In an era where the whispers of climate change have escalated into urgent innovations, the quest for sustainable fuel alternatives has never been more sought. Enter biodiesel, a revolutionary green fuel that’s not just paving the way to a cleaner environment but is also turning heads with its unconventional sources – including, believe it or not, cooking grease. Yes, you read that right. The very byproduct of your breakfast can power your vehicle, transforming waste into an eco-friendly energy solution as we strive to get biodiesel on the roads.

This blog series is a step toward unraveling the world of biodiesel and other vehicle fuel alternatives, exploring how innovation and sustainability can drive us toward a greener future. From the science behind converting used cooking oil into fuel to the latest advancements in electric and hydrogen vehicles, we’ll dive into the benefits and challenges of these alternative energies. Whether you’re a car enthusiast, an environmental advocate, or simply curious, join us to discover how the future roads are being reshaped, one sustainable mile at a time. Because if your car can run on bacon grease, the possibilities are as limitless as they are intriguing.

Transforming bacon grease into biofuel is a remarkable example of sustainable innovation. Through a chemical process known as transesterification, the fats in bacon grease are reacted with an alcohol (typically methanol) in the presence of a catalyst, such as sodium hydroxide. This reaction breaks down the grease into glycerol and methyl esters, the latter being the biodiesel. This process gives a delicious breakfast byproduct a second life as a renewable energy source and contributes to reducing waste and lowering emissions compared to traditional diesel fuels. This eco-friendly fuel can power diesel engines with minimal modifications, making it an accessible and sustainable alternative for fueling vehicles and machinery.

While biodiesel presents a sustainable alternative to traditional diesel, its use in pure form (B100) poses several challenges that prevent its widespread adoption in standard diesel engines without modifications. Pure biodiesel delivers less energy per volume than petroleum diesel, meaning vehicles would have lower fuel efficiency. Additionally, its denser nature affects vaporization, potentially diluting engine oil. In colder climates, biodiesel’s tendency to gel can damage engine seals, particularly in older models. The compatibility with emissions equipment, especially the Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) that traps soot, is another concern, as 100% biodiesel can lead to reliability issues and gumming of engine parts due to its fatty composition.

Biodiesel is typically blended with conventional diesel fuels to circumvent these issues, creating mixtures like B5 (5% biodiesel) or B20 (20% biodiesel). These blends offer a balance, harnessing biodiesel’s environmental benefits while maintaining engine performance and reliability. However, it’s not perfect and ultimately leaves out a lot of environmental benefits. There are of course scalability concerns and lack of production facilities, supply chains, and fueling points keeping this innovation more lab-bound than road-ready in the near term.

We encourage researchers to consider researching engine designs and modifications to solve the issues that biodiesel can cause.

As we explore the frontier of alternative fuels further, we’ll shift our focus to another promising combustible option: compressed natural gas (CNG), a cleaner, more efficient energy source for our vehicles.

Follow along in this alternative vehicle fuels series and click here for our kick off blog or the whole series.


Written by Mustafa Haque, Public Policy Intern

The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.