Characteristics of Biodiesel

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The physicochemical properties of biodiesel are nearly similar to diesel fuel. The most important properties for biodiesel are cetane number, heat of combustion, viscosity, oxidative stability, cold flow properties and lubricity (Knothe et al., 2005). Table 1 presents the main properties of microalgae biodiesel compared with diesel and 1st generation biodiesel.

1. The cetane number is an indicator of quality of ignition of a fuel which increases with the number of carbon and decreases with the number of unsaturated carbon bounds (Hart Energy Consulting, 2007). Consequently, a higher unsaturated biodiesel like microalgae biodiesel would have a lower cetane number. Based on our present knowledge, no measurement of the cetane number of microalgae biodiesel has been performed. However, some studies approximated the cetane numbers of many species based on their FAME content and found cetane numbers ranging from 39 to 54 (Stansell et al., 2011), while cetane number of petrodiesel fuel are at least between 47 and 51 (ASTM Standard D6751-10, 2010; Knothe, 2006).

2. The heat of combustion shows if a biodiesel is suitable to burn in a diesel engine. The heat of combustion increases with the length of the carbon chain (Knothe, 2005a). Using lipids extracted from heterotrophic microalgae in the presence of H2SO4 in methanol, Miao & Wu (2006) obtained a biodiesel with a heat of combustion of 35.4 MJ/L which is in the range of diesel fuel (36-38 MJ/L).

3. As the cetane number, the viscosity increases with the number of carbon and decreases with the degree of unsaturation (Knothe, 2005b). A higher kinematic viscosity would create engine problems like engine deposits (Knothe & Steidley, 2005a). Transesterification favours a decrease in the viscosity of the oil at values usually between 4 to 6 mm2/s (40oC) (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2009).

4. Oxidation of biodiesel could happen when the FAME are in contact with oxygen and are transformed into hydrogenoperoxides, aldehydes, acids and other oxygenates, which might form deposits (Knothe, 2005). Oxidation of the biodiesel increases as a function of the degree of unsaturation (Hart Energy Consulting, 2007). Oxidation stability of microalgae lipids is therefore a real problem (Stansell et al., 2011) that can be overcome by adding antioxidants if the biodiesel blend is stored more than a few months (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2009)

5. Cold flow properties are important parameters for biodiesel production for northern countries like Canada and could be measured by cloud and pour points. The decrease of temperature could lead to the formation of visible crystals (d ≥ 0.5 ?m) in the biodiesel at a limit called cloud point (Knothe, 2005). Cloud point temperature decreases with the mole fraction of unsaturated compounds and slightly increases with the length of the carbon chain (Imahara et al., 2006). Pour point is defined as the temperature at which biodiesel does not flow anymore. Usually, cloud and pour points increase as a function of the molar ratio of biodiesel in diesel fuel from 0 to 100% (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2009). A higher level of polyunsaturated compounds in microalgae biodiesel could be a benefit in terms of cold properties (cold and poor points) for a blend microalgae biodiesel/petrodiesel in cold climates.

6. The definition of lubricity for a fuel is “the ability to reduce friction between solid surfaces in relative motion” (Chevron Corporation, 2007; Shumacher, 2005). The lubricity of diesel fuel is influenced by the viscosity, the acidity, the water content and the sulphur compounds (Seregin et al., 1975). Even with additives, the measured friction (no unit reported) of biodiesel (0.114 and 0.117) is lower than the one of petrodiesel (0.238 and 0.210) for 25 and 60?C (Knothe & Steidley, 2005b). Consequently, a benefit of adding biodiesel in conventional low sulphur diesel fuel is to improve lubricity (Mu?oz et al., 2011). For microalgae biodiesel, no lubricity study, to our knowledge, was reported from the literature.

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