Biodiesel….Great as a fuel! Better as a fuel additive?

Over the last few months I have spoken to a variety of stakeholders in the biodiesel community about the realities that inhibit the adoption of biodiesel as a neat, standalone, fuel in favor of its use as a fuel additive.

I started these conversations after I arrived at the conclusion that, in the near term, biodiesel’s current position in the marketplace as a fuel additive will most likely be its longer term position in the markets until we see the arrival of new feedstock technologies and a change in the legislative and regulatory climate.

My conversations have included the folks that write policy at the EPA, a bevy of representatives of the California Air Resources Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) other producers like Brandt Clupper from EcoLife;  Leif and Matt Rudolf from Piedmont; and marketers like Jason Burroughs of DieselGreen, and one or two NBB committee members.

It is something that I will be talking about to the NBB leadership as well.

Twelve years ago when the soy farmers and NBB began lobbying for the mandated use of agribiodiesel, the focus was on obtaining as large a piece of the diesel fuel market as possible. At that time there had not been a large amount of salient research related to land use, oil yield per acre, or feedstock availability to indicate what the actual supply capability targets should be. And so, one might say blind to the potentially negative consequences, NBB and the other agents of change that wanted to see biodiesel as a viable alternative fuel in the marketplace were ultimately successful in carving out a niche for the creation of the biodiesel industry.

The core problem is that with American diesel utilization averaging more than 65 billion gallons a year, the biodiesel industry does not have the feedstock supply or infrastructure necessary to replace the use of petroleum diesel.  In addition, because the lobbying efforts were for biodiesel as a replacement diesel fuel, the industry has been forced to suffer through a period of price competition related to the price of conventional diesel, a product which is supported by an infrastructure that is nearly a century old and has benefited greatly from a variety of subsidies and taxpayer supported initiatives.

In addition, biodiesel has had to suffer various attacks from the petroleum industry and car manufacturers related to topics ranging from appropriateness for underground storage, pipeline access, and its emissions profile. It continues to suffer these attacks even though it is now widely accepted that ASTM 6751 compliant biodiesel has a smaller COx and particulate matter profile than its petroleum counterpart, and well-cleaned without additives is less toxic than table salt. One might also note that historically the fuel manufacturers rarely bear the brunt of emissions standards issues; the car manufacturers do.

Several states have adopted biodiesel as a fuel additive, in percentages ranging from 2 – 20%.  Auto manufacturers for the most part have agreed to support some level of biodiesel mixed in with petroleum as long as the petroleum diesel meets the ASTM D975 specification and the biodiesel meets the ASTM D6751 specification.

And although it is quite possible to run 100% biodiesel (B100) in a vehicle with great results, the current technology selections of the automotive industry make it difficult for a consumer or fleet manager to find newer vehicles.

In summary: Supply limits adoption. Legislative mandates promote the use of biodiesel, but in many ways inhibit its use as a standalone fuel. The majority of producers have idled their plants because they cannot cost effectively produce sufficient product when it is tied to the price of petroleum diesel.

Fuel additives generally sell for more than the fuel they are added to; our system seems designed in such a way as to consign biodiesel to a fuel additive category without wanting to increase what the consumer needs to pay.

Biodiesel may be great as a fuel. It may be better as a fuel additive. It may need to cost more no matter what.

Make it a better place.


The new Renewable Fuel Standard

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing revisions to the National Renewable Fuel Standard program (more commonly known as RFS).  The proposed rule is intended to address changes mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA).

The recently legislated requirements establish, and in some cases adjust, specific volume standards for cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel that must be used as, or in, transportation fuel each year.

The requirements include new definitions and criteria for renewable fuels and the feedstocks used to produce them. The EPA has also proposed new greenhouse gas emission (GHG) thresholds for renewable fuels.

Importantly, these new RFS requirements will apply to producers and importers of renewable fuel that are both foreign and domestic.

The passage of EISA expanded the coverage of the RFS program beyond gasoline to broadly cover all transportation fuels, including diesel fuel used in highway vehicles and engines as well as offroad, marine and locomotive engines.

Mirroring the same approach adopted to implement RFS 1, the EPA believes these provisions should be applied to refiners, blenders, and importers of transportation fuel with the designated percentage standards applicable to the total amount of gasoline and diesel produced.  Some special caveats exist for small refiners which are intended to decrease the administrative burden these rules create.

Ultimately RFS under the new act is expected to reduce American reliance on foreign oil sources, increase the domestic production of energy, foment the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) , and diversify the American renewable energy portfolio.

The increased use of renewable fuels like biodiesel may also expand the market for agricultural products used in fuel production and accelerate the growth of new markets focused on the development of cellulosic feedstocks and production technologies.

The volumes of renewable fuel are specified by statute and will ultimately affect the price of fuel paid by the consumer.

In my next few posts I will discuss various aspects of RFS2 as the EPA approaches its final decisions on implementation. The discussion will include the topic of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINS), fuel quantity targets, and compliance issues that directly affect small producers like Promethean.

Make it a better place.


Make it so….revisited.

Energy. Clean. Renewable.

Fuel that can be produced in the midst of the community that uses it.

The opportunity to create a model for localized energy independence was one of the things that inspired me beyond the simple set of environmental ideals that motivate me.

There are other fuel technologies out there, with varying levels of sustainability and environmental impacts both positive and negative. There are new technologies on the horizon that both imitate current technologies and, in some cases, bear the potential to supplant them.

Time will tell. In the short term anything we do collectively that lowers the amount of waste we put back into the environment, reduces our carbon footprint, and helps us as a society strive to make the world a better place for our children to inhabit is worth pursuing.

Biodiesel beyond being a cleaner alternative to diesel fuel is a living, breathing, vibrant example of what we can potentially do as a society to effect change. Biodiesel presents us with an opportunity to effect change rapidly and meaningfully. The part biodiesel has to play in moving us as a society towards energy independence is readily achievable.

The challenge for us is spearheading the definition of biodiesel’s specific role within our legislation, our fuels markets, and with the original equipment manufacturers of our diesel-powered vehicles, electrical generators, and heating devices.

Any new technology introduced must overcome challenges before it gains acceptance and mass adoption. Biodiesel is not new in the sense that it is not a recent discovery, but it is undergoing a transformation as it is recognized as a potential neat fuel and fuel additive. It is undeniably viable for inclusion in the suite of energy solutions that will arise to address our need to find alternatives to petroleum-derived fuels.

All that is left is for us to make it so.

Make it a better place.


Social media.

One of the approaches we have not yet taken to get the message out there is appealing to Facebook or Myspace.

I have not engaged Twitter as an ally, not that I doubt its efficacy as a communications medium. My lack of tweets is a direct result of the pressure I feel on my time and the commitments that assail it. I struggle to find sufficient time to maintain the blog. I am also wary of threats to my ability to focus on the task(s) at hand.

I do believe social media on the internet is an important tool and cannot be overlooked.

I believe that everyone, no matter their locale, should have the opportunity to see what we are doing at Promethean. If we can accomplish energy independence in America, we can accomplish global energy independence. Knowledge sharing is a necessary component of the former, and the internet is an amazing vehicle for sharing information.

The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) estimates that as of today 14,691 days of petroleum remains before global supplies are depleted. That equates to just over 40 years for those who prefer that sort of conversion. Although our efforts may not be able to completely supplant the use of petroleum-derived fuel, every day we can add is one more day to find a cleaner, viable, less environmentally treacherous alternative.

I have no idea what will pass for social media in 40 years. Whatever it may look like, I hope it is powered by an environmentally friendly and sustainable solution.

Make it a better place!



The plant build-out moves on.

We have spent a great deal of time working on pumps. Dirty pumps. Clogged pumps. Pumps that pull less vacuum than intended. Pumps that hum with quiet determination when in good working order and move large quantities of viscous liquids in short periods of time.

Time. As the project has progressed my sense of it has been strangely altered. The days blend together, and it becomes difficult to say what day any particular installation was completed without referring to the project plan or arriving at group consensus.

The effort being put into the completion of the plant has inspired a renewed focus on community outreach and education about the cooperative and its approach to making community-based renewable energy.

It has also forced us to begin looking at our brand promise and our ability to consistently deliver the services necessary to build community trust and assure that the reality of what we do ultimately rises to the goals we have set internally and the organizational vision that serves as our foundation.

It is an exciting time.

Make it a better place.