Sadly in the U.S. today, many misbeliefs, misconceptions, & misperceptions exist regarding biodiesel fuel & biodiesel production. Today, we are permanently busting 12 biodiesel myths.
MYTH #1: BIODIESEL DOES NOT PERFORM AS WELL AS PETROLEUM DIESEL.
TRUTH #1: Biodiesel has a higher cetane number than U.S. petroleum diesel fuel. In over 50,000,000 miles of in-field demonstrations, B20 exhibited comparable torque, fuel consumption, horsepower, and haulage rates as conventional diesel fuel. In addition, biodiesel has superior lubricity. Biodiesel also holds the highest BTU content of any alternative fuel (falling in the range between #1 and #2 diesel fuel).
MYTH #2: BIODIESEL IS AN EXPERIMENTAL FUEL.
TRUTH #2: Biodiesel is the most comprehensively tested alternative fuel in the United States. Multiple independent studies have been conducted on the viability & performance of biodiesel. Said investigations have shown that when compared to petroleum diesel, biodiesel is similar in performance, yields greater environmental benefits, & is more beneficial towards human health. Said investigations were conducted by Stanadyne Automotive Corporation (biggest U.S. manufacturer of diesel fuel injection hardware), Southwest Research Institute, Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, & the U.S. Department of Energy. In addition, biodiesel is the only alternative fuel to have successfully fulfilled the stringent health effects testing requirements of the Clean Air Act. Regarding transportation testing, biodiesel has undergone more than 50,000,000 miles of road tests in addition to innumerable hours of marine and off road tests. Biodiesel has been successfully fueling U.S. fleets for over 20 years. Greater than 300 U.S. fleets employ biodiesel fuel.
MYTH #3: BIODIESEL PRODUCTION CREATES FOOD SHORTAGES BY CONSUMING AGRICULTURAL CROPS.
TRUTH #3: Regarding biodiesel manufacturing, food is not sacrificed for fuel. Biodiesel is manufactured from an assortment of renewable resources, such as algae, plant oils, recycled grease, & animal fats. Consequently, biodiesel is one of the world’s most sustainable fuels. The fats & oils consumed during biodiesel production are a minor by-product of agriculture. For example, soybeans grown for protein meal consist of 20% oil & 80% protein meal. The beans are crushed in order to separate the protein from the oil. The protein meal is consumed by humans & animals. The excess oil can be used in biodiesel production. The National Biodiesel Board has shown that ‘’By creating a market and value for excess soybean oil, Biodiesel decreases soy protein meal prices by $20-$40 per ton.’’ Remember, no restaurant cooks more fried food in order to produce used oil for biodiesel. Again, no farmer raises livestock for its fat content. Finally, the relationship between biodiesel & agriculture is symbiotic. One gallon of biodiesel cannot be manufactured without co-producing 30 pounds of protein and 22 pounds of fiber & carbohydrates.
MYTH #4: BIODIESEL REFINERIES CONSUME MORE ENERGY THAN THE FUEL PRODUCES.
TRUTH #4: Biodiesel exhibits one of the highest energy balances when compared to other liquid fuels. 5.5 units of energy are gained for every unit of fossil energy consumed during biodiesel production. This factor takes into account the energy consumed during planting, harvesting, fuel manufacturing, & fuel delivery (to the consumer).
MYTH #5: BIODIESEL PERFORMS POORLY IN COLD WEATHER.
TRUTH #5: Just like #2 petroleum diesel fuel, biodiesel will gel in very cold temperatures. Gel temperatures vary based upon vegetable feed stock. Pure biodiesel (B100) has a higher cloud point than #2 diesel fuel. However, I have successfully used Power Service PS Artic Formula Winterizer/Antigel additive with B100 when running a VW 2001 Jetta TDI during cold Ohio winters. In contrast, B20 fuel (blends of 20% biodiesel) are managed using the same fuel winterizing techniques as #2 petroleum diesel. B5 fuels (5% biodiesel) have virtually no impact on cold flow.
MYTH #6: BIODIESEL HAS A POOR SHELF LIFE.
TRUTH #6: Most petroleum companies recommend storing petroleum diesel for periods < 6 months. With current consumption rates, diesel fuel is expended long before the 6 month deadline. As with petroleum diesel, the biodiesel industry recommends that biodiesel be spent within six months. Once the 6 month deadline has passed, the fuel should be reanalyzed to confirm it meets ASTM D-6751 specifications. Longer shelf life is attainable via the usage of fuel preserving additives.
