Biodiesel Basics

Biodiesel is a type of biofuel that can be used in diesel engines. It’s a cleaner fuel for the trucks and heavy machinery that fuel the Canadian economy.

Biodiesel is produced from oils, such as canola, soy, palm and even used cooking oil. It should not be confused with ethanol, which is used in gasoline engines.

Canola oil is made into biodiesel through a refinery process called transesterification. The oil is mixed with alcohol to remove the glycerin.

Pure canola biodiesel can be blended in any proportion with petroleum diesel. The most common blends are 2% (B2), 5% (B5) and 20% (B20).

Environmental benefits

Production and use of biodiesel can reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by 90%, compared to petroleum diesel.

By replacing 2% of the petroleum diesel used in Canada with biodiesel, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 1.8 million tonnes. That’s the equivalent of taking 300,000 cars off the road. Replacing 5% of regular diesel with biodiesel would be like removing 750,000 cars.

Compared to petroleum diesel, biodiesel produces:

  • 50% less poisonous carbon monoxide
  • 95% less unburned hydrocarbons
  • 30% less smog-producing particulates 
  • 100% less acid rain forming sulfates 
  • Virtually no polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which have been linked to lung, stomach and skin cancers
  • Less exhaust odour
  • Less soot

Biodiesel also biodegrades four times faster and to a greater extent. When blended with biodiesel, the degradation rate of petroleum diesel is tripled.

Lower health care costs

A study in California found that using 1.5 billion litres of biodiesel would save over $400 million in ‘avoided health care costs’ per year through improved air quality.

Safer to store and handle

Biodiesel ignites at 260°F, compared to 125°F for conventional diesel. In biodiesel blends, the higher the biodiesel content, the lower the flash point.

Controlling food and fuel costs

Biodiesel can help to control escalating fuel prices by reducing demand for petroleum oils. The positive impact has been demonstrated in the U.S., where researchers have studied the effect of ethanol blending on retail gasoline prices. A study showed that U.S. gas prices are an average of 6-10 cent per litre lower than they would have been without the impact of ethanol blending.

By controlling fuel prices, biodiesels can also help to prevent food price spikes. Fuel is a significant cost of food production, so keeping oil prices at bay helps to keep food affordable.