- Even though we've had a fairly mild winter so far, we've still got to heat our homes. With the price of heating oil skyrocketing, it might be time to consider alternative ways to heat the house. Solar panels are expensive up front, although they more than pay for themselves over time. Woodstoves work even when the electricity goes off in a storm, but they add to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
An alternative type of fuel that's becoming increasingly popular is biofuel. Biofuel is environmentally friendly - it burns cleanly and does not emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. What is it? Biofuel can be defined as any fuel that is created from the active conversion of biomass (that is, material derived from once-living organisms) into a form that can be used to produce energy. Most modern biofuels are created from plant sources that are burned to produce energy. Petroleum is also created by biomass conversion, but the conversion happened eons ago and is no longer an active process.
Today's biofuels are made from used plant oils and animal fats or oil extracted from plants such as soybeans, palm and canola, grown for the purpose. This type of production is controversial because it takes up land that could otherwise be used to produce food. Fuel made from recycled fats, however, is produced in a very sustainable way.
The most environmentally conscious way to produce biofuel is to collect used cooking oil and animal fat (called, collectively, yellow grease) from restaurants, schools, hospitals and other food service locations and to refine and filter it to remove impurities. The processed fat can then be burned in diesel
engines and home furnaces. The biofuel is mixed with conventional diesel fuel and the blend (called biodiesel) can be burned in furnaces for heating buildings or in the engines of diesel-powered vehicles. Most biodiesel is a blend of either 20 percent biofuel and 80 percent petroleum diesel (called B-20) or five percent biofuel and 95 percent diesel called B-5). These blended fuels run in conventional home furnaces or vehicle engines. They contain only a percentage of biofuel, but they're a step in the right direction.
You don't need any special equipment or filters to use biodiesel fuel. Initially the biodiesel will tend to clean deposits from your oil tank and send sludge and debris to your furnace's filter. You will probably need to change the filter more often than usual at first. Thereafter the filter will only need replacement as normal, or perhaps even less frequently.
Biodiesel is generally a bit less expensive than petroleum-based heating oil, and using it earns you a tax credit in New York State.
Biodiesel has made its way to the East End. Island Biofuel in Center Moriches is a producer, collecting yellow grease from a variety of food service locations and processing and distributing it. Brooklyn-based Metro Fuels has built a blending and distribution plant at Enterprise Park in Calverton, the former Grumman property, to produce biodiesel for heating and vehicle use.
On the North Fork, home heating company Burt's Reliable was founded in 2006 specifically to bring biofuels to the East End. They sell both biodiesel and a patented blend they call Natural Oil.
For more information on biofuels go to www.burts.com
, or www.islandbio.com
, and stay warm this winter.
Anne is a writer, editor and professional gardener, and the author of 17 garden, home and nature books. She lives in Hampton Bays.