Original Post by Car and Driver Research
Are you thinking about switching to a biodiesel-compatible vehicle or running your current diesel car or truck on biodiesel fuel? Continue reading to learn the pros and cons of biodiesel vs. diesel, what’s driving the market, and why you might want to consider making the transition to biodiesel yourself.
What Is Biodiesel?
Biodiesel is a renewable, biodegradable alternative fuel made from a mix of modified vegetable oils and diesel fuel. According to Edmunds, its production has increased from 25 million gallons in 2005 to 1.7 billion gallons in 2013. Today, biodiesel is blended at a rate of 5% or less into almost all the diesel fuel sold in the United States. The primary source for biodiesel in the U.S. is soybean oil, although it is also made from:
- “Yellow grease” (used restaurant oil from cooking).
- Animal tallow.
What You Need to Know about Biodiesel
Biodiesel is rarely used in its pure form. It’s typically blended with diesel and designated by the amount of diesel it’s mixed with. In fact, you can typically find some biodiesel in almost all “regular” diesel sold at gas stations in the U.S., at blends of up to B5, says Edmunds. While many people who drive diesel trucks and cars aren’t aware that the fuel they’re putting in their vehicles has 5% biodiesel, fleet operators actively look for nonpetroleum fuel. In fact, many fleet and commercial vehicles use B20, which is a blend of 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum.
The cost of producing biodiesel is approximately the same as the price of producing petroleum. Incentives provided by federal policies have helped keep market prices competitive. Federal low-sulfur diesel fuel standards have also given biodiesel a boost.
Advantages of Using Biodiesel
There are many benefits of using biodiesel, even in its blended form, although some environmental benefits depend on how the fuel is produced. One benefit is simply the fact that the fuel comes from a renewable resource that can be grown in the U.S., reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
Biodiesel also reduces tailpipe emissions, including the amount of soot and “air toxics” released into the atmosphere. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research indicates that biodiesel emits 11% less carbon monoxide and 10% less particulate matter than diesel. According to Car Talk, a study done by the Department of Energy and Agriculture found biodiesel reduces net carbon dioxide emissions by 78%. Unlike petroleum diesel, which contains sulfur and carcinogenic benzene, two components the state emissions boards and EPA regulate, biodiesel is nontoxic and biodegradable.
Because of its lower emissions and the national drive to reduce reliance on petroleum, biodiesel is the U.S. government’s preferred fuel type. It is used by all four branches of the U.S. military, as well as state, city, and private fleets. It is often used on farms, in manufacturing equipment, and in the construction industry. Because the demand for biodiesel is growing, producers will be able to increase production, making biodiesel more widely available for consumers.
While diesel-powered vehicles are commonly used in Europe, they represent only 1% of U.S. passenger vehicle sales in 2012, according to Edmunds. However, due in no small part to the EPA’s National Clean Diesel Campaign, diesel vehicles now meet strict emissions standards.
Diesel engines offer consumers 20-40% better fuel economy as well as more torque at a lower rpm than gasoline. Using biodiesel fuel in diesel engines helps further reduce emissions and reduces the country’s dependence on foreign oil. Moreover, vehicles can run on biodiesel without needing any modifications.
Disadvantages of Using Biodiesel
One of the greatest concerns over using biodiesel fuel has been regarding its quality and long-term effects on diesel vehicles. However, to address these concerns, the National Biodiesel Board worked with car and engine manufacturers, regulators, and the biodiesel industry to create national standards for pure biodiesel and blends.
The other major concern is how fueling stations treat biodiesel compared to other fuels. Because it’s made using vegetable-based products, it must be stored at the correct temperature. If it’s left for too long in a warm storage tank, it can grow mold. Conversely, if it is stored at temperatures that are too cold, it could thicken and become difficult to dispense.
Also of concern are the problems caused by higher lubricity when transitioning from existing systems to biodiesel. While high lubricity helps prevent premature fuel system wear and tear, it can release deposits on tank walls and pipes, causing fuel filter clogs. The EPA recommends diesel vehicle owners change fuel filters after the first tank of fuel. Work Truck reports that biodiesel’s performance is also worse than petroleum diesel in cold conditions. That said, there are a number of biodiesel-compatible vehicles on the market today.
Biodiesel Market Expansion
According to Work Truck, the three major growth drivers for the biodiesel fuel market include:
- EPAct Amendment: The Energy Policy Act was amended to include biodiesel fuel as a way for federal, state, and public utility fleets to meet alternative fuel requirements. Fleets can earn one EPAct credit for every 450 gallons of B-100 they purchase in blends of 20% or higher and use in vehicles that have a gross vehicle weight rating in excess of 8500 pounds.
- Tax Incentives: The federal government offers a tax credit for biofuel as part of the American Jobs Creation Act. The tax credit equates to a penny per percent of biofuel that’s blended using agricultural products and half a penny per percent of recycled oils. The distributors take the incentive and pass the savings on to the consumer.
- Federal and State Laws: Growth is also being driven by new state and federal laws requiring biodiesel to be included in diesel.
While there are certainly disadvantages to making the transition to biodiesel fuel, most would agree that the benefits outweigh the potential problems. The market’s growth is only going to continue as biodiesel becomes more readily available to consumers. While most diesel passenger vehicles are already running on fuel that contains some biodiesel, you may want to consider an even higher blend to further help the environment and take advantage of the many other benefits, as well.