If only Rudolf Diesel could see highways across America today. The inventor of the Diesel engine, which ran perfectly on peanut oil not long after its debut around the turn of the 20th century, would certainly be amazed to see that biodiesel has grown into an industry that supports more than 64,000 jobs, $2.5 billion in wages paid and more than $11 billion in total economic impact in the United States.
It is amazing that consumers in the U.S. saw nearly 2.7 billion gallons of biodiesel and renewable diesel produced in 2018. Biodiesel is the first and only EPA-designated Advanced Biofuel with commercial-scale production nationwide.
Biodiesel is made, after two decades of research and improvements, from an increasingly diverse mix of resources and is one of the most sustainable fuels on the planet. That biodiesel-powered vehicle that passes you on the highway may be running on a mixture of recycled cooking oil, plant oils, animal fats, soybean oil, or even algae. We do not sacrifice food for fuel to create biodiesel. Oils and fats for biodiesel are a minor byproduct of producing high-protein feeds, like soybean meal, and quality cuts of meat.
Additionally, biodiesel production adds 11 cents per pound of value to soybean oil, equal to 63 cents per bushel or $36 per acre of additional value. Because of that added value to farmers, the protein from soybean crops can be made more affordable for foods for families or feed for livestock.
In “well to wheels” analysis 100% biodiesel reduces lifecycle carbon emissions more than 50 percent compared to petroleum-based diesel, making it the best carbon reduction tool of any liquid fuel commercially available, according to the National Biodiesel Board. As a result, biodiesel is the first commercially available “Advanced Biofuel” – as designated by the EPA – on the market.
Biodiesel is biodegradable, non-toxic and burns much cleaner than petroleum-diesel. Compared to petroleum-diesel, biodiesel reduces black smoke (particulates), carbon monoxide and harmful unburned hydrocarbons that cause smog. U.S. biodiesel is an advanced biofuel that has the highest energy balance of any commercially available fuel. B20 biodiesel (20% biodiesel/80% petroleum-based diesel) returns 5.54 units of renewable energy for every one unit of fossil energy needed to produce it.
Clean-burning biodiesel can be used in existing diesel engines without any modification. Production of biodiesel is guided by stringent international (ASTM) fuel specifications, developed through years of testing. The industry also has an excellent fuel quality program that ensures that only the highest quality biodiesel is delivered to your fuel tanks.
While biodiesel is a perfect fuel for regular passenger vehicles, its use for fleet vehicles – trucks and buses, for example – is a great money-saver for industries that are increasingly running on thin profit margins. Using biodiesel also helps our overall economy by reducing our dependence on foreign oil from unstable parts of the globe, while expanding and diversifying our domestic refining capacity. Biodiesel also improves the balance of trade as using this fuel creates added outlets for farm-based products and creates high paying manufacturing jobs in rural America.
Among U.S. heavy-duty truck segments, which account for more than 87 percent of actual diesel fuel usage, every major engine manufacturer supports B20 (a blend of 20 percent biodiesel to 80 percent petroleum diesel) in their new engines except for Daimler’s Detroit Diesel (which remains at B5). There have been more than 45 million miles recorded of successful, problem-free, real-world operation with B20 biodiesel blends in a wide variety of engines, climates and applications.
The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition hosted two free biodiesel workshops on April 10 and 11, in Bessemer and Montgomery. Those in attendance heard from experts who provided information and resources necessary to allow fleet managers to make the sound business decision to add biodiesel to improve their bottom line. The workshops were an opportunity to open up an honest conversation to address any concerns about biodiesel. This fuel is a sound choice for municipalities, school districts, fuel distributors, service station owners – and all consumers.
If Rudolf Diesel were around – he’d be there.
Mark Bentley is Executive Director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition.