Biofuel vs Biodiesel vs Ethanol: Differences, & Comparison

In the guide below, we discuss biofuel vs biodiesel vs ethanol.

We briefly outline what each one is, identify the differences and similarities between them, and provide a general comparison of them.

 

Biofuel vs Biodiesel vs Ethanol – Main Differences & Comparison

But, the main differences between the three are:

– Biodiesel and ethanol are both biofuels

So, biofuels can be one of any number of fuel types that are derived from biomass

 

– Ethanol contains ethanol and is commonly blended with gasoline to make ethanol blends

Ethanol is commonly obtained from fermentation using sugar or starch crops

Ethanol might more commonly be used with gasoline powered vehicles

 

– Biodiesel is commonly blended with diesel to make diesel blends

Biodiesel is produced from plant or animal oils or fats using transesterification (a chemical reaction process)

Biodiesel might more commonly be used with diesel engine vehicles

 

Biofuel

What Are Biofuels?

Biofuel is the term used to describe mainly liquid fuels (but sometimes gas too) derived from biomass

 

What Are Biofuels Used For?

Biofuels are mainly used in transportation as an alternative to petroleum based fuels

 

Examples Of Biofuels

Biodiesel and ethanol are two of the most commonly produced and consumed biofuels

Biodiesel and ethanol are also both considered as first generation biofuels

There are other biofuels that exist or are in development other than biodiesel and ethanol though

 

More About Biofuels

Read more about biofuels in this guide

 

Ethanol

What Is Ethanol?

Also referred to as bioethanol (when these phrases are used in the context of referring to the alternative fuel)

Ethanol is alcohol that is blended with gasoline in different %’s, to make a form of renewable fuel for use in vehicles

 

How Is Ethanol Made?

Ethanol is first produced via fermentation, whereby glucose and other sugars in biomass (like corn) are converted into ethanol and carbon dioxide

Ethanol is then typically blended with gasoline and refined to make different ethanol blend products

There’s various infographics online that show the step by step process to make ethanol

Cellulosic ethanol is another type of ethanol being developed, and is derived from non edible biomass sources (like trees and grasses)

 

Ethanol Blends

There’s a range of ethanol blends from E10 or less (such as E5 o E7), through to E100

Using E10 as an example, it contains 10% ethanol, and 90% gasoline

E100 on the other hand is pure ethanol fuel

 

What Sorts Of Transport Or Vehicles Can Ethanol Be Used In?

Vehicle owners and operators should always check whether their vehicle can accept an ethanol fuel before putting it in their vehicle, as some might be incompatible or cause damage

In general though, E10 can be used in a wider range of internal combustion gasoline engine vehicles

E100 might have more limitations as a fuel, and might need more speciality designed vehicles (with more adjustments to gasoline engines) compared to lower ethanol fuel blends like E10

Some ethanol blends, such as ED95, may also be able to be used in some modified diesel engines

wikipedia.org has a table illustrating these potential required adjustments for some main ethanol blends

 

How Common Is Ethanol?

eia.gov indicates that ‘[In 2021, ethanol] accounted for the largest shares of U.S. biofuel production (85%) and consumption (82%)’

energy.gov also indicates that ‘Roughly 97% of gasoline in the United States contains some ethanol’

 

Biodiesel

What Is Biodiesel?

Biodiesel is a form of diesel fuel that is derived from biomass 

 

How Is Biodiesel Made?

A chemical reaction process called ‘transesterification’ combines animal fat or a vegetable oil of some type with alcohol, to produce ‘a methyl, ethyl or propyl ester’ (although, energy.gov indicates the process involves ‘[combining] combining alcohol with vegetable oil, animal fat, or recycled cooking grease’

This biomass and alcohol derived product is then typically blended with fossil fuel based diesel, and refined to make different biodiesel blend product

The wikipedia.org guides has a far more details breakdown of this process, and also how biodiesel is made

 

Biodiesel Blends

Biodiesel blends might typically range from B2 to B100

B2 is 98% petrodiesel and 2% biodiesel

B100 is 100% biodiesel

 

What Sorts Of Transport Or Vehicles Can Biodiesel Be Used In?

Vehicle owners and operators should always check whether their vehicle can accept an ethanol fuel before putting it in their vehicle, as some might be incompatible or cause damage

Typically, biodiesel can be used with diesel equipment vehicles

Blends with 20% or lower biodiesel might generally be used in diesel engine vehicles with no modifications, or only minor modifications (but this should be confirmed before using)

B100 pure biodiesel might require certain engine modifications or specially designed vehicles

 

How Common Is Biodiesel?

eia.gov indicates that ‘[In 2021, biodiesel] accounted for the second-largest shares of U.S. biofuel production (11%) and consumption (12%)’

 

What About Renewable Diesel? (Green Diesel)

The eia.gov and wikipedia.org guides both discuss a developing type of biofuel called renewable diesel, which is also referred to as green diesel

This is a fuel made via hydrocracking 

It is made to be chemically similar to petroleum diesel fuel so that it can be used as a ‘drop in’ fuel

It may have several limitations at the moment, such as cost competitiveness

 

 

Sources

1. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biofuels/

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biofuel

3. https://www.energy.gov/eere/bioenergy/biofuel-basics

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol_fuel

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_ethanol_fuel_mixtures

6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiesel

7. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides

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