Biodiesel 101: Your Questions About Biodiesel Answered

Switching your operation to biodiesel blends is easy and can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. But if you’re new to this renewable fuel, understanding what it is and the terminology associated with it can take a little while to learn.

That’s why we created this Q&A on what you need to know about biodiesel.

What is biodiesel?

Biodiesel is an advanced biofuel that is renewable and biodegradable. It is a cleaner-burning, drop-in replacement to petroleum diesel fuel. In addition to its use in vehicles, it can be used in heating systems to warm buildings.

What is biodiesel made from?

Biodiesel is primarily produced from animal fats, inedible corn oil, recycled cooking oil and vegetable oils. Skilled producers can create high-quality biodiesel that meets customer specifications from a variety of feedstocks, something that’s known as feedstock flexibility

How can things like canola oil and beef tallow be turned into fuel?

Keeping it to a high-level explanation, biodiesel fuel is made through a chemical process called transesterification in which those oils or fats are converted to what are known as fatty acid methyl esters (FAME), which is the chemical name for biodiesel. Biodiesel has ASTM standards that ensure quality. B20 has a nearly identical ASTM specification to No. 2 ULSD, for example. 

B20? What’s that?

The amount of biodiesel mixed into petroleum is the product’s blend level. This is commonly abbreviated to “B” and then that number. For example, B20 is 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel. B5 contains 5% biodiesel. 

What are the advantages of biodiesel?

This is an easy one. There are several ways fleets and retailers can benefit from biodiesel vs. diesel. Here are some of the major ones: 

Strong performance — Fleets throughout North America wouldn’t use biodiesel blends if the fuel didn’t perform. In some areas, biodiesel actually outperforms petroleum diesel. For instance, the ASTM specification for biodiesel requires a minimum Cetane number of 47, compared with the petroleum diesel spec of 40. Higher Cetane equals a shorter ignition time and better performance. Also, the removal of sulfur in ULSD took the lubricity out of the fuel. A B2 blend can double the amount of lubricity in the fuel. Modern diesel engines rely, in part, on fuel to aid in the lubricating process.

Lower emissions — A B20 blend has been shown to reduce particulate matter and carbon monoxide emissions by more than 10% and unburned hydrocarbons by more than 20% in heavy-duty highway engines. Also, biodiesel has been shown to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 86% compared with petroleum diesel.

Good for business — Clean air regulations on are the rise, and these days it’s common for companies to have sustainability plans of their own that apply to both their operations and vendors. Walmart, for example, has a stated goal of reducing emissions in its supply chain by 1 gigaton by 2030. These organizations want to fill their vehicles with renewable fuels that help them reduce their carbon footprints — and they expect the same from fleets they work with.

How can I add biodiesel to my operation

If you’re a fleet and want to start using B20, just pump it into your diesel vehicles. Biodiesel blends don’t require any vehicle upgrades. If you are a retailer or a fleet that operates your own fueling site, biodiesel is also an easy switch from a supply and infrastructure standpoint. If you want blended fuel, ask your current diesel supplier if they can get you the product. Some biodiesel producers also supply blended fuel. To do your own blending, you will need a dedicated biodiesel storage tank and blending system. While there is an initial cost, the return on investment is often achieved in only 6 to 18 months.

How popular is biodiesel?

Biodiesel saw a nearly 600% increase in consumption over the last decade. Anecdotally, countless public and private fleets are using the fuel, including Ruan Transportation, FedEx, Florida Power & Light and the City of New York. In fact, you’ve probably used it too.





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