Low Carbon Economy, 2011, 2, 138-143
doi:10.4236/lce.2011.23017 Published Online September 2011 (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/lce)
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Biodiesel for Sustainable Energy Provision in
Developing Countries
Moses Tunde Oladiran, Jerekias Gandure
Faculty of Engineering and Technology, University of Botswana, Gaborone, Botswana.
Email: oladiran@mopipi.ub.bw
Received May 4th, 2011; revised July 15th, 2011; accepted July 30th, 2011.
Consumption of fossil fuel resources has been growing over the years and it is the kernel of economic development.
However combustion which takes place principally in automobiles, power generation and industrial plants produces
greenhouse gases (GHG) that are harmful to the environment. The release of GHG such as carbon dioxide is contrib-
uting to global warming. Biofuels can lower carbon footprint, reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels and increase
energy security. Integrating biofuels into the national energy mix also has good socio-economic and sustainability po-
tential. Therefore this paper discusses factors for successful diffusion o f biod iesel technology in developing economies.
Keywords: Biodiesel, Developing Countries, Feedstock, Success Factors
1. Introduction
Availability of energy is essential for sustainable devel-
opment. Nonrenewable energy resources are less attrac-
tive because of their finiteness, continuous price hikes,
and environmental pollution from combustion processes.
Many developing states are signatories to the United Na-
tions Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
and Kyoto Protocol. Therefore they are committed to
lowering national carbon footprint by mitigating the a-
mount of greenhouse gases (GHG) such as CO2 produced
from various thermal systems [1]. The combination of
rising energy costs, insecure pathways of liquid energy
carriers and increasing environmental pollution are mo-
tivating nations to develop and adopt indigenous, re-
newable and environmentally friendly fuels. Energy pro-
vision from renewable energy technologies (e.g. wind,
solar and biofuels) is increasing on a large scale interna-
Biofuels seem to be uniformly distributed globally. It
was used during the industrial revolution (1750 to 1900).
For example, Diesel used peanut oil to fuel the world’s
first compression ignition engine and he asserted in 1912
[2] that “the use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may
seem insignificant today. But such oils may in the course
of time become as important as petroleum and the coal
tar products of present time”.
Development and use of biodiesel has increased sig-
nificantly especially since the first major oil price hike of
the early 1970’s. The European Union (EU) is the
world’s leader of biodiesel production. Figure 1 shows
the ten top-ranked biodiesel producing countries in EU
and they account for almost 90% of the Union’s output
[3]. The other main biodiesel producers are: North
America (USA), Asia (India, Malaysia) and South Ame-
rica (Brazil).
Biofuels have become very appealing because of their
potential to provide reliable and sustainable energy. In-
ternational efforts, national strategies and local commu-
nity involvement are being initiated or enhanced for bio-
fuels production in several countries [4-9]. Many coun-
tries have good reserves of biofuels to make the resource
attractive for transportation and power production. How-
Figure 1. Ten (10) top EU producers of biodiesel adapted
from [3].
Biodiesel for Sustainable Energy Provision in Developing Countries139
ever in many developing countries e.g. in sub-Saharan
Africa information on suitable land for biofuel projects is
usually unavailable or scanty. In some nations such as
Botswana land mapping has recently been undertaken to
identify suitable land resource for biofuels development
This paper therefore provides an assessment of re-
source availability, characteristics and challenges of bio-
fuels production and its introduction into local energy
markets. Factors for successful biodiesel adaptation and
some plant technologies are also discussed. The study
indicates that biofuels technology should be pragmati-
cally and strategically incorporated into existing energy
and fuel programmes, plans and policies.
2. Biodiesel Characteristics
2.1. Chemical Production
Biodiesel is an attractive alternative fuel for use in diesel
engines. It is produced from a chemical process called
transesterification. In the reaction a feedstock such as
animal fat (tallow) or vegetable oil reacts with an alcohol
(e.g. methanol or ethanol) and a catalyst (sodium or po-
tassium hydroxide) to form monoalkyl methyl esters
(biodiesel) of long chain fatty acids. Glycerin (glycerol)
is a co-product of the transesterification process [11].