MYTH #7: LOW-BLEND BIODIESEL FUELS ARE TOO EXPENSIVE.
TRUTH #7: A 2% biodiesel-to-petroleum mixture (B2) approximately increases diesel fuel costs by 2¢ to 3¢ per gallon (includes all manufacturing, storage, & transportation costs). Because biodiesel vastly enhances the lubricity of petroleum diesel, this small increase in fuel cost is compensated for by an increase in diesel fuel quality.
MYTH #8: BIODIESEL CONSISTENTLY & CONTINUOUSLY PLUGS FUEL FILTERS.
TRUTH #8: Biodiesel can be used in any diesel engine with little or no modification to the fuel system or the engine. B100 (pure biodiesel) has a solvent effect and will actually clean your fuel system & engine. As such, B100 may release petroleum diesel deposits that have accumulated on pipes & tank walls. With high blends of biodiesel, the release of these petroleum-based deposits may clog filters initially. When working with used diesel engines, precautions can be taken to minimize this risk until the petroleum deposits are eliminated. This matter is less predominant with B20 blends and non-existent with lower biodiesel blends such as B2.
MYTH #9: THE U.S. INFRASTRUCTURE FOR BIODIESEL PRODUCTION IS DEFICIENT AND IS INCAPABLE OF PREVENTING BIODIESEL SHORTAGES.
TRUTH #9: As of November 2015, there are 174 U.S. biodiesel plants that are registered with the E.P.A. and whom maintain membership in the National Biodiesel Board. The grand total of U.S.-based biodiesel plants is 186. In 2015 the total U.S. biodiesel production capacity was 3.6 billion gallons per year. Pure biodiesel and biodiesel blends are currently available at 2,000 public locations nationwide. In addition, biodiesel blends are now being shipped via pipelines.
MYTH #10: AN OBJECTIVE BIODIESEL FUEL FORMULATION STANDARD DOES NOT EXIST.
TRUTH #10: In 1994 the American Society for Testing & Materials (ASTM) formed the first biodiesel taskforce. Since that time the biodiesel industry has been active in setting standards for biodiesel formulation & production. ASTM approved a provisional standard for biodiesel (ASTM PS 121) in July of 1999. In December 2001 the final ASTM biodiesel specification (D-6751) was issued. Copies of specifications are available from ASTM at http://www.astm.org.
MYTH #11: THERE IS NO MARKET DEMAND FOR BIODIESEL IN THE U.S.
TRUTH #11: Since 2005, more than 10 billion gallons of biodiesel have been produced in the U.S. In 2015, nearly 2 billion gallons of biodiesel were manufactured supporting over 62,000 U.S. jobs. Said endeavors generated approximately $17 billion in economic activity. In addition, this production activity generated $2.6 billion in U.S. wages.
MYTH #12: NO U.S. GOVERNMENT PROGRAM EXISTS TO SUPPORT DEVELOPMENT OF A BIODIESEL INDUSTRY.
TRUTH #12: The U.S. government & state governments have supported and continue to support the development of a biodiesel industry. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPACT) was amended in 1998 to include biodiesel as an option for covered fleets to fulfill a portion of their annual Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV) acquisition requirements through the purchase and use of biodiesel. Currently, the EPACT Credits include an incentive for fleets to implement B20+ fuels. In addition, the federal government re-instated the Biodiesel Tax Blenders Credit for the tax years 2015-2016. The Biodiesel Tax Blenders Credit amounts to a $1 per gallon tax credit. In additional, multiple federal programs have been conducted over the last 40 years aimed at the advancement of biodiesel technology. One example: from 1976 to 1998 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory conducted a $25 million program, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, called the Aquatic Species Program: Biodiesel from Algae.
FOR FURTHER REFERENCE & READING:
- Greg Pahl, Biodiesel, Growing a New Energy Economy (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2005), pp. 53-54.
- Joshua Tickell, From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank: The Complete Guide to Using Vegetable Oil as an Alternative Fuel (New Orleans, LA: Josh Tickell Media Productions, 2003), pp. 52-55.
- Jennifer Weaver & Steve Howell, Biodiesel Industry Overview & Technical Update (Jefferson City, MO: National Biodiesel Board, March 2016), pp. 1-56.
- ADM Biodiesel Fact Sheet (Decatur, IL: Archer Daniels Midland Company, 2012), pp. 1-12.
- A wealth of biodiesel fact sheets & documents are available at NBB Documents
- National Biodiesel Board, www.nbb.org and www.biodiesel.org
- ASTM D-6751 Biodiesel Specification is available at www.astm.org