Biodiesel 201: Beyond the Basics

Renewable Energy Group has an introductory guide to biodiesel that we call Biodiesel 101. With growing awareness and adoption of biodiesel among North American fleets, retailers and others in the fuel and transportation industries, those who are more experienced with the renewable fuel may want to learn even more.

So, congrats. You’ve graduated from Biodiesel 101. Welcome to Biodiesel 201.

What differentiates one biodiesel producer from another?
One secret to creating the highest-quality biodiesel lies in the producer’s purification processes. As an example, REG has a proprietary pretreatment and production process that allows us to take lower-cost feedstocks from various sources and refine them into a clean, pure biodiesel product. This feedstock flexibility provides customers several benefits:

  • Predictable pricing and availability because of the ability to easily switch to another feedstock without negatively impacting the finished product.
  • The ability to combine various feedstocks to capture the best properties from each, creating a finished fuel with the specifications customers want.
  • Lower emissions because producers can use feedstocks with lower carbon intensity scores.

What is distilled biodiesel? Isn’t distillation a petroleum thing?
Distillation is a purification process for liquids. Yes, it’s used in petroleum refining (and in alcohol production). But it’s also used by high-tech biodiesel producers. In biodiesel distillation, unrefined methyl esters are evaporated and then recondensed, and minor components that can contribute to filter plugging are left behind. Distillation does a better job than other purification methods at removing minor components, and that gives distilled biodiesel advantages that include superior cold weather performance, exceptional purity and the potential for lower carbon intensity scores.

Biodiesel vs. renewable diesel — what’s the best fuel for fleets?
Fleets looking for a drop-in fuel replacement for petroleum diesel often think renewable diesel is the way to go, but biodiesel offers equally impressive performance and reduced emissions. Here are some additional advantages biodiesel provides:

  1. Price — Not only is biodiesel typically less expensive than renewable diesel, it often costs less than petroleum diesel too.
  2. Supply — Part of the price difference is due to supply and demand. Biodiesel production is higher than renewable diesel production in the U.S., and a lot of the nation’s renewable diesel supply goes to the West Coast.
  3. Emissions — Compared with petroleum diesel, both fuels do a great job at reducing harmful pollutants (more on that below). But biodiesel actually does a superior job of reducing most engine head emissions, including particulate matter, carbon monoxide and total hydrocarbons.

Here’s an added bonus: Like renewable diesel, biodiesel performs well in diesel vehicles. It has higher Cetane and added lubricity compared with petroleum diesel. Also, many fleets say biodiesel’s cleaner burn causes them fewer problems with diesel particulate filters.

Sure, biodiesel reduces emissions compared with petroleum diesel, but how does it stack up against other fuels?
You often hear about biodiesel reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by a certain percentage. But we ran some calculations that show the other side of that story. Here’s how much higher various fuels increase GHG compared to REG B1001:

  • 580% with petroleum diesel
  • 435% with compressed natural gas
  • 550% with an electric vehicle with coal-derived electricity
  • 195% with an electric vehicle with natural gas-derived electricity I’m already using biodiesel.

 

What’s the next step for me?
Many first-time biodiesel users start at B5 or B10. If you’re ready for the next step, try higher blends for increased benefits.

If you’re a retailer, blending at higher levels could save you money, as many states have financial incentives for biodiesel. For example, Iowa retailers selling B11 and higher are eligible for tax incentives totaling 8.5 cents per gallon. In Texas, a retailer can save up to 20 cents per gallon on the state fuel tax for selling B100. Plus, it’ll help you attract customers who want to reduce their emissions.

For fleets, the higher the blend, the more you reduce emissions and the more you gain from performance advantages like increased lubricity and Cetane. Check out this video case study of a fleet that studied its use of biodiesel before moving up in blends. They now use B20 year-round and enjoy financial, performance and emissions benefits.

Still want to learn more about the right biodiesel blends for your business? Call us at (844) 405-0160 or email us at connect@regi.com.

1 REG calculations based on REG biodiesel produced from used cooking oil and based on the CA-GREET model

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