Biodiesel Benefits – Why Use Biodiesel?

The smartest technologies deliver benefits to multiple interests, including improved economy, and a positive impact on the environment and governmental policies.

The role of the biodiesel industry is not to replace petroleum diesel, but to help create a balanced energy policy with the most benefit to the United States. Biodiesel is one of several alternative fuels designed to extend the usefulness of petroleum, and the longevity and cleanliness of diesel engines.

The ultimate goal is to contribute to building a stronger, more self-sufficient community by way of a community-based biodiesel production model. A community-based biodiesel distribution program benefits local economies, from the farmers growing the feedstock to local businesses producing and distributing the fuel to the end consumer. The money stays in the community while reducing impact on the local environment and increasing energy security.

Learn More

The links below provide more in depth information on the benefits of biodiesel.

  • Easy To Use
    No vehicle modifications or special fueling equipment — just pump and go.
  • Power, Performance and Economy
    Proven performance and economy make biodiesel a renewable winner.
  • Emissions & Greenhouse Gas Reduction
    With lower exhaust emissions biodiesel is helping to reduce pollution and improve health. Lower CO2 emissions help reduce the impacts of global warming.
  • Energy Balance & Security
    Biodiesel production and use at home, biodiesel helps reduce the need for foreign oil.
  • Toxicity, Biodegradability, Safety & Recycling
    Less toxic than table salt, biodiesel has minimal environmental impact. With a high flash point, biodiesel is safer to handle and store than petroleum diesel. When made from used oils and fats, biodiesel helps ensure proper recycling of former waste products.
  • Economic Development
    Biodiesel helps communities by keeping energy dollars at home.

 

Easy to Use

One of the great advantages of biodiesel is that it can be used in existing engines, vehicles and infrastructure with practically no changes. Biodiesel can be pumped, stored and burned just like petroleum diesel fuel, and can be used pure, or in blends with petroleum diesel fuel in any proportion. Power and fuel economy using biodiesel is practically identical to petroleum diesel fuel, and year round operation can be achieved by blending with diesel fuel.

DOE Biodiesel Handling and Use Guidelines

Engine and Vehicles
All diesel engines and vehicles can use biodiesel or biodiesel blends. Certain older vehicles built before 1993 may require replacement of fuel lines which contain natural rubber, as biodiesel can cause these lines to swell or crack.

Blending and Switching with Diesel Fuel
Biodiesel can be used 100% (B100) or in blends with petroleum diesel fuel. Blends are indicated by B##, which correspond to the percentage of biodiesel in the blended fuel. For example, a 20% blend of biodiesel with 80% diesel fuel is called B20. When biodiesel is first used in a vehicle, it may release fuel tank deposits which can lead to fuel filter plugging. After this initial period, a user can switch between biodiesel and petroleum diesel whenever needed or desired, without modification.

Availability
The presence of biodiesel pumps at fueling stations across the country grows daily. To find sources of biodiesel near you, click here.


Power, Performance and Economy

I want my MPG!
Many alternative fuels have difficulty gaining acceptance because they do not provide similar performance to their petroleum counterparts. Pure biodiesel and biodiesel blended with petroleum diesel fuel provide very similar horsepower, torque, and fuel mileage compared to petroleum diesel fuel. In its pure form, typical biodiesel will have an energy content 5%-10% lower than typical petroleum diesel. However it should be noted that petroleum diesel fuel energy content can vary as much as 15% from one supplier to the next. The lower energy content of biodiesel translates into slightly reduced performance when biodiesel is used in 100% form, although users typically report little noticeable change in mileage or performance. When blended with petroleum diesel at B20 levels, there is less than 2% change in fuel energy content, with users typically reporting no noticeable change in mileage or economy.

