With the Environmental Protection Agency’s reformulated gasoline program under fire for polluting groundwater, increasing prices, and failing to meet clean-air goals, a new alternative fuel has arrived on the scene that could solve these problems while producing additional benefits.
On June 22, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Illinois) and Karen McCarthy (D-Missouri) announced that biodiesel, a renewable fuel, had become the first and only alternative fuel to meet EPA’s proposed requirements for the year 2006. Shimkus and McCarthy were the cosponsors of legislation, passed in 1998, which recognized biodiesel as an official alternative fuel.
Biodiesel is an oxygenated fuel made from soybean oil. Tests show the fuel poses no health threats, and its use results in a 90 percent reduction in air toxins. Biodiesel is also biodegradable.
Shimkus said, “I am pleased to say that use of biodiesel has increased more than 1000 percent since our bill became law 18 months ago. By working together, we are providing communities across the country with the ability to meet alternative fuel requirements at the most reasonable cost.
Biodiesel’s principal drawback is its cost: Pure—also called “neat”—biodiesel can cost as much as $2.50 a gallon. But biodiesel can be mixed with petroleum diesel to create a less-expensive biodiesel blend. The mixture generally recommended is 20 percent by volume biodiesel with 80 percent petroleum, a blend referred to as B20.
Biodiesel runs in most normal diesel engines with little modification to the engine or fuel system. According to the National Biodiesel Board, some older engines may require modernization because biodiesel can erode certain types of rubber or plastic gaskets and hoses. Such adjustments present minimal costs, according to NBB, when compared to the initial cost of purchasing propane or natural gas vehicles.
The U.S. Postal Service, General Services Administration, Alabama Power, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, and Ohio Department of Transportation are using biodiesel B20 in their fleet vehicles.
A clean-burning fuel
Biodiesel is a cleaner fuel than petroleum diesel, reducing emissions of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. Neat biodiesel reduces emissions of sulfur oxides and sulfates to essentially zero, but at the same time increases nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 13 percent.
Biodiesel blends may offer refiners a way to produce fuels that meet EPA’s recently adopted low-sulfur diesel standards, without sacrificing fuel performance. Lowering the sulfur content of standard diesel reduces the fuel’s lubricating properties—necessary for keeping the engine’s moving parts working.
Biodiesel produces significant lubricity improvement, with blends even below 1 percent providing up to a 30 percent increase in lubricity. Studies conducted by Stanadyne Automotive Corporation, a leading independent U.S. manufacturer of diesel fuel injection equipment, found “the inclusion of two percent biodiesel into any conventional diesel fuel will be sufficient to address the lubricity concerns that we have with these exiting diesel fuels.”
Neat biodiesel already meets EPA’s low-sulfur emissions requirement, the NBB notes. “You don’t need to wait until 2006 to get an ultra low sulfur fuel for diesel engines—it’s here now. It’s been proven in over 30 million miles of on-road use, given a clean bill of health by health effects testing of EPA, needs no capital investments or separate distribution systems, and adds lubricity to engine wear.”
Economic benefits, too
Increasing demand for biodiesel would be an economic boom for the nation’s soybean farmers. It takes two-thirds of a bushel of soybeans to make one gallon of pure biodiesel. A 1996 study published by the USDA Office of Energy predicted an annual market of 100 million gallons of biodiesel in the U.S. would contribute seven cents a bushel to the price of soybeans.
Thirteen U.S. plants currently manufacture biodiesel, up from just two in 1996. Additive packages of biodiesel, such as U.S. SoyField Diesel, are being marketed in 20 terminals in the Midwest. Country Energy (a Farmland/Cenex Petroleum joint venture) has introduced SoyMaster, a proprietary diesel fuel using biodiesel, at four terminals in the Midwest.
For more information
visit the National Biodiesel Board’s Web site at www.biodiesel.org. Or contact the group at 1907 Williams Street, P.O. Box 104898, Jefferson City, MO 65110; phone 800/841-5849 (in Missouri, 573/635-3893); fax 573/635-7913.