Renewable diesel faces same challenges ethanol-blended gas has overcome

By | April 01, 2002
Historically the cornerstone issues and collective impetus for blending over 2 billion gallons of ethanol into our nation's gasoline supplies have been clean air, national energy security and rural economic development. These same issues are now the driving force behind the rapidly expanding renewable diesel industry. An industry that, if fully developed, could provide benefits equal to - or beyond - that of ethanol-blended gasoline.

What is renewable diesel?
According to the U.S. Department of Energy - Office of Transportation Technology, (USDOE-OTT) renewable diesel is defined as, "fuels that are used in diesel engines in place of - or blended with - petroleum diesel, but are made from renewable resources such as vegetable oils, animal fats, or other types of biomass such as grasses and trees." The USDOE-OTT also states that E-diesel is renewable because it is made from grains like corn.

Are there different kinds of renewable diesel?
There are currently two types of renewable diesel being produced and sold in the U.S. - E-diesel and Biodiesel.

E-diesel, as defined by the University of Illinois E-diesel research program, is a biofuel composed of 88.7% Diesel, 10% Ethanol, and 1.3% additive.

Ethanol and diesel do not blend easily. The presence of water, or extreme cold temperatures, causes the mixture to separate. However, recent advances have produced a "splash-blendable" agent that enhances the mixing of diesel fuel with ethanol and includes both a lubricity enhancer and an ignition improver.

In February, a new research project partnership was announced among the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), John Deere, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), the Illinois Department of Commerce & Community Affairs along with corn growers from six states (see article on page 10). The program will evaluate engine durability, emissions, compatibility with engines and component parts, safety and actual field testing in the 4.5, 8.1 and 12-liter John Deere diesel engines for off-road equipment.

"Farmers and the general public have used 10 percent ethanol in their cars, but this product can expand the market for ethanol and subsequently grind more corn," said Boyd Smith, chairman of the NCGA Ethanol Marketing Committee and a grower from York, Neb.

Biodiesel or B100 - as defined by ASTM, U.S. EPA and the U.S. DOE, Biodiesel is "a fuel consisting of long-chain fatty acid alkyl esters made from renewable vegetable oils, recycled cooking greases, or animal fats that meet ASTM standards." Also included in the definition, "a high Btu fuel with properties similar to No. 2 petroleum diesel fuel."

The definition of biodiesel should be applied in the strictest sense. The term biodiesel does not encompass the following items: crude fatty acid methyl esters that do not meet ASTM standards for biodiesel; unprocessed vegetable oil or animal fats; ethanol or methanol (alcohols); blends of ethanol and diesel fuel (E-Diesel); pyrolysis oils, resins or tall oils; blends of biodiesel and diesel fuel (these are called "biodiesel blends").

The most common error when referencing biodiesel is to refer to a blend of biodiesel and diesel fuel as "biodiesel." A proper label for a blend of the two components (B100 and diesel fuel) should be representative of the level of blend. Example, a blend of 20% biodiesel with 80% diesel should be referred to as B20. ONLY 100% biodiesel (as defined previously) can be referred to as "biodiesel."

Why do we need renewable diesel?
Utilization of renewable diesel will have a significant impact on our nation's economy, environment and security.

In a study completed in 2001 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it was found that an average annual increase of the equivalent of 200 million gallons of soy-based biodiesel demand would boost the price for a bushel of soybeans by an average of 17 cents annually during a ten-year period (2001-2010).

Our nation depends heavily on diesel engines to supply the power for most of our heavy equipment and transportation needs. To improve the quality of our air, increasingly strict regulations have been imposed on emissions from these engines. One way to reduce the environmental impact of combustion is to use alternative fuels containing blends of non-petroleum substances such as ethanol and biodiesel. Renewable diesel will provide significant environmental benefits by reducing pollutants such as CO and NOx.

It has been estimated that the U.S. spends over $60 billion annually in military costs and tax credits to fulfill our nations energy needs.

As a nation we must face the issue of imported petroleum from less stable areas of the world. If the true cost of oil were imposed on the price of imported fuel, renewable fuels, such as biodiesel and E-diesel, would probably be our most viable options to operate our diesel engines.