New research shows biodiesel could be 10% cleaner than thought

August 31, 2017 |

In Indiana, a new academic paper published in Biotechnology for Biofuels shows biodiesel’s benefits are even better than previous models suggest. Updated modeling from Purdue University suggests the advantage of using biodiesel has been underestimated by 10 percent.

“This latest research verifies biodiesel is an ideal option to support American-made energy and renewable fuels,” said Don Scott, National Biodiesel Board Director of Sustainability. “The more accurate the models become, the more clearly they show biodiesel’s benefits.”

Research has long supported the benefits of biodiesel in reducing wastes, supporting domestic jobs, and reducing harmful emissions. With all these proven advantages, the remaining question has become: How much biodiesel can we make and maintain each of these benefits? For nearly a decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and a handful of scientific institutions have been trying to determine how major biofuel policies might impact land use around the world.

One theory had suggested that policies promoting biofuels will produce economic incentives that encourage farmers to plant more crops.  Since federal policy does not allow biofuels from new cropland to participate in incentive programs, it is assumed that these additional crops add food and livestock feed to global markets.  EPA and CARB have used computer models to predict this additional production in response to the economic signal from biofuels.  If there are carbon emissions associated with creating new farmland, EPA and CARB follow this theory to add those estimated carbon emissions to the lifecycle of biofuels.

This conservative approach ensures no unintended ill-effects from biofuel production, but holding biodiesel accountable for the carbon emissions from putting more food and feed in the world has impacted biodiesel’s carbon score when compared to petroleum fuel.  Without these indirect effects, biodiesel reduces greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 85 percent compared to fossil fuels.  Including predicted indirect emissions estimates has lowered biodiesel’s advantage to just more than 50 percent cleaner than diesel fuel.  That is, according to modeling done by EPA in 2010 and CARB in 2014.   Purdue University’s latest research shows these measures underestimate the carbon benefit of biodiesel by 10 percent.

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