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Issue 7, 2009
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Improving biodiesel fuel properties by modifying fatty ester composition

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Biodiesel is an alternative to petroleum-derived diesel fuel composed of alkyl esters of vegetable oils, animal fats or other feedstocks such as used cooking oils. The fatty acid profile of biodiesel corresponds to that of its feedstock. Most common feedstocks possess fatty acid profiles consisting mainly of five C16 and C18 fatty acids, namely, palmitic (hexadecanoic), stearic (octadecanoic), oleic (9(Z)-octadecenoic), linoleic (9(Z),12(Z)-octadecadienoic) and linolenic (9(Z),12(Z),15(Z)-octadecatrienoic) acids, with the exception of a few oils such as coconut oil, which contains high amounts of saturated acids in the C12–C16 range or others. While in many respects biodiesel possesses advantages or is competitive with petroleum-derived diesel fuel, virtually all biodiesel fuels, typically the methyl esters, produced from these oils have performance problems such as poor low-temperature properties or insufficient oxidative stability. Considerable research has focused on solving or alleviating these problems and five approaches have been developed. Besides the approach of using additives, changing the fatty ester composition by either varying the alcohol or the fatty acid profile of the oil have been studied. Changing the fatty acid profile can be achieved by physical means, genetic modification of the feedstock or use of alternative feedstocks with different fatty acid profiles. In some cases approaches may overlap. This article briefly summarizes the five approaches currently used with an emphasis on those dealing with changing the fatty ester composition of a biodiesel fuel.

Graphical abstract: Improving biodiesel fuel properties by modifying fatty ester composition

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Article information

25 Feb 2009
14 Apr 2009
First published
23 Apr 2009

Energy Environ. Sci., 2009,2, 759-766
Article type

Improving biodiesel fuel properties by modifying fatty ester composition

G. Knothe, Energy Environ. Sci., 2009, 2, 759
DOI: 10.1039/B903941D

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