Superior Lubrication for Your Engine
The injection system of many diesel engines relies on the fuel to lubricate its parts. The degree to which fuel provides proper lubrication is its lubricity. Low lubricity petroleum diesel fuel can cause premature failure of injection system components and decreased performance. Biodiesel provides excellent lubricity to the fuel injection system. Recently, with the introduction of low sulfur and ultra low sulfur diesel fuel, many of the compounds which previously provided lubricating properties to petrodiesel fuel have been removed. By blending biodiesel in amounts as little as 5%, the lubricity of ultra low sulfur diesel can be dramatically improved, and the life of an engine’s fuel injection system extended.

Biodiesel in Cold Weather
Just like petroleum diesel fuel, biodiesel can gel in cold weather. The best way to use biodiesel during the colder months is to blend it with winterized diesel fuel.


Emissions & Greenhouse Gas reduction

Emissions
Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel to successfully complete the EPA’s rigorous emissions and health effects study under the Clean Air Act. Biodiesel provides significantly reduced emissions of carbon monoxide, particulate matter, unburned hydrocarbons, and sulfates compared to petroleum diesel fuel. Additionally, biodiesel reduces emissions of carcinogenic compounds by as much as 85% compared with petrodiesel. When blended with petroleum diesel fuel, these emissions reductions are generally directly proportional to the amount of biodiesel in the blend.

Close Contact Benefits from the “French Fry Fuel”
The reduced particulate and unburned hydrocarbons emissions that result when using biodiesel are a welcome relief in environments where workers and pedestrians are in close proximity to diesel engines, including public transport, mining, and construction. In addition, when high blends of biodiesel are used, the exhaust from diesel engines is often described as smelling like fried food, which aside from causing increased hunger in those nearby, is a welcome relief from the smell of diesel fuel exhaust.

A Clean Alternative Fuel for New and Old Engines
Diesel engines have long had a reputation of being “dirty” engines. However, with the advent of newer diesel engines equipped with exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), particulate filters, and catalytic converters, clean diesel technology provides incredible fuel efficiency with ultra low emissions levels. When coupled with the use of biodiesel, both new and old diesel engines can significantly reduce emissions, including particulate matter (black smoke).

A Closer Look at Emissions Reduction
Studies on biodiesel emissions have been conducted for almost 20 years. In that time biodiesel has undergone the most rigorous testing of any alternative fuel, having been the first and only fuel to be evaluated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act Section 211(b). This study examined the impact of hundreds of regulated and non-regulated exhaust emissions, as well as the potential health effects of these emissions. Some of these results are summarized below.

Average Exhaust Emissions for 100% Biodiesel Compared to Petroleum Diesel Fuel*
Regulated Exhaust Emissions B100
Particulate Matter -47%
Carbon Monoxide -48%
Total Unburned Hydrocarbons -67%
Nitrogen Oxides +/-
Non Regulated Emissions
Sulfates -100%
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) -80%
Nitrated Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (nPAH) -90%
Speciated Hydrocarbons Ozone Forming Potential -50%

4 “A Comprehensive Analysis of Biodiesel Impacts on Exhaust Emissions”, http://www.epa.gov/otaq/models/analysis/biodsl/p02001.pdf (This document requires Adobe Acrobat Reader, click here to download the latest version.

Explanation of Emission Types

  • Particulate Matter (Black Smoke)
    Emissions of particulate matter have been linked to respiratory diseases and are generally considered to be a human health hazard. Emissions of particulate matter are reduced with biodiesel by 47%.
  • Carbon Monoxide
    Carbon Monoxide is a poisonous gas. Reduced with biodiesel by 48%.
  • Total Unburned Hydrocarbons
    Compounds which contribute to localized formation of smog. Reduced with biodiesel by 67%.
  • Nitrogen Oxides
    Compounds which contribute to localized formation of smog. According to NREL (Biodiesel Handling and Use Guidelines 2009 revision) examination of the NOx testing results shows that the effect of biodiesel can vary with engine design, calibration, and test cycle. At this time, the data are insufficient for users to conclude anything about the average effect of B20 on NOx, other than that it is likely very close to zero.
  • Sulfates
    Sulfates are major contributors to acid rain. These emissions are practically eliminated when using biodiesel.
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH and nPAH)
    These compounds have been identified as carcinogenic (cancer causing) compounds. Biodiesel reduces emissions of these compounds by up to 85% for PAH compounds and 90% for nPAH compounds.
  • Speciated Hydrocarbons
    These compounds contribute to the formation of localized smog and ozone. The potential for smog formation from speciated hydrocarbons is reduced by 50% when using biodiesel.