The reaction process is governed by the following chemi-
cal equation:
Fat+AlcoholMethl estersGlycerol
Triglycerides3ROH3R CORGlycerol
As esters (biodiesel) is less dense than glycerol, it
floats on top of the glycerol. The biodiesel may be easily
drained off or the glycerol can be pumped from the bot-
tom of the reactor vessel. The biodiesel can then be
cleaned-up in a purification process consisting of water
washing, drying, and filtration to remove impurities such
as soap, excess alcohol and catalyst.
Transesterification process is highly susceptible to
formation of soap which reduces the throughput and
quality of biodiesel. Therefore the efficiency of the proc-
ess could be increased by eliminating (or significantly
reducing) tendency to form soap as a byproduct. The
quantity and quality of final biodiesel product depends
principally on the type and composition of the initial
feedstock, as well as on the reaction conversion and
process separation efficiencies.
2.2. Feedstocks
A feedstock is the raw material from which oils and fats
are derived for various applications (e.g. biodiesel proc-
ess). The common vegetable oil feedstocks are rapeseed,
soybean, cottonseed, linseed, and peanut. Other feed-
stocks for biodiesel production include waste vegetable
oil (wvo), beef tallow or chicken fat. Used cooking oil is
relatively cheap and abundant (e.g. from hotels and res-
taurants) for easy conversion into biodiesel. Collection of
wvo can be a challenge in developing countries where
biodiesel production relies on multiple small or medium
wvo supplies which may be some distances apart. The
quantity of polymers in wvo is a good measure of quality
of biodiesel fuel.
Biofuels production in the EU is mainly from rapeseed.
In Brazil, ethanol is from sugar cane; in Malaysia bio-
diesel is from palm oil, and USA uses mostly corn for
ethanol production or soya bean for biodiesel. Investiga-
tion into use of jatropha oil is growing rapidly in several
developing countries [6-9] e.g. India. There are other
indigenous nonfood crops and plants that could be ex-
ploited for biofuel production. For example, many algal
species that grow rapidly could yield oil for biodiesel
production. Table 1 summarises active biofuel produc-
tion and corresponding feedstocks in some developing
countries [12]. The cost of biodiesel fuel is largely de-
pendent on the choice of feedstock [13].
2.3. Properties of Biodiesel
Biodiesel must be tested to comply with international
standards. The 2 most popular biodiesel standards in the
world are the European (EN 14214) and the American
Standard for Testing and Materials (ASTM D6751)
standards. The standards are comparable and details of
ASTM D6751 are shown in Table 2 [14]. The main tests
that should be carried out are: kinematic viscosity, flash
point, density, cloud point, and cetane number.
A maximum permissible glycerol concentration of
0.02% by weight is set by both the European standard
and the ASTM specification. Therefore, it is necessary to
determine the amount of free glycerol in biodiesel. Stor-
age stability is another important characteristic of bio-
diesel as the fuel may stay for a long time before use
either within the manufacturing site or at the end user’s
facility. Storage stability is an indication of property
variability. Biodiesel has poor storage stability as it is
susceptible to chemical attack under certain environ-
mental or operational conditions. These chemical changes
include oxidation due to contact with atmospheric oxy-
Water in biodiesel could also contribute to hydrolysis
and microbial growth that produces acidic fuel and
sludges that could plug fuel filters. Some additives (such
as antioxidant) could be added to enhance biodiesel
storage stability. As a rule of thumb, biodiesel that would
be stored or unused for more than 6 months should be
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Biodiesel for Sustainable Energy Provision in Developing Countries
Table 1. Production and feedstock in selected developing countries [12].
Country Ethanol Biodiesel
Production (ML)Typical use Feedstock Production (ML)Typical use Feedstock
South Africa 416 Sugarcane B1-B3 by 2006 Jatropha
Malawi 6 Encouraging use Sugarcane
Ghana 6 Encouraging use Sugar, corn
Zimbabwe 6 Sugarcane
Kenya 3 Sugarcane
China 3649
E10 but most not for
Corn, cassava,
sugarcane, rice,
sweet potato
(capacity 2004) Jatropha and
India 1749 E5 Sugarcane B20 by 2011 Jatropha
Thailand 280
90 ML (2005).
722ML by 2010 Palm, soya peanut,
coconut, Jatropha
Brazil 15,098 E26 Sugarcane Minimal B2, B5
Soya oil, castor oil,
palm oil
Colombia 900 lt/day E10 Sugarcane B5 Palm oil
“Bxx” and “Eyy” imply that the fuel contains xx % and yy% of biodiesel and ethanol respectively.
