Vegetable oil is an alternative fuel for diesel engines and for heating oil burners. For engines designed to burn #2 diesel fuel, the viscosity of vegetable oil must be lowered to allow for proper atomization of fuel, otherwise incomplete combustion and carbon build up will ultimately damage the engine. Many enthusiasts refer to vegetable oil used as fuel as waste vegetable oil (WVO) if it is oil that was discarded from a restaurant or straight vegetable oil (SVO) or pure plant oil (PPO) to distinguish it from biodiesel.
Most diesel car engines are suitable for the use of SVO, also commonly called Pure Plant Oil (PPO), with suitable modifications. Principally, the viscosity and surface tension of the SVO/PPO must be reduced by preheating it, typically by using waste heat from the engine or electricity, otherwise poor atomization, incomplete combustion and carbonization may result. One common solution is to add a heat exchanger, and an additional fuel tank for "normal" diesel fuel (petrodiesel or biodiesel) and a three way valve to switch between this additional tank and the main tank of SVO/PPO. (This aftermarket modification typically costs about $1200 USD.) The engine is started on diesel, switched over to vegetable oil as soon as it is warmed up and switched back to diesel shortly before being switched off to ensure that no vegetable oil remains in the engine or fuel lines when it is started from cold again. In colder climates it is often necessary to heat the vegetable oil fuel lines and tank as it can become very viscous and even solidify.
Flammability is defined at how easily something will burn or ignite, causing fire or combustion. The degree of difficulty required to cause the combustion of a substance is subject to quantification through fire testing. Internationally, a variety of test protocols exist to quantify flammability.
An important characteristic of flammability is the flash point of a flammable liquid is the lowest temperature at which it can form an ignitable mixture in air. At this temperature the vapour may cease to burn when the source of ignition is removed. A slightly higher temperature, the fire point, is defined as the temperature at which the vapour continues to burn after being ignited. Neither of these parameters is related to the temperatures of the ignition source or of the burning liquid, which are much higher. The flash point is often used as one descriptive characteristic of liquid fuel, but it is also used to describe liquids that are not used intentionally as fuels.
The vapour pressure is an important parameter in determining the ease of ignition. The higher the vapour pressure, the more flammable vapour is evolved from a free liquid surface at a given temperature.
The heating value or calorific value of a substance, usually a fuel or food, is the amount of heat released during the combustion of a specified amount of it. The calorific value is a characteristic for each substance. It is measured in units of energy per unit of the substance, usually mass, such as: kcal/kg, kJ/kg, J/mol, Btu/m³. Heating value is commonly determined by use of a bomb calorimeter.
For more information (background, pictures, experiments and references): Vegetable Oil Fuel
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