Modern Interest in Biodiesel

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In the 1970s, the petroleum oil embargo caused many countries to look to vegetable oil as a possible fuel. Scientists in Austria, the United States, South Africa, and many other countries rediscovered that straight vegetable oil could be used to run diesel engines; however, eventually the poor quality of the fuel spray caused by the thickness (viscosity) of the vegetable oil caused damage to the engines. Scientists then conducted experiments to convert the vegetable oil into biodiesel. The word “biodiesel” was probably first used in about 1984 .

The first biodiesel manufacturing plant specifically designed to produce fuel was started in 1985 at an agricultural college in Austria. Since 1992, biodiesel has been commercially manufactured across Europe, with Germany being the largest producer. In the United States, biodiesel was first manufactured commercially in 1991 in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1995, the University of Idaho provided biodiesel to Yellowstone National Park, which used the fuel in a truck that has been driven several hundred thousand miles without damage to the engine and is still in use. As a result, other national parks began using biodiesel in their vehicles.

Jim Evanoff, management assistant of Yellowstone National Park, stands next to the first biodiesel-powered truck in the park. The “Truck in the Park” project led to more national parks using biodiesel to fuel their vehicles.

At this time, one problem with biodiesel was its often uneven quality. In 2001, ASTM International, one of the world’s largest voluntary standards development organizations, published a standard for biodiesel: ASTM Standard D6751. This allowed engine manufacturers and fleet managers to feel confident that biodiesel would satisfy their quality requirements.

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