Biodiesel’s Impact on Public Health

May 31, 2021 |

By Floyd Vergara, Director of State Governmental Affairs, National Biodiesel Board

Special to The Digest

Since 2020, Americans have been hyper focused on their health and the air they breathe as a paralyzing pandemic swept across our country and many others. While the pandemic put us in a state of shut down, pushing us apart, it brought a lot of us to the same realization – our health and safety is critical. Now, many people from coast to coast are prioritizing cleaner, healthier air. In short, they want to feel protected while stepping outside of their homes.

As people look for lower-carbon fuel options to not only get safer air but provide a cleaner environment, the National Biodiesel Board is excited to spread the word about a readily available, drop-in solution:  biodiesel. Throughout the past couple years, the National Biodiesel Board has touted that our industry is “Better. Cleaner. Now!” And now, based on foundational research, we know that our fuels are proven to combat significant health issues that often affect a lot of us.

A recent landmark study, conducted by Trinity Consultants, confirmed what our industry has known for years – biodiesel has proven positive impacts. We