New feedstock options and trends boost biodiesel production

October 13, 2020 |

By Brian Levine, Executive Vice President, Greasezilla

Special to The Digest

In the United States, efforts to replace fossil fuels with biofuels are gaining momentum, supported by growing public awareness, government programs and emerging waste-to-fuel technologies. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) analysis of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) projected that several types of biofuels, such as biodiesel, could yield lower lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than gasoline over a 20-year period.

The pursuit of newer, cleaner options for biofuel production, such as biodiesel, attempt to reduce the effects of fossil fuel production and use, including emissions and depletion of non-renewable resources. Biodiesel is made from an increasingly diverse mix of resources, using a variety of fats, oils and grease. Most commonly biodiesel is added in concentrations of B5 (up to five percent biodiesel) and B20 (six to 20 percent biodiesel). Pure biodiesel (B100) can fuel standard diesel engines with modifications.

Regulations and Incentives

In the U.S., increased state and federal incentives and regulations are making biofuel production and use more desirable. California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, adopted in 2009, California is trying to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that cause climate change. The LCFS is designed to reduce the state’s GHG emissions by decreasing the carbon intensity of California’s transportation fuel pool and providing an increasing range of low-carbon and renewable alternatives.

The LCFS standards appear to be working. LCFS statistics report that in 2018, renewable liquid fuels replaced over 568 million gallons of diesel. From the beginning of LCFS through the end of 2018, almost 3.3 billion gallons of petroleum diesel have been displaced by clean, low-carbon alternatives.

Another initiative on the West Coast, the Pacific Coast Collaborative, connects jurisdictions in Washington, Oregon, California and British Columbia to strategically align policies that promote clean energy throughout the region.

In May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP), offering up to $100 million in competitive grants for activities designed to expand the availability and sale of renewable fuels. The intent is to increase the sale and use of higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel by expanding the infrastructure for renewable fuels.

Emerging technologies for FOG-based feedstocks

In addition to regulations and incentives, expanding feedstock options are also promoting the production of biodiesel. While vegetable oils, especially soybean oil, are the primary feedstocks for U.S. biodiesel production, biodiesel can be created from nearly any feedstock that contains free fatty acids (FFA). Since feedstocks can represent up to 80 percent of operational expenses for production, the use of FOG for biodiesel production is rapidly growing in popularity.

FOG, considered a nuisance waste, provides a readily available source for low-cost biofuel feedstock. Companies are adapting pretreatment systems to include waste fats from processing plants and restaurants. These emerging FOG management technologies are helping to address multiple issues concurrently. By utilizing waste instead of farmland, FOG doesn’t compete with food production. FOG does not require the use of arable land, water or labor for agricultural production. Additionally, recovering resources from FOG reduces the impact of landfilling and the use of chemicals traditionally used in FOG disposal.

In particular, an emerging technology that produces a high-quality waste feedstock is Greasezilla, a hydronic thermal FOG separation system, developed by Downey Ridge Environmental Company. The system takes the grease trap waste produced by food service and food manufacturing facilities, and generates a low-moisture, high-FFA brown grease offtake—an ideal feedstock for biodiesel conversion. Instead of purchasing materials needed for the feedstock, biodiesel plants can generate their own. Greasezilla adds additional profitability to biodiesel production facilities by generating the feedstock in-house from materials that haulers will pay to unload.

Expanded to a hub-and-spoke operation, with multiple systems placed strategically across a region, Greasezilla supports regular usage and access to high-quality input. By partnering with Downey Ridge Environmental Company, who will fund the equipment, Greasezilla’s hub-and-spoke model can maximize the recovery of renewable energy resources for biodiesel production and other industries.

The power of public opinion

While the U.S. is far from consensus on the fuel debate, the public is gradually moving toward greater awareness of biofuels and the need for policies and incentives to promote them. As consumers and citizens learn more about biodiesel, public support for these clean initiatives continues to grow.

The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) conducts annual surveys to gauge the public’s awareness of biodiesel and attitudes toward policies that promote regulations and subsidies. In NBB’s 2019 survey, 54 percent of the respondents expressed positive impressions of biodiesel, with only three percent reflecting negative impressions and 44 percent having no opinion. Further, the survey also shows that respondents with an awareness of biofuels are more likely to support government programs and regulations promoting the production and use of biodiesel.

Moving toward cleaner fuels

With new waste-to-fuel technologies, government initiatives and public support, the U.S. is realizing a steady growth in biodiesel. The U.S. Energy Information Administrative (EIA) recently reported that the U.S. exported a total of 7,400 barrels of biodiesel per day in 2019—an increase of 10 percent from 2018.

In fact, even the COVID-19 pandemic has had a minimal effect on biofuels. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that while motor gasoline demand has declined significantly since March 2020 alongside virus mitigation efforts, biodiesel has seen far smaller reductions compared with other transportation fuels.

 

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