Alternative Fuels in Fire Debris Analysis: Biodiesel Basics


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Eric Stauffer, M.S.
Premier Assistant
Institut de Police Scientifique
School of Criminal Sciences
University of Lausanne
CH-1015 Lausanne


ABSTRACT: Alternative fuels are becoming more prominent on the market today and, soon, fire debris analysts will start seeing them in liquid samples or in fire debris samples. Biodiesel fuel is one of the most common alternative fuels and is now readily available in many parts of the United States and around the world. This article introduces biodiesel to fire debris analysts. Biodiesel fuel is manufactured from vegetable oils and/or animal oils/fats. It is composed of fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs) and is sold pure or as a blend with diesel fuel. When present in fire debris samples, it is recommended to extract the debris using passive headspace concentration on activated charcoal, possibly followed by a solvent extraction. The gas chromatographic analysis of the extract is first carried out with the same program as for regular ignitable liquid residues, and second with a program adapted to the analysis of FAMEs.