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What is biodiesel?

What is biodiesel?

Biodiesel is the name of a clean burning alternative fuel, produced from domestic, renewable resources. Biodiesel contains no petroleum, but it can be blended at any level with petroleum diesel to create a biodiesel blend. It can be used in compression-ignition (diesel) engines with little or no modifications. Biodiesel is simple to use, biodegradable, nontoxic, and essentially free of sulfur and aromatics.

Biodiesel is produced from any fat or oil such as soybean oil, through a refinery process called transesterification. This process is a reaction of the oil with an alcohol to remove the glycerin, which is a by-product of biodiesel production. Fuel-grade biodiesel must be produced to strict industry specifications (ASTM D6751) in order to insure proper performance. Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel to have fully completed the health effects testing requirements of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. Biodiesel that meets ASTM D6751 and is legally registered with the Environmental Protection Agency is a legal motor fuel for sale and distribution. Raw vegetable oil cannot meet biodiesel fuel specifications, it is not registered with the EPA, and it is not a legal motor fuel.
For entities seeking to adopt a definition of biodiesel for purposes such as federal or state statute, state or national divisions of weights and measures, or for any other purpose, the official definition consistent with other federal and state laws and Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) guidelines is as follows:

Biodiesel is defined as mono-alkyl esters of long chain fatty acids derived from vegetable oils or animal fats which conform to ASTM D6751 specifications for use in diesel engines. Biodiesel refers to the pure fuel before blending with diesel fuel. Biodiesel blends are denoted as, “BXX” with “XX” representing the percentage of biodiesel contained in the blend (ie: B20 is 20% biodiesel, 80% petroleum diesel).

Biodiesel is registered as a fuel and fuel additive with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and meets clean diesel standards established by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Neat (100 percent) biodiesel has been designated as an alternative fuel by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the US Department of Transportation (DOT).

The RFS program was created under the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 2005, and established the first renewable fuel volume mandate in the United States. Under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007, the RFS program was expanded and now specifies four unique categories of renewable fuel: cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel.

Biodiesel qualifies for both the biomass-based diesel category and the advanced biofuel category by achieving a life-cycle Green House Gas (GHG) emissions-reduction of at least 50 percent compared to baseline petroleum.

The RFS-2 requires a minimum of 1 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel be used annually between 2011 and 2022. It also requires the country use no less than 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2022. Biodiesel qualifies for compliance under both categories.

Biodiesel is the first fuel commercially produced nationwide that meets the U.S. EPA’s definition of an Advanced Biofuel.

Advanced biofuel is defined as a renewable fuel other than ethanol derived from cornstarch. The advanced biofuel category can apply to a variety of fuels, including biomass-based diesel, biogas, butanol or other alcohols and fuels derived from cellulosic biomass. Both advanced biofuel and biomass-based diesel must meet a life-cycle Green House Gas (GHG) emission-reduction threshold of 50 percent, and must be manufactured from feedstock meeting the definition of renewable biomass.

A fuel’s life-cycle GHG emissions are defined as the aggregate emissions attributed to all components of fuel production and use, including feedstock production and distribution, fuel production, delivery, use and significant indirect emissions from land use change. The full life-cycle emissions level of a particular fuel is measured against a baseline fossil fuel in order to determine its GHG emissions reduction threshold.

Biodiesel can be used as a pure fuel or blended with petroleum in any percentage. B20 (a blend of 20 percent by volume biodiesel with 80 percent by volume petroleum diesel) has demonstrated significant environmental benefits with a minimum increase in cost for fleet operations and other consumers.

The National Biodiesel Board has released the following production volume estimates for the US, per calendar year:
2012 – – Nearly 1.1 billion gallons
2011 — 1.07 billion gallons
2010 — 315 million gallons
2009 — 545 million gallons
2008 — 691 million gallons
2007 — 500 million gallons
2006 — 224 million gallons
2005 — 112 million gallons

In general, the standard storage and handling procedures used for petroleum diesel can be used for biodiesel. The fuel should be stored in a clean, dry, dark environment. Acceptable storage tank materials include aluminum, steel, fluorinated polyethylene, fluorinated polypropylene and teflon. Copper, brass, lead, tin, and zinc should be avoided.

When reviewing the high costs associated with other alternative fuel systems, many fleet managers have determined biodiesel is their least-cost-strategy to comply with state and federal regulations. Use of biodiesel does not require major engine modifications. That means operators keep their fleets, their spare parts inventories, their refueling stations and their skilled mechanics. The only thing that changes is air quality.

Biodiesel can be made available anywhere in the US. The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) maintains a list of registered fuel marketers.

A 1998 biodiesel lifecycle study, jointly sponsored by the US Department of Energy and the US Department of Agriculture, concluded biodiesel reduces net CO² emissions by 78 percent compared to petroleum diesel. This is due to biodiesel’s closed carbon cycle. The CO² released into the atmosphere when biodiesel is burned is recycled by growing plants, which are later processed into fuel..Is biodiesel safer than petroleum diesel? Scientific research confirms that biodiesel exhaust has a less harmful impact on human health than petroleum diesel fuel. Biodiesel emissions have decreased levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and nitrited PAH compounds that have been identified as potential cancer causing compounds. Test results indicate PAH compounds were reduced by 75 to 85 percent, with the exception of benzo(a)anthracene, which was reduced by roughly 50 percent. Targeted nPAH compounds were also reduced dramatically with biodiesel fuel, with 2-nitrofluorene and 1-nitropyrene reduced by 90 percent, and the rest of the nPAH compounds reduced to only trace levels.