Table 2. Detailed requirements for biodiesel taken from
ASTM D6751-09 [14].
Property Method Limits Units
Calcium and Magnesium,
combined EN 14538 5 max ppm (μg/g)
Methanol content EN 14110 0.2 max mass %
Flash point D 93 130 min ˚C
Water and sediment D 2709 0.050 max % volume
Kinematic viscosity, 40˚C D 445 1.9 - 6.0 mm2/s
Sulfated ash D 874 0.020 max % mass
Sulfura D 5453 0.0015 max % mass
Copper strip corrosion D 130 No. 3 max -
Cetane number D 613 47 min -
Cloud point D 2500 Report ˚C
Carbon residue D 4530 0.050 max % mass
Acid number D 664 0.50 max mg KOH/gm
Free glycerin D 6584 0.020 max % mass
Total glycerin D 6584 0.240 max % mass
Phosphorus content D 4951 0.001 max % mass
Distillation temperature, T90 D 1160 360 max ˚C
Sodium and Potassium, combined EN 14538 5 max ppm (μg/g)
Oxidation stability EN 14112 3 minimum hours
aThe specification also includes a higher sulfur grade of biodiesel, S500, that
allows 0.05wt% sulfur but all other requirements are identical.
treated with antioxidant additives [13].
Limited tests could be performed within a manufac-
turing facility but more sophisticated property tests could
be outsourced to specialized professional laboratories.
2.4. Advantages and Disadvantages of Using
Adoption of biodiesel in the energy mix of several de-
veloping countries is based on its advantages including
the following:
Easy conversion process (production plant can be
small, medium or large).
Promotes energy security.
Improves balance of payments i.e. reduces need to
import petroleum oils and fuels.
Creates new or additional jobs especially in rural
communities to be engaged in feedstock production
(e.g. jatropha plantation).
Lowers greenhouse gas emissions.
Enhances national export potential.
Extends the life of diesel engines due to high lubric-
Requires minor or no modifications to the conven-
tional compression ignition engines.
Safe i.e. nontoxic, nonhazardous and biodegradable
Renewable and clean burning.
It has a high cetane number which is a measure of a
fuel’s ignition quality. For example, the high cetane
number of biodiesel promotes easy cold starting.
Glycerol which is the major byproduct of biodiesel
production could be converted into propylene glycol
and several other industrial chemicals.
Biodiesel can be used in engines and various manu-
facturing plants to replace fossil diesel fuel. It is also an
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Biodiesel for Sustainable Energy Provision in Developing Countries141
attractive fuel for power plants or jet engines. The crude
oil price may remain volatile (e.g. due to instability and
crises in major oil producing regions) in the future which
would promote use of alternative fuel supplies like bio-
diesel. New and commercial markets may be developed
for agro-based crops associated with biodiesel produc-
Despite the positive outlook for biodiesel it has some
disadvantages such as:
Lower energy content, higher viscosity, poor cold
flow properties and lower volatility.
Lower storage stability.
Expensive feedstocks.
Engine operation problems including fuel filter
plugging, injector coking, and severe engine lubri-
cant degradation.
3. Blending
Blending of biodiesel with fossil diesel is a common
practice for various reasons. The blended fuel is referred
to as “Bxx” which implies that the fuel contains xx% of
biodiesel. Thus a B5, B10, B20 or B100 fuel contains 5%,
10%, 20% or 100% of biodiesel respectively. It is popu-
lar to use blended fuels varying between 2% and 20%
although the latter limit is becoming more common.
Adopting B100 would promote and create awareness
locally for biodiesel as a unique fuel that can be used
completely on its own.
