Biodiesel is a renewable fuel produced from animal and vegetable fats that can be used in diesel engines with little or no modification. Biodiesel is typically blended with petroleum diesel in formulations referred to as B2 (two percent biodiesel, 98 percent petroleum diesel), B5 (5 percent and 95 percent), B20 (20 percent and 80 percent), etc. Though biodiesel is most commonly used in these kinds of blends, it can also be used in its pure form (B100).
Fats and oils are converted into biodiesel through a process known as transesterification, in which an alcohol combined with a catalyst break the material into methyl esters (biodiesel) and glycerin, a biodiesel co-product.
Biodiesel has a number of environmental and functional advantages over petroleum diesel. Biodiesel, made from renewable resources, does not deplete finite petroleum resources and is biodegradeable and non-toxic. Biodiesel is cleaner burning than petroleum diesel: studies show combustion of biodiesel emits 40-60 percent less greenhouse gas. The addition of biodiesel to petroleum diesel increases the lubricity of the fuel, reducing wear and extending the life of engine components.Diesel forms a much larger portion of overall petroleum demand in Europe than in the U.S., so it is not surprising that the E.U. has a relatively mature biodiesel industry and is the world’s leading regional producer. According to the European Biodiesel Board, the EU-25 collectively produced approximately 960 million gallons of biodiesel in 2005. In Europe the predominant biodiesel feedstock is rapeseed oil, which is one of the most efficient oilseed crops in terms of volume of oil per acre of harvested land.
Biodiesel Production in the US
U.S. Biodiesel Plants
TOTAL CAPACITY (MGY) 743.1 1,336.5
AVERAGE CAPACITY (MGY) 7.418.1
SOURCE: Biofuels 2006: Production, Supply and Reality In the United States, the biodiesel industry is still in its infancy; because of its small and fragmented nature, estimates of current biodiesel production are highly variable. In 2005 approximately 75 million gallons of biodiesel were produced in the U.S.– less than 10 percent of E.U. biodiesel production and less than 1.5 percent of U.S. ethanol production that year. Soybean oil is currently the predominant biodiesel feedstock in the U.S. However, growth to and beyond European production levels will require the use of diverse feedstocks, including beef tallow, used cooking oils and other vegetable oils such as imported palm oil.
Ownership of the Biodiesel Industry
The major producers of biodiesel in the U.S., in terms of available production capacity as well as capacity currently under construction, include the Renewable Energy Group, Imperium Renewables, ADM, Louis Dreyfus and AGP.
Further resources on biodiesel:
European Biodiesel Board: Biodiesel Board: Renewable Fuels Association: 2006: Production, Supply & Reality report