Biodiesel: A Message of Unity and Well-Being
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
*This article was first published Oct. 26 on the National Biodiesel Board's new Biodiesel Sustainability Now website.
Biodiesel has a great story to tell―a unifying, healing message. It is one that must be told to policymakers, regulators, and consumers lest the "electrify-everything" movement steamrolls our narrative before it is even considered.
Climate change has and will have devastating effects on our country. Recognizing the dangers of fossil fuel combustion to our health and climate, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order in late September banning the instate sale of light-duty gasoline vehicles by 2035 and ordering the operation of medium- and heavy-duty diesels to be 100 percent zero emission "where feasible" by 2045.
This was Newsom's unfortunate decision despite the fact that data from the California Air Resources Board indicate that, as of 2018, the state's wildly successful Low Carbon Fuel Standard had displaced 3.3 billion gallons of petroleum diesel with clean, low-carbon alternatives. The LCFS has driven down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, established an aggressive path forward for growth in low-carbon fuels, and laid the groundwork for greater GHG reductions in the near future.
The petroleum industry is learning to embrace biofuels as a new business model while recognizing the need to join forces with renewable liquid fuels, providing a low-carbon alternative, and one that fits seamlessly into the existing infrastructure.
Biodiesel can cut particulate matter (PM) emissions by up to nearly 50 percent; hydrocarbon emissions by up to 67 percent; and carbon monoxide by up to 47 percent. Pollutant reduction amounts depend on the blend level, so the higher the biodiesel percentage in the fuel blend, the greater the emissions reductions.
These pollution reductions from combustion of biodiesel are critical to the U.S., especially today. PM is a known contributor to asthma, and conditions such as asthma can make the effects of COVID-19 much more serious. Given that biodiesel reduces PM by nearly 50 percent, the use of this renewable fuel is a clear, easy, and definitive way to address the negative effects of COVID-19 sweeping the nation.
During this time of coronavirus, the reliability of diesel has been unrivaled to aid in distribution of ventilators, food, and essential goods. However, it remains stigmatized as dirty despite major advancements over many decades. Engine, aftertreatment, and fuel economy technologies continue to help lower GHG emissions, noxious gases, and criteria pollutants from diesels.
As powerful as the benefits of biodiesel laid out above are in addressing the climate and health crises impacting U.S. citizens, there are many more. To use the parlance of these coronavirus times, the "safety and efficacy" of biodiesel has been proven time and time again, thanks in huge part to the health effects testing conducted on behalf of the National Biodiesel Board years ago.
Regarding oral toxicity, biodiesel is considered nontoxic. In fact, table salt is 10 times more toxic than biodiesel. Also, biodiesel's flash point is more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit compared to petroleum diesel fuel's flash point of 125 degrees. This means that biodiesel is safer to store, handle, and use than conventional diesel fuel.
The safety of biodiesel is proven, as demonstrated above, and its efficacy―or its effectiveness and ability to do what it is supposed to do―is quite evident in the 30 years of continual improvement and the billions of gallons produced and consumed around the world every year.
In addition, as an essential service, biodiesel provides critical economic benefits to struggling rural and urban communities. The U.S. biodiesel industry supports roughly 64,000 jobs, $11.42 billion in economic impact, and $2.54 billion in wages paid, according to a study commissioned by the National Biodiesel Board. It also adds value to other sectors of the economy including agriculture, waste collection, meat packing, and more.
For the growing number of people who accept climate change is caused and can be slowed or reversed by human activity, then biodiesel is an effective low-carbon solution that is available today. Lifecycle analyses show soybean oil-based biodiesel can reduce GHG emissions by up to 72 percent compared to petroleum diesel fuel. And waste-based biodiesel, such as that made from used cooking oil, can slash GHG emissions by upwards of 86 percent.
State and national policies regulating carbon are and will continue to be implemented by stick and by carrot. Wouldn't it be wise to grab the carrot and run as far ahead of the stick as possible, so as not to get hit?
After years of U.S. oil company lobbyists fighting federal policies such as the Renewable Fuel Standard, large petroleum refiners see the sun setting on their high-carbon fuels and have begun to embrace biofuels, evidenced by their spending billions of dollars on numerous projects around the country―and even more around the world―in attempts to cash in on the value of carbon markets like California while alleviating the regulatory and financial burden of RFS compliance and, perhaps most importantly, carving out a place for them in tomorrow's low-carbon energy landscape.
Meanwhile, people must make a choice as to which side they want to be on―the monochromatic, faceless "electrify-everything" movement whose power still relies heavily on fossil fuels and whose grid and infrastructure are woefully underdeveloped; or liquid renewable fuels such as biodiesel, the infrastructure for which is well-established and the use of which achieves stringent climate goals, cleaner air and water for our most vulnerable populations, jobs for those in rural and urban communities, economic stimulus for thousands of small businesses and individuals alike, and strives toward a more environmentally just future?
While those with unclear motives pushing the electrification agenda want us to wait decades to realize the benefits of their risky play, biodiesel and its myriad benefits are available today.