There are several blending techniques and choice of an
appropriate one must be based on good quality product,
low operational cost, and simplicity of equipment. The
commonest process is splash blending in which fossil
diesel is poured into biodiesel in a tank or both fuels are
poured simultaneously into a mixing chamber. Precau-
tions must be taken to ensure thorough mixing without
stratification in the vessel. The process can be assisted
and enhanced by using mechanical mixers.
Other blending technologies include static, in-line,
side stream, ratio, sequential and hybrid blending [13].
The blending process however has to be carried out with
careful metering of the fuels for quality control purposes
[15,16]. Blending is a secondary biodiesel process and
could be performed in situ at the manufacturer’s premise
or at the end user’s facility.
4. Production Plant Technologies
The engineering principles of the primary plant in a bio-
diesel production facility are well established. The equip-
ment layout includes reactors, pumps, centrifuges, and
distillation columns. There is also equipment such as
settling chambers, storage tanks, pipe networks, valves,
measuring instruments and other fittings.
Depending on the size and complexity of the infra-
structure, a computer based system can be used to moni-
tor plant performance. The selection of material for the
construction of the reactor and storage tanks is an impor-
tant consideration in production plant design. The tech-
nical demand on the materials used for storage tanks
downstream of the reactor is lower since the tanks con-
tain nearly pH neutral chemicals. In contrast, the materi-
als required for the reactor must withstand basic condi-
tions for transesterification reaction or acidic conditions
if an esterification approach is used to convert free fatty
acids. For the base-catalyzed transesterification reaction,
stainless steel is the preferred material for the reactor
However, in the acid-catalyzed esterification reaction
stainless steel would not be appropriate because it is
subject to attack by acids. Under these conditions, acid
resistant materials such as Hastelloy should be used for
the reaction vessel.
There are multiple operating options for making bio-
diesel e.g. batch and continuous processes. The technol-
ogy of choice is a function of desired capacity, feedstock
type and quality, and alcohol or catalyst recovery. The
dominant factor in biodiesel production is the feedstock
cost; capital costs may contribute only about 7% of the
final product cost [13]. Some reaction systems are capa-
ble of handling a variety of feedstocks and qualities. Also,
the various approaches to the esterification process imply
different operating and water use requirements. In gen-
eral, batch systems are attractive for smaller capacity
plants and variable feedstock qualities. Continuous sys-
tems are common for operation on a 24/7 basis but re-
quire large production volumes to justify huge invest-
ments. A more uniform feedstock quality is also essential
for continuous production.
5. Challenges of Biodiesel Technology
As use of biodiesel increases it is likely that other secon-
dary or parallel industries would evolve in developing
nations [17]. The new industry would require design and
manufacture of specialised equipment, facilities and con-
trol systems for downstream and upstream activities of
the main biodiesel chemical plant.
Human resource gaps are a major challenge for the
development, adoption and penetration of biofuels in
most developing countries. However, in India there is a
rapid growth in the level of awareness, research and
government activities in agro - crops (e.g. Jatropha) for
energy provision, employment creation and poverty alle-
viation in local communities [6,18]. Therefore it would
be imperative for some of the education institutions to
develop and offer new programmes in biodiesel and al-
lied areas to produce human capital for the up-coming
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Biodiesel for Sustainable Energy Provision in Developing Countries
Population and urban migration would continue to in-
crease in the next few decades in the developing coun-
tries. This would lead to increased energy consumption.
As the bulk of energy supply is by thermal processes,
CO2 generated per capita would grow steadily and envi-
ronmental issues would increasingly be of concern.
Therefore pressure on biodiesel production would in-
crease in the coming years as a way of mitigating envi-
ronmental pollution and global warming. However the
demand for biodiesel may itself be sensitive to diesel
Renewable energy technologies would require some
upfront public investment which should decrease as the
level of technology adoption and use increases. For ex-
ample, to be competitive, biodiesel needs subsidies from
government. Such a need may conflict with govern-
ments’ commitment to other public sectors such as health
and education. However more national governments in
developing countries are considering the use of public
and private partnership (PPP) model to deliver projects.
Sustained markets for biodiesel should grow by employ-
ing strong PPPs strategy.
