There’s a lot of buzz about biodiesel among fleets that like what they’ve experienced financially, environmentally and with performance. But if you’re new to the fuel, understanding what it is and the terminology associated with it can take a little while to learn.

That’s why Renewable Energy Group created this quick overview of the basics of biodiesel.

What is biodiesel?

Biodiesel is an advanced biofuel that is renewable and biodegradable. It is a cleaner-burning, drop-in replacement to petroleum diesel fuel. In addition to vehicles, it can be used in heating systems to warm buildings.

What is biodiesel made from?

Biodiesel is primarily produced from used cooking oil, waste animal fats and vegetable oils. Skilled producers can create high-quality biodiesel that meets customer specifications from a variety of feedstocks, something that’s known as feedstock flexibility.

How can things like canola oil and beef tallow be turned into fuel?

Keeping it to a high-level explanation, biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification in which those oils or fats are converted to what are known as fatty acid methyl esters (FAME), which is the chemical name for biodiesel. Biodiesel has ASTM standards that ensure quality. B20 has a nearly identical ASTM specification to No. 2 ULSD, for example.

B20? What’s that?

The amount of biodiesel mixed into petroleum is the product’s blend level. This is commonly abbreviated to “B” and then that number. B20 is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel, for example. B5 contains 5 percent biodiesel.

What are the advantages of biodiesel?

This is an easy one. Biodiesel offers several benefits that many fleet operators find attractive. Here are some of the big ones:

  • Performance — The fact that fleets throughout North America continue to use biodiesel blends shows that it meets their performance standards. In some areas, biodiesel actually outperforms petroleum diesel. For instance, the ASTM specification for biodiesel requires a minimum Cetane number of 47, compared with the ASTM diesel spec of 40. Higher Cetane equals a shorter ignition time and better performance. Also, the removal of sulfur in ULSD took the lubricity out of the fuel. A B2 blend can double the amount of lubricity in the fuel. Modern diesel engines rely, in part, on fuel to aid in the lubricating process.
  • Emissions — Compared with petroleum diesel, a B20 blend has been shown to reduce particulate matter by over 10 percent, carbon monoxide emissions by over 10 percent and unburned hydrocarbons by over 20 percent in heavy-duty highway engines.1
  • Financial — Biodiesel often costs less than petroleum diesel, plus there are various federal and state financial incentives for the fuel. Also, many fleets are finding business advantages to running on biodiesel blends. It’s become common for companies and governments to have sustainability plans that apply to both their operations and their vendors. Walmart, for example, has a stated goal of reducing emissions in its supply chain by 1 gigaton by 2030. These organizations want to fill up their vehicles with renewable fuels that help them reduce their carbon footprints — and they often expect the same from fleets they work with. 

How can you add biodiesel to your operation?

Fleet operators who want to start using B20 can just pump it into their diesel vehicles and hit the road. Biodiesel blends don’t require any vehicle upgrades. For fleets or retailers that operate their own fueling sites, biodiesel is also an easy switch from a supply and infrastructure standpoint.

If you want blended fuel, ask your current diesel supplier if they can get you product. Some biodiesel producers also supply blended fuel. To do your own blending, you will need a dedicated biodiesel storage tank and blending system. While there is an initial cost, the return on investment is often achieved in only six to 18 months.

How popular is biodiesel?

U.S. biodiesel consumption rose 111 percent from the start of 2012 through 2018.2 Anecdotally, countless public and private fleets are using the fuel, including FedEx, Florida Power & Light and the city of New York.

How can I learn more?

Contact the largest biodiesel producer in the U.S., Renewable Energy Group, at (844) 405-0160 or visit regi.com.