By Steve Klein, Senior Manager, Marketing, Renewable Energy Group
Perhaps you know the basics of biodiesel or you’ve read our Biodiesel 101 article in CStore Decisions. And now that you’ve seen biodiesel’s growth in North America over the last several years, maybe it’s time to learn even more. That’s why we’re back with Biodiesel 201. So let’s dive in.
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:
- Price — Not only is biodiesel typically less expensive than renewable diesel, but it also often costs less than petroleum diesel too.
- 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.
- 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. These are just a few reasons more c-stores are offering biodiesel blends for their customers than ever before.
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’ GHG emissions are compared to REG B100*:
- 580% higher with petroleum diesel
- 435% higher with compressed natural gas
- 550% higher with an electric vehicle with coal-derived electricity
- 195% higher with an electric vehicle with natural gas-derived electricity
I’m already offering biodiesel for my customers. What’s the next step for me?
Many first-time biodiesel retailers start at B5 or B10. If you’re ready for the next step, try higher blends for increased benefits. 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 they reduce emissions and the more they 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.
* REG calculations based on REG biodiesel produced from used cooking oil and based on the CA-GREET model.
About the Author
Steve Klein is Senior Manager, Marketing, at Renewable Energy Group, a leading biodiesel and renewable diesel producer and supplier.