Biodiesel: Better, Cleaner, Now!

May 11, 2021

By Donnell Rehagen •  From Spring 2021 American Soybean magazine

As consumers and policymakers become more concerned about the environment and cleaner energy, the National Biodiesel Board believes biodiesel and renewable diesel will play a huge role in the shift to lower carbon fuel. Photo Credit: National Biodiesel Board

Throughout the past couple years, the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) has touted that our industry is “Better, Cleaner, Now!” Our fuels are a better alternative, a cleaner choice and available now with proven performance. Biodiesel and renewable diesel now provide a viable choice for producers and consumers alike to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), becoming a leading player in the environmental sector.

Donnell Rehagen is CEO of the National Biodiesel Board.

We are entering a time when the environment and cleaner energy are finally taking their rightful place with consumers and policymakers, and we believe biodiesel and renewable diesel will play a huge role in this shift to lower carbon fuel. Our better, cleaner fuels can provide immediate and substantial air pollution benefits, including 80% reduction in both GHGs and particulate matter, over 40% reduction in carbon monoxide and significant reductions in other noxious pollutants, all of which are harmful to public health. These immediate and substantial emission benefits can and should be an important part in any state, regional or national climate program and part of an all-of-the-above strategy that facilitates decarbonization through advanced alternative fuels like biodiesel and renewable diesel.

States across the country have embraced sustainable fuels as part of their own efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions within their borders. Currently, California is forging ahead with its ambitious low carbon fuel standard (LCFS). This program, with a goal of 20% carbon reduction, has been in place for over 10 years and, to date, has helped California reach about a 7% reduction. Biomass-based diesel has been one of the biggest contributors, providing nearly 45% of the credits generated last year. And, in gallons, it has been a remarkable story for our industry, increasing volumes 52% annually since the start of the program in 2011.

With states like California embracing commitments to sustainable fuels and more organizations adding their own carbon reduction goals, this industry is poised for growth. This past year brought a wave of corporations announcing their commitments to carbon neutrality. Major corporations including Amazon, Walmart, Ikea, Pepsi and McDonalds joined thousands of others setting aggressive carbon reduction goals. These goals will not just affect the operations of those corporations but also the operations of nearly all their suppliers. With a significant amount of GHGs associated with the transportation of consumer goods and raw materials, it is inevitable that the corporations and their suppliers will seek out cleaner transportation fuels, expanding the market for biodiesel and renewable diesel.

With these growing low carbon markets, we see the demand for biodiesel and renewable diesel more than doubling today’s demand, reaching our 6-billion-gallon goal. This market expansion means we will heavily depend on today’s and tomorrow’s farmers and oilseed processors. Our modeling suggests a 6-billion-gallon market will demand more than 18 billion pounds of soybean oil each year—again, a doubling of current industry demand for soybean oil. U.S. farmers will continue to lead the way in producing the feedstocks necessary to provide a better, cleaner future.

However, we know what is on everyone’s minds—electrification. We know that as our nation shifts to a carbon reduction mindset, more people are talking about electric vehicles. As the bright and shiny new technology, they are often positioned as a miracle solution to reducing carbon offputs. We recognize that electric vehicles will play a very important role in the reduction of emissions on the road, especially in light-duty passenger markets. While innovators seek to address the challenges associated with an electrified transit system, biodiesel and renewable diesel will continue to reduce emissions year after year.

Farmers know better than anyone that major problems rarely have a magic bullet solution. This is why you would never bet the farm on a single technology before it has been proven to be commercially viable. Doing so wouldn’t be a reasonable, science-based approach; it would be reactionary.

Because of this, NBB supports and relies on the best available science when making decisions and educating stakeholders on the products we represent. Through collaboration and support with national laboratories and leading land-grant universities, we focus on providing well researched and objective analysis to our audience. While taking this robust approach has not always been easy, it ensures that NBB and the producers and farmers we represent can deliver on the environmental and performance benefits we are promising.

With growth already happening in on road, off-road, air transportation, electricity generation and home heating applications, biodiesel is well on its way to continue providing better, cleaner fuel now and in the future.

My excitement for the industry is tied to the changing demands of consumers, policymakers and corporations. Our industry will finally have a place at the table with answers to long-pondered problems about carbon neutrality. I believe we are only beginning to see the sweeping policy changes at the state and federal level for biodiesel and renewable diesel. Increasingly, the nation’s statehouses will be where carbon policy develops so I would encourage you to become part of that dialogue to ensure that agriculture, biodiesel and renewable diesel are looked to as part of the solution. This transformation may not be easy. The market opportunities won’t just happen: It will take diligence and hard work.

I am positive that as an industry, if we remain together and continue to speak with one voice, our future looks great. We have so much to offer. I look forward to working alongside our industry’s feedstock producers to grow our better, cleaner fuel now.