Life Cycle Reduction of CO2

Biodiesel helps reduce the risk of global warming by reducing net carbon emissions to the atmosphere. When biodiesel is burned, it releases carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, but crops which are used to produce biodiesel take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in their growth cycle. A joint study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Energy determined that biodiesel reduces net carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere by 78.5% compared with petroleum diesel fuel.3

3 Information from http://www.nrel.gov/docs/legosti/fy98/24089.pdf


Energy Balance and Security

Energy Balance

The energy balance of a fuel is a ratio of how much energy is required to produce, refine and distribute the fuel compared to the amount of energy the fuel releases when it is burned. This property is used to determine how “renewable” a fuel is. A higher ratio indicates a lower environmental impact, as less fossil energy is needed to produce, refine and distribute the fuel. Biodiesel has a very high energy balance compared to other alternative fuels. A joint study found that on average biodiesel releases 3.2 units of energy for every one unit of fossil fuel energy used to produce it*. For comparison, diesel fuel delivers only 0.83 units of energy for every unit of fossil fuel energy used to produce it.

Grown, Produced and Distributed Locally

Worldwide, energy security is becoming a hot topic in government and society. Nearly every country in the world depends on imports of various forms of fossil fuel energy, including oil, coal and natural gas. Without a steady supply of affordable energy a country’s economy grinds to a halt, with no fuel for transportation, energy to run power plants and factories, or heat homes. Biodiesel can improve energy security wherever it is produced in several ways:

  • Domestic Energy Crops
    When crops used to produce biodiesel are grown in the country in which the fuel is consumed, each gallon of biodiesel displaces a gallon of imported crude oil, reducing a country’s dependence on foreign oil supplies.
  • Increased Refining Capacity
    Biodiesel is produced in dedicated refineries which add to overall domestic refining capacity, eliminating the need to import expensive finished product from other countries.
  • Difficult Targets
    When biodiesel is produced, distributed and used locally in a community based model it presents a much more difficult target for a potential terrorist attack than large centralized facilities like oil refineries or pipelines used in the petroleum industry.

In the United States, the biodiesel industry is supported by the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) compliance strategy. This legislation allows EPAct-covered fleets (federal, state and public utility fleets) to meet their alternative fuel vehicle purchase requirements simply by buying 450 gallons of pure biodiesel, and burning it in new or existing diesel vehicles in at least a 20% blend with diesel fuel. The Congressional Budget Office and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have confirmed that the biodiesel option is the least-cost alternative fuel option for meeting the Federal government’s EPAct compliance requirements.


Toxicity, Biodegradability, Safety & Recycling

Toxicity, Biodegradability, Safety & Recycling

Though it is uncommon for the average person to come into direct contact with fuels, occasional spills do occur, and the impact of the fuel on plants and animals must be considered. Biodiesel has been proven to be much less toxic than diesel fuel, and is readily biodegradable. These attributes make it less likely to harm the environment if an accidental spill occurred, and far less costly to repair damage and clean up.

Less Toxic than Table Salt

Being derived from vegetable oils, biodiesel is naturally non-toxic. The acute oral LD50 (lethal dose) of biodiesel is more than 17.4 g/Kg. By comparison table salt (NaCl) has an LD50 of 3.0g/Kg. This means that table salt is almost 6 times more toxic than biodiesel.4

Aquatic Impacts

In an aquatic environment, biodiesel is 15 times less toxic to common species of fish than diesel fuel.4

Biodegradability

In both soil and water, biodiesel degraded at a rate 4 times faster than regular diesel fuel, with nearly 80% of the carbon in the fuel being readily converted by soil and water borne organisms in as little as 28 day.4

*Peterson, Charles and Moller, Gregory. “Biodegradability, BOD4, COD and Toxicity of Biodiesel Fuels”, University of Idaho Biodiesel Education Program.

