Feedstock for Producing Biodiesel

A Comprehensive Guide

Biodiesel is a renewable source of energy that can be used as an alternative to petroleum-based diesel fuel. The process of creating biodiesel involves the transesterification of triglycerides present in oils and fats with methanol or ethanol in the presence of a catalyst. The choice of feedstock is crucial as it determines the quality, cost, and sustainability of the biodiesel produced.

1. Vegetable Oils

a) Edible Vegetable Oils:

  • Soybean oil: Predominantly used in the US, soybean oil has become a staple feedstock for biodiesel.
  • Palm oil: Widely used in Southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia.
  • Canola/Rapeseed oil: Common in Europe and Canada.
  • Sunflower oil: Used in various parts of the world, particularly in Europe.

b) Non-edible Vegetable Oils:

  • Jatropha oil: Grows well in marginal lands, ensuring that it doesn’t compete with food crops.
  • Pongamia oil: Derived from the seeds of the Pongamia tree.
  • Castor oil: Known for its high viscosity and lubricity.

2. Animal Fats

  • Tallow: Rendered form of beef or mutton fat.
  • Lard: Rendered pig fat, primarily used in small quantities.
  • Chicken fat: Less commonly used, but still a viable option.

3. Waste Oils and Greases

  • Waste cooking oil (WCO): Used cooking oil sourced from restaurants and food manufacturers. It’s a cost-effective feedstock but can have varying levels of free fatty acids.
  • Yellow grease: A cleaned-up form of WCO, it is more refined and contains fewer contaminants.
  • Brown grease: Sourced from grease traps, it’s harder to process due to its high water and solids content.

4. Algal Oils

  • Microalgae: They have the potential to yield more oil per acre than terrestrial plants. Cultivation doesn’t require arable land, and certain strains can produce high amounts of oil.

5. Other Novel Feedstocks

  • Camelina oil: An oilseed crop known for its resistance to cold temperatures.
  • Halophytes: Salt-tolerant plants like Salicornia bigelovii.
  • Babassu oil: Extracted from the seeds of the babassu palm found in Brazil.

Considerations When Choosing Feedstock

  1. Economic viability: Some feedstocks are more expensive than others. The cost factor can make a big difference in the commercial success of biodiesel production.
  2. Oil yield: Feedstocks like microalgae offer higher oil yields per acre compared to traditional crops.
  3. Land use: Feedstocks that can be grown on non-arable lands (like jatropha and microalgae) are preferred to prevent competition with food crops.
  4. Quality: The quality of biodiesel largely depends on the feedstock’s fatty acid profile. Some feedstocks may require additional refining processes.
  5. Environmental impact: The carbon footprint, water use, and other environmental impacts should be considered. For instance, concerns have been raised about deforestation caused by palm oil cultivation.
  6. Regional availability: Feedstocks that are locally available are more preferable as they reduce transportation costs and emissions.
  7. Free fatty acid content: Feedstocks with high free fatty acid content require a pre-treatment step, which can add to the processing cost.


The choice of feedstock for biodiesel production can vary based on geographical, economic, and technical factors. With advancing research, newer and more efficient feedstocks might emerge, offering better sustainability and cost-effectiveness. It’s essential for producers to stay updated and make informed decisions to ensure the viability and sustainability of their biodiesel production.