the temperature of the oil within the tank so it becomes more stable.
Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes using a concentrated biodiesel blend can cause your fuel pump to malfunction because biodiesel tends to degrade rubber seals. The pump can usually be easily repaired by an oil burner service technician and some oil burner manufacturers are currently testing out new seal materials that can withstand high concentrations of biodiesel. To start using biodiesel, you may want to try out a lower concentration blend first. You can do that by adding a small amount of biodiesel in your oil tank and mix it with the heating oil you regularly use, for example 5% biodiesel and 95% heating oil. Watch for any signs of your heating system operating inefficiently such as clogged filters or fuel lines. You can then gradually increase the amount of biodiesel in your tank.
Biodiesel offers a greener way of heating our homes – many state and federal governments provide incentives to help build and maintain a market for biodiesel fuel because it’s a domestically produced, clean-burning, renewable substitute for petroleum diesel.
For more information on biodiesel please visit the US Department of Energy.
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