You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: biodiesel is the easiest alternative fuel to start using. You can use it right now, in any vehicle that runs diesel, in basically any blend with petrodiesel that you’d like, 5%, 10%, 20%, all the way up to 100% if you’re that kind of bold leader. You can start seeing fuel cost savings, engine health improvements, and environmental benefits today, with no or minimal modifications to your fleet, infrastructure, or maintenance schedule.
Now, couple this ease of use with the recently announced extension of the Biodiesel Income Tax Credit, which allows “taxpayer[s] that deliver pure, unblended biodiesel (B100) into the tank of a vehicle or use B100 as an on-road fuel in their trade or business” to be eligible for a tax credit of $1.00 per gallon of biodiesel, agri-biodiesel, or renewable diesel. The credit was extended (forward and retroactively) to include reporting years 2017-2022. This means that you’ll be able to depend on a $1.00/gallon tax credit for biodiesel use for the next three years. Using biodiesel in your fleet’s vehicles has become a more long-term lucrative proposition than ever.
In other words: 2020 is the year of biodiesel. From its environmental benefits to its cost-saving potential, there’s simply never been a better time to switch.
What is biodiesel?
Biodiesel is a domestically produced, renewable biofuel that can be manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled restaurant grease for use in diesel vehicles or any equipment that operates on diesel fuel. It burns cleaner than petrodiesel, has higher cetane than petrodiesel, and is even safe to drink (though why would you? It tastes gross).
Biodiesel is not just used cooking oil, though. Source materials like used cooking oil (as well as yellow grease, animal tallow, and more) are put through an advanced process called transesterification. Transesterification is a process that converts fats and oils into biodiesel and glycerin. Approximately 100 pounds of oil or fat are reacted with 10 pounds of an alcohol such as methanol in the presence of a catalyst to form 100 pounds of biodiesel and 10 pounds of glycerin. Glycerin, a co-product, is a sugar commonly used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
The year of biodiesel also means it’s the year of American-made fuels. Biodiesel produced by American producers like the Renewable Energy Group (REG) and World Energy is made according to incredibly strict quality standards. The National Biodiesel Accreditation Program takes fuel quality a step further with the voluntary BQ9000 program, combining American Society for Testing and Materials standards and a quality systems program, which includes biodiesel production through end-use. The US Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center provides a detailed breakdown of these high standards.
Is biodiesel good for the environment?
In a diesel engine, biodiesel burns in a similar way to petrodiesel. In the combustion process alone, biodiesel reduces many pollutants such as particular matter and carbon monoxide. However, when lifecycle emissions (from production to use) are considered, vehicles using B100 (100% biodiesel) can reduce total carbon emissions by up to 74%. I’m sure I don’t need to spell it out for you: that’s a considerable reduction in greenhouse gas production, especially for a fuel that requires no modifications to your existing engine.
To understand how biodiesel can achieve such impressive reductions in emissions, think about the process for manufacturing biodiesel vs. petrodiesel. Petrodiesel requires extensive drilling and environmental expenditure to arrive at a raw product that must then be refined into a fuel suitable for use in today’s diesel engines. Biodiesel, on the other hand, is manufactured using products that (1) are grown, such as soybeans (and absorb carbon, like all plants, as part of their growth process), or (2) are reclaimed, such as used cooking oil (which originates from plants). This avoids the environmentally costly process of drilling.
Biodiesel is nontoxic and biodegradable. Compared to petrodiesel, which is refined from crude oil, biodiesel combustion produces fewer air pollutants such as particulates, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrocarbons, and air toxics. Nitrogen oxide emissions from burning a gallon of biodiesel may be slightly higher than emissions from burning a gallon of petroleum diesel.
Biodiesel sees these significant greenhouse gas reductions via its lifecycle because the plant sources of the feedstocks for making biodiesel, such as soybeans and palm oil trees, absorb carbon dioxide as they grow. The absorption of CO2 by these plants offsets the CO2 that forms while making and burning biodiesel.
How can I start using biodiesel?
There are nearly 200 stations across the United States that offer biodiesel (usually blended as B20) right from the pump. To use these stations, no change to your fleet or vehicles is required! Simply pull up to the pump and start filling your tank. Your vehicle will drive just the same as it would with petrodiesel, and you can see for yourself how the experience with using this advanced biofuel doesn’t affect the capabilities of your fleet.
You can check out where the nearest biodiesel station is from you using the US DOE’s Alternative Fueling Station Locator:
But what if your fleet uses its own dedicated infrastructure? Switching to filling at a local pump station is going to be a headache for you. Don’t worry, though: Clean Cities Coalitions are here to help!
The Clean Cities program has become a fixture of the alternative fuels landscape across the country. There are ~90 coalitions around the country that serve as essential information sources for biodiesel and other alternative fuels. If you’re interested in switching, reach out to a Coordinator at your local coalition to receive information, connections, and learn about financial incentives for using B20 blends and above. You can click the map below to find your nearest Clean Cities coalition and get the ball rolling on your journey to using biodiesel in your fleet:
The Year of Biodiesel is upon us
With impressive greenhouse gas emissions reductions, ease of use, and now a tax credit extension that should ensure cost-saving pricing for several years into the future, there has never been a better time to switch to biodiesel in your fleet or vehicle. Drop it in and see for yourself, and join the thousands of fleets across the country that already understand that biodiesel is an essential fuel for saving your fleet money, maintenance headaches, and for saving the planet.