The process to obtain fuel from a fat is not a new process. It
was as early as 1853, when scientists E. Duffy and J. Patrick
conducted the first transesterification of a vegetable oil, many
years before the first diesel engine became fully functional.
Transesterification is the process of using an alcohol, such as
ethanol or methanol, in the presence of a catalyst like sodium
hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, to chemically break the molecule
of the raw renewable oil into methyl or ethyl esters of the renewable
oil with glycerol as a by-product.
We may say the first vehicle biodiesel-powered was Rudolf Diesel's
prime model, a single 10 feet iron cylinder with a flywheel at
its base, that ran with this fuel for the first time in Augsburg,
Germany on August 10, 1893, later he demonstrated his engine powered
by peanut oil-a biofuel, receiving the "Grand Prix"
at the World Fair in Paris, France in 1900. Diesel believed that
the utilization of a biomass fuel was the future of his engine,
as he stated in his 1912 speech saying "the use of vegetable
oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today, but such oils
may become, in the course of time, as important as petroleum and
the coal-tar products of the present time."
However during the 1920's, diesel engine manufacturers decided
to alter their engines utilizing the lower viscosity of the fossil
fuel, best know as petrodiesel, rather than such biomass vegetable
oil fuel. All petroleum industries were able to make inroads in
fuel markets because their fuel was much, much cheaper to produce
than the biomass alternatives, ignoring that years ahead it would
bring high pollution costs.
A near elimination of the biomass fuel production infrastructure
was for many years the result of petrodiesel commercialization.
Vegetable oil powered heavy duty vehicles in South Africa before
World War II. Later, from 1978 to 1996, the U.S. National Renewable
Energy Laboratory experimented with using algae as a biodiesel
source in the "Aquatic Species Program". In the 1990's,
France launched the local production of biodiesel fuel, known
locally as diester, obtained by the transesterification of rapeseed
Today, environmental impact concerns and a decreasing cost differential
made biomass fuels such as biodiesel a growing alternative and,
in remembrance of Rudolf Diesel first German run, August 10 has
been declared International Biodiesel Day.