By Brian Winslett on 02/01/2008

You’ve probably heard of biodiesel as a replacement to petroleum diesel for on-road transportation vehicles, but many people aren’t aware of its wide variety of other uses. There are a number of different kinds of diesel, also called distillate fuel: highway diesel, off-road diesel (dyed red), kerosene, fuel oil (also known as No. 2 heating oil), No. 1 diesel and so on. All of these fuels are very similar, differing primarily in their taxation structure and residual pollutant content, which ultimately impacts emissions. And they can all be substituted with biodiesel.

Biodiesel heating oil and biodiesel-powered equipment—such as bulldozers, graders, generators and work trucks—represent simple ways to green both the construction of a new building and the impact of heating the building itself.

Biodiesel’s broad benefits

No fuel is perfect and not all biofuels are created equal, but there are many benefits to using biodiesel. On the environmental side, it’s renewable, biodegradable, nontoxic, and offers a 70-percent emissions reduction as compared with conventional diesel. It also offers the best energy balance out of all fuels.

There are mechanical benefits as well. No equipment modifications are required. The higher lubricity extends engine life, and it has higher Cetane (the diesel equivalent of an octane rating for gasoline) than petroleum. It offers more miles per gallon, mixes with distillate fuels at any ratio, and cleans fuel systems and injectors.

Health-wise, there are other advantages, since unlike with conventional diesel exhaust, exposure to biofuels emissions is not associated with major health risks.

Biodiesel also supports economic health and national security by supporting small business, boosting local job creation, keeping revenue streams in our economy, decentralizing energy and reducing dependence on foreign oil.

Fueling the construction and grading process

Typically, little attention is paid to the carbon impact of construction equipment used in the early stages of development. Most grading equipment is diesel-powered, making it a good fit for biodiesel. Off-road diesel fuel pollutes more than highway diesel fuel, representing a greater impact to regional air quality. Nor does off-road equipment require any emissions-control devices. Because off-road vehicles such as bulldozers operate in a small area, the immediate environment can become very polluted in a short period of time on windless days, ultimately resulting in a health hazard to the operator.

On-site, diesel-powered electrical generators, cement mixers and other construction equipment have a similar impact on a microclimate’s air quality. All diesel-powered equipment can be switched seamlessly to B20 (20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petro diesel), and even to B100 (100 percent biodiesel) with a few minor initial maintenance procedures. Clearing and grading a construction site is possibly one of the greatest environmental impacts for a site. A simple switch to clean, renewable fuel is a win-win solution for immediate environmental-impact reductions. On-road highway work trucks, meanwhile, are often diesel powered and represent an additional opportunity to reduce impacts related to the work site.

Heating the home and business

In most cases, passive solar-thermal design is your best option for heating new homes, but a backup heat source is generally necessary. Highly efficient, new oil furnaces are great candidates to run on higher blends of biodiesel. Bioheat, which consists of a blend of conventional heating oil and biodiesel, is compatible with all oil furnaces, representing a seamless transition to renewable fuels. In fact, using Bioheat will keep your furnace system much cleaner and reduce maintenance requirements while providing the same performance as petroleum oil.

With some retrofitting and cleaning procedures, most older furnaces are good candidates for higher biodiesel blends as well. When comparing Bioheat to clean-burning natural gas and propane, it is important to realize that these clean fuels are fossil fuels and do contribute to the atmosphere’s net greenhouse gas emissions.