A Safe and Stable Fuel

Biodiesel is safer to handle than petroleum fuel because of its low volatility. Due to the high energy content of all liquid fuels, there is a danger of accidental ignition when the fuel is being stored, transported, or transferred. The possibility of having an accidental ignition is related in part to the temperature at which the fuel will create enough vapors to ignite, known as the flash point temperature. The lower the flash point of a fuel is, the lower the temperature at which the fuel can form a combustible mixture. For example, gasoline has a flash point of -40 F, which means that gasoline can form a combustible mixture at temperatures as low as -40 F. Biodiesel on the other hand has a flash point of over 266 F, meaning it cannot form a combustible mixture until it is heated well above the boiling point of water. It is rare that fuel is subjected to these types of conditions, making biodiesel significantly safer to store, handle, and transport than petroleum diesel. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association classifies biodiesel as a non-flammable liquid.

Recycling: Recovering Energy Resources

Biodiesel can be made from many different oils and fats, including many waste products. Waste cooking oil, normally disposed of or used in animal feed mixtures can be converted to high quality biodiesel using a process employed by companies such as Pacific Biodiesel Technologies. The use of used cooking oils as a biodiesel feedstock has increased their value significantly in recent years, making proper collection and recycling of these oils more cost effective, and lowering the volume of these oils destined for sewers and landfills. Other low value oils and fats which can be made into biodiesel include yellow grease, inedible tallow, and trap grease. In one example of the benefits of how biodiesel production can increase recycling, the Pacific Biodiesel production facilities in the Hawaiian islands have diverted nearly 190,000 tons of used cooking oil and grease trap waste since they began production.
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Economic Development

Energy Dollars Stay In Communities

Since biodiesel is a fuel which can be created from locally available resources, it’s production and use can provide a host of economic benefits for local communities. The community-based model of biodiesel production is particularly beneficial. In this model, locally available feedstocks are collected, converted to biodiesel, then distributed and used within the community. This model keeps energy dollars in the community instead of sending them to foreign oil producers and refineries outside the community. The peripheral benefits of this type of model are different for each case, but can include:

  • Increased tax base from biodiesel production operations.
  • Jobs created for feedstock farming and/or collection.
  • Skilled jobs created for biodiesel production and distribution.
  • Income for local feedstock producers and refiners.

Sustainable Farming and Value Added Agriculture

Biodiesel feedstock can come from a variety of agricultural crops. When these crops are grown in a sustainable manner, using good stewardship practices, there are long term benefits to farmers, farming communities and the land. Many crops which yield oils used for biodiesel production can be a beneficial rotation for other food crops, including soybeans when used in a traditional corn rotation, and canola when used in a wheat rotation. Using crops in rotation can improve soil health and reduce erosion. The overall impacts of growing energy crops are complex, with thousands of variables. However, the added value created for oilseed crops by the production of biodiesel is a tangible benefit for farming communities, and when coupled with sustainable farming practices can provide benefits to farming communities and the environment.

Sustainable Biodiesel Production

Since there are multiple feedstocks from which to make biodiesel, plant operators can opt for the least expensive feedstock currently available, if they have a multiple-feedstock system. This flexibility makes producers less subject to price fluctuations.

One example of this is noted by the prices of soybean oil. Its price has doubled in recent years, and is predicted to continue to rise according to a 2001 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The study projects a total cash crop increase of $5.2 billion by 2010 — an average net increase to farms of $300 million per year — with soybean prices increasing 17 cents per bushel annually over that period.

Everybody Wins

Ultimately this creates multiple beneficiaries of the production of biodiesel. By virtue of a successful market and feedstock flexibility, plant operators and farmers can both continue to operate in a marketplace with increases in revenue projected to bring $24 billion to the U.S. by 2015.