Education

Not just good for cooking

 By Amanda Saint

Where does oil grow? When we think of renewable energy sources wind, solar and hydropower usually spring to mind, but vegetable oils are not just good for cooking, they are also a source of renewable energy…

Edible vegetable oils found in the supermarkets are often used in biodiesel, but where do they come from?

  • Soybean Oil– Native to Asia, the soybean is now grown all over the world and widely used as an alternative to meat and dairy in our diets. It is often used in biodiesel but has also been trialled as a standalone alternative fuel. In 2010, a team of American scientists sequenced the soybean genome making it the first legume to be sequenced.
  • Rapeseed Oil– This is the most common vegetable oil used in biodiesel in Europe. It comes from a plant in the same family as cabbage and mustard and is grown all over the world. The plant only takes between 110 and 150 days to mature, which accounts for its popularity.
  • Palm Oil– This is one of the main vegetable oils used in biodiesel, but the environmental impacts of clearing rain forests and replacing them with large palm plantations means its use is being questioned. There are large palm oil plantations in countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and India.
Production of Biodiesel From Vegetable Oil
  • Corn Oil– Made from the corn seed of maize crop, this is a popular choice for biodiesel due to its abundance and low cost. The US is the world’s top provider having produced around 351 million metric tons (387 million short tons) in 2014.
  • Tung Oil– Also known as China wood oil, tung oil is produced by pressing the seed from the nut of the tung tree, which is native to southern China. Traditionally used as a drying oil in wood finishing and oil painting, there are now factories in China producing it for biodiesel.
  • Colza Oil– From the same family as rapeseed oil, colza is cultivated on a large scale in France, Belgium, the US, the Netherlands, Germany and Poland. It’s now one of the primary sources of biodiesel in Germany and once powered the lighting in the UK’s railway coaches.

These are just a handful of vegetable oils used for biodiesel. Scientists are busy researching more in order to find sustainable and renewable energy sources for the future.

about the author
Amanda Saint
Journalist and content writer, specialised in engineering and technology with a focus on environmental sustainability, urbanisation and biotechnology.