Biodiesel Conversion Project

W.G. Jackson

AWRI operates two diesel-powered vessels engaged in educational, outreach, and research activities on Lake Michigan and the water bodies that connect with it. These vessels have carried over 84,000 students (elementary, secondary, and university) and adults since 1986. These cruises have tremendous educational value, as they introduce passengers to the main issues facing Lake Michigan and provide a hands-on floating laboratory where students of all ages can analyze the quality of the water and examine the different life forms in the water and sediments. However, the diesel-powered vessels can expose the passengers and crew to a variety of air pollutants.

Marine diesel engines with a wet exhaust contribute to the degradation of water quality, as much of the particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and unburned fuel in the exhaust gases can be dissolved or suspended in the exhaust cooling water.

AWRI investigated the feasibility of operating their vessels on a renewable diesel fuel called biodiesel to gain the environmental and health benefits for the passengers and crew. This study was undertaken by Mr. Bob Udell, a mechanical and design engineer, with funding provided by Dr. William G. Jackson. The project's goals were twofold: 1) to assess what retrofits, if any, would be needed to run these marine engines on biofuel; and 2) to determine if there is a market for this product in west Michigan. We leveraged this effort by obtaining additional grant funds from the Michigan Biomass Energy Program to integrate the information generated from this study into the educational curriculum normally taught on-board the W.G. Jackson.

Click here to view a copy of the report:
"The Feasibility of Fueling the Research Vessels D.J. Angus and W.G. Jackson with Biodiesel"

Both of AWRI's research vessels now run with a biodiesel mix.

BIODIESEL - Questions and Answers

  • What is biodiesel?

    Biodiesel is a nontoxic, biodegradable diesel fuel. Biodiesel is made from vegetable oil, recycled cooking oil, or tallow through a simple chemical process called transesterification.

  • Why should we use biodiesel?

    Biodiesel reduces emissions of greenhouse gases from diesel engines and is a renewable resource. The use of biodiesel reduces our dependency on foreign oil and increases demand for western Michigan agricultural products such as soybeans.

  • What are the environmental benefits of biodiesel over petroleum diesel?

    • 66% less carbon soot (unburned fuel and carbon residues) emission
    • 30% less carbon monoxide emission
    • 70% less (carcinogenic) polyaromatic hydrocarbons emission
    • Elimination of all sulfur emissions
    • Biodegrades as fast as ordinary sugar
    • Table salt is 10 times more toxic than biodiesel
    • Significantly less lethal to aquatic life than petroleum diesel
    • A biodiesel-fueled diesel engine produces less carbon dioxide than is consumed by the crop grown to produce the biodiesel fuel
    • Biodiesel is recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy as an alternative fuel
    • Biodiesel has passed all EPA Tier I and II health effects testing
  • Is it safe to use in my marine diesel engine?

    Yes, it is. No modifications to engines manufactured after 1993 are required. Most diesel engine manufacturers have endorsed the use of biodiesel in their engine as long as it meets the American Society for Testing and Materials Specification, ASTM D 6751.

  • Where can I buy biodiesel?

    Although nearly 20 million gallons of biodiesel are produced annually in the U.S., there are only 14 distributors in Michigan. Many users still make their own or buy it in small 1 to 2.5 gallon containers.

  • How much does biodiesel cost?

    High price is the current barrier to usage and will be reduced only through improved infrastructure, improved distribution, and government support. A blend of 20% biodiesel and 80% petrodiesel would sell for about $0.20/gal. more than petrodiesel.

BIODIESEL - Quick Facts

  • U.S. annual diesel fuel use - 40 billion gallons
  • Current U.S. annual biodiesel production - approximately 20 million gallons
  • Currently, soy oil production could produce only 130 million gallons annually
  • Soy bean oil produces approximately 43 gallons of biodiesel per acre; 2.1 million acres are planted in soybeans in Michigan
  • Other oil seed crops can improve biodiesel yield per acre
    • Pumpkin seed, 51 gal.
    • Safflower oil, 75 gal.
    • Peanut oil, 100 gal.
    • Rapeseed (Canola oil), 115 gal.
    • Pecan nut, 170 gal.
    • Macadamia nut, 215 gal.
    • Oil Palm, 258 gal.
  • 100% biodiesel yields 3.2 units of fuel product energy for every unit of fossil energy consumed in its life cycle*
  • B20 blend yields 0.98 units of fuel product energy for every unit of fossil energy consumed in its life cycle*
  • 100% petrodiesel yields 0.83 units of fuel product energy for every unit of fossil energy consumed in its life cycle*

*Life cycle emissions are all the emissions created by all the processes required to create and use a fuel, from raw material extraction to the end use in a diesel engine.