The annual National Biodiesel Conference & Expo in late January came on the heels of some major news for the industry: the reinstatement and extension of the Biodiesel Tax Credit just before Christmas.
While that federal action was celebrated, much of the conference was focused on looking ahead at the role biodiesel, and renewable diesel, can play in helping to combat climate change.
“Climate change can be addressed today with biodiesel. This is something that’s available for us right now,” Dave Slade, Executive Director, Biofuels Technology & Services at Renewable Energy Group, said during a presentation on getting to a carbon neutral future.
Here are a few highlights from the conference.
Climate Policies Are on the Rise
In an environment of uncertainty at the federal level, city, county and state governments are increasingly taking the lead on the regulatory front. By one count, 24 states and the District of Columbia have some form of greenhouse gas reduction policy.
“As carbon policies around the country really begin to take hold, we see low-carbon fuels like biodiesel, renewable diesel and renewable jet fuel with a tremendous opportunity for growth,” National Biodiesel Board CEO Donnell Rehagen said.
The “beachhead of climate policies,” as one speaker put it, remains California. Its Low Carbon Fuel Standard continues to inspire similar policies on the West Coast, and interest is heading east. With their low lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and ease of use, biodiesel and renewable diesel are recognized as great options to meet clean air regulations.
“Biodiesel and renewable diesel play very well in all of these policy drivers, particularly with heavy-duty trucks because energy-dense biofuels are needed to power them,” said Floyd Vergara, who spent over 30 years working on California air regulations before recently joining the National Biodiesel Board.
Liquid Fuels Still Dominant
Electric vehicles have been getting a lot of attention lately. Renewable Energy Group supports an integrated energy management approach to fleet management, but the fact is, diesel engines are still widely used in the truck market and are expected to be for a long time. That means biofuels that work in diesel engines are needed to help the vehicles run cleaner.
John Eichberger, Executive Director of the Fuels Institute, illustrated this point with a presentation heavy on federal data:
- 77% of all distillate energy (which includes diesel fuel) is used by over-the-road freight market.
- A 14% increase in registered diesel vehicles is expected by 2035.
- Diesel vehicle miles traveled are projected to increase 23% by 2035, while diesel vehicles are expected to become 30% more fuel efficient.
“The reality is, everything we buy at the store was delivered by a truck, and the majority of them were diesel trucks,” Eichberger said. “Diesel’s not dead, period.”
Making a Difference Now
Those projections look ahead, but it’s also important to start making a difference right now. Many climate scientists warn about changes that need to occur by 2030. Dave Slade of REG addressed this in a presentation that explained how reducing emissions now has a compound effect, like putting money in a retirement savings when you start your career versus waiting a decade. And biodiesel, as a drop-in alternative to petroleum diesel, is an option that’s available right now.
“If you know of any OEMs out there who are discouraging the use of biodiesel in their equipment, I’m happy to help you understand why they’re holding us back as a society from doing all we can to mitigate this problem right now,” Slade said.
Several transportation companies and equipment manufacturers, including Isuzu Commercial Truck of America and John Deere, were on hand to voice their support for biodiesel. George Survant, Senior Director of Fleet Relations for NTEA — the Association for the Work Truck Industry — shared new survey results that found biodiesel to be the most widely used alternative fuel among work truck fleets and the one they’re interested in the most.
“It’s become the standard against which many other alternative fuels are measured,” Survant said.
Biodiesel Fuel Quality Excels
Also presented at the conference was an extensive analysis of two years of biodiesel samples from U.S. and Canadian producers. It found that everything tested for was, on average, well within the ASTM D6751 biodiesel specification. This included sodium and potassium, calcium and magnesium, phosphorus, oxidation stability, acid number and sulfur.
Those metal specifications are increasingly important because many equipment manufacturers are switching to common rail fuel injection systems to meet emissions requirements. These systems have very tight tolerances and metal content in the fuel that gets through can cause significant damage to injectors and engines.
The Future of Energy
Chad Stone, Chief Financial Officer at Renewable Energy Group and the newly elected chairman of the National Biodiesel Board, brought everything together when he addressed the conference. He noted the industry’s challenging 2019 before the passage of the tax credit, but then he looked ahead at all biodiesel has to offer the environment and the economy.
“Let’s continue to keep our focus on what we really stand for: clean energy, lower carbon, American jobs and value added to agriculture,” Stone said. “We are the future of energy.”
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