Low or irregular rainfall could have devastating effect
on energy crops e.g. jatropha. Also drought and diseases
(such as foot and mouth disease) could affect the popula-
tion of animals and invariably quality and quantity of
animal fat and wastes available for transesterification
reaction may be compromised.
Conflict of biofuels production with food crops could
become a perennial issue if not properly managed. This
is where land demarcation and what types of crops could
be diverted to energy application is essential. For exam-
ple South Africa banned use of maize/corn for biofuels
production to reduce competition between energy and
food crops. Therefore policies should be developed and
monitored periodically for renewable energy technolo-
The role and coordination of small farmers could be a
major challenge. The biodiesel producers need to opti-
mize modern production processes and advances in re-
search in their operations.
The major processing challenge is economics of the
feedstock and other raw materials such as alcohol. Loca-
tion of production plant must be thoroughly considered at
the design stage to limit transportation cost and the rigour
of collecting feedstock from various and sometimes dis-
tant places. The need and cost to carry out environmental
impact assessment (EIA) and investigation could also be
a challenge. However confidence in renewable technolo-
gies would be enhanced as EIA addresses sustainability
6. Key Success Factors for Biodiesel
As shown in Figure 1, Germany is the principal bio-
diesel producer in EU and also in the world. A review of
the experiences of that country could provide an under-
standing of issues for developing countries embarking on
massive biodiesel projects [13]. The following key fac-
tors would be significant for successful introduction of
biodiesel technology and plants in developing countries:
Carry out research on various issues including feed-
stock resources, land usage and availability for
planting jatropha and other agro-based energy crops,
alternative feedstocks, manufacturing equipment
suppliers, market and pump pricing.
Create uninterrupted feedstock supply chain and
Involve key stakeholders and investors from com-
mencement of project to ensure buy-in and support
Develop appropriate standards and guidelines (i.e.
to cover production process, plant quality, feedstock,
storage and final fuel dispensing) comparable to in-
ternational benchmarks to guarantee confidence of
local end users and regional markets.
Emphasize and monitor quality of biodiesel prod-
Establish a marketing strategy to uniquely position
biodiesel as an independent fuel and not a surrogate
of the fossil fuel diesel. Modern blending practices
can leave biodiesel in complete obscurity.
Promote biodiesel at public gatherings and by using
various media outlets.
Develop long term strategy for progressive growth
of biodiesel consumption in the overall national en-
ergy usage.
Introduce incentive schemes (e.g. tax relief) for
both manufacturers and end users to stimulate re-
newable energy market.
Develop a political support motivated by the cli-
mate-change and sustainable development initia-
Incorporate a glycerol purification and recovery
system to produce high grade commercial glycerol.
Design and use expandable production plant that is
able to process different feedstocks.
Co-ordinate jatropha farmers and provide modern
breeding and seed production for outgrower schemes.
Introduce attractive legislation and policies to fa-
vour biodiesel production i.e. create enabling envi-
ronment for biodiesel to thrive.
In summary, there are many factors that can affect
successful biodiesel project implementation. Some of
these are: regular feedstock availability, appropriate site
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
Biodiesel for Sustainable Energy Provision in Developing Countries
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. LCE
selection (e.g. optimum distance from feedstock supplier
and market), incentives for consumers and investors, fuel
quality, competitive prices, collaboration with stake-
holders, aggressive market promotion, effective distribu-
tion channels, attractive guidelines and policy and flexi-
ble technology.
7. Conclusions
The technology for biodiesel production is simple and
well established. The manufacturing plants can be of
various sizes from small to complex facilities. The prin-
cipal success factor for biodiesel production is availabil-
ity of sustainable supply of raw materials. In particular as
the biofuels industry emerges in developing countries,
there would be a need for intensive research on biofuel
resource potential and technologies to inform policy di-
rections, land requirements and allocation, operating
standards and procedures and investment opportunities. It
would be necessary to consider sustainability issues (en-
vironmental, social and economic) at the start of bio-
diesel programmes so that policy can be reviewed or new
ones instituted. Jatropha has been identified as a good
material for biodiesel production in several developing
countries but its effect on land and other native plants has
to be established.
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