A Closer Look At The Biodiesel Production Process

Jon Scharingson, Executive Director, Sales and MarketingBy Jon Scharingson, Renewable Energy Group Inc.

I know there are still questions about the quality of biodiesel, at least in some corners of the fuel, fleet and c-store industries.

I also know that those concerns are largely based on misconceptions. This is, after all, the first EPA-designated advanced biofuel to be produced on a commercial scale. Also, as I’ve written before in this space, biodiesel has the backing of auto and truck manufacturers. And ASTM specifications ensure the quality of biodiesel blends. (Fun fact: The ASTM spec for B6-B20 is nearly indistinguishable from the ASTM spec for No. 2 ULSD.)

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Let’s take a closer look at the biodiesel production process. I know the Renewable Energy Group (REG) method best, so I’ll use it as an example.

  1. Biodiesel is primarily made from vegetable oils, animal fats and recycled cooking oil. At REG, our biorefineries start with a rigorous pretreatment process in which the feedstock is cleaned and prepared for the biodiesel production process. This is critical because it allows REG to produce quality biodiesel regardless of the feedstock.
  2. Next is what is known as transesterification, in which the refined oils and fats are converted to fatty acid methyl esters, which is the chemical name for biodiesel. This too is a purification process, because things that are not fatty acid methyl esters are removed.
  3. Last is the biodiesel refining step, during which the methyl esters are further purified.

Notice that some form of purification occurs in each step. This ensures that REG produces high-quality biodiesel that meets the performance expectations of customers.

The ASTM D6751 spec for biodiesel requires more than 20 tests to ensure quality and performance. All REG production facilities also are part of the voluntary BQ-9000 program, which combines the ASTM specs with a quality-systems program that includes established best practices throughout the entire production process.

REG conducts even more tests beyond the ASTM specifications on our biodiesel, a commitment best represented in REG-9000 biodiesel, a product that has more stringent standards than the ASTM specification.

For an easy-to-follow primer on how biodiesel is made, click here for a short video.

Jon Scharingson — Jon oversees the sales and marketing efforts for Renewable Energy Group, Inc., a leading biodiesel producer.