The United States uses approximately 20 million barrels of oil a day, more than half of which it imports from foreign countries. With the demand for fuel increasing, the need for alterative sources of fuel--such as biodiesel--is also on the rise.

Virginia Cooperative Extension has introduced Biodiesel Fuel, a publication to educate Virginians about the fundamentals of biodiesel and debunk common myths about this emerging source of domestic, renewable bioenergy.

"Biodiesel fuel can be produced from crops grown in Virginia, such as soybeans and canola, and has almost the same performance level as petroleum diesel fuel," said Zhiyou Wen, Extension engineer and assistant professor of biological systems engineering. "Some wrongly believe that biodiesel is an experimental fuel, but in actuality it is one of the most thoroughly tested alternative fuels on the market."

When compared with emissions from petroleum diesel in a conventional diesel engine, the use of biodiesel results in a substantial reduction of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. Because it can be manufactured with conventional equipment using existing industrial production capacity, biodiesel provides a substantial opportunity for addressing U.S. energy security issues.

Likewise, biodiesel use can have a dramatic impact on state and local economies. For every $1 currently spent buying petroleum diesel in Virginia, only 13.4 cents stay local through state tax and the income of local distributors. According to Wen, locally produced biodiesel could potentially increase that figure to 90 cents.

When sold at public pumps, biodiesel is typically blended with petroleum diesel, using 2-percent or 20-percent by volume biodiesel, and petroleum diesel for the rest. According to Biodiesel Fuel, use of the alternative fuel can slightly increase nitrogen oxide emissions, but the biodiesel industry is developing an additive that reduces this pollutant. Using a 2-percent blend of biodiesel adds to the cost of diesel by about 2 to 3 cents per gallon, including the fuel, transportation, storage, and blending costs. There is also some concern about the use of biodiesel in cold temperatures because the fuel tends to "gel" if the temperature is near or below freezing.

Wen authored the publication in collaboration with others in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering: Robert Grisso, Extension engineer and professor; Jactone Arogo, Extension engineer and assistant professor; and David Vaughan, professor. Information about the biodiesel standards, engine warranties, storage and material compatibility, performance, consumer myths and facts, and incentives for using biodiesel can be found in the publication. Biodiesel Fuel, Virginia Cooperative Extension publication 442-880, is also available through your local Extension office.

About Virginia Cooperative Extension

Virginia Cooperative Extension brings the resources of Virginia's land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, to the people of the commonwealth. Through a system of on-campus specialists and locally based agents, it delivers education in the areas of agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, community viability, and 4-H youth development. With a network of faculty at two universities, 107 county and city offices, 13 agricultural research and Extension centers, and six 4-H educational centers, Virginia Cooperative Extension provides solutions to the problems facing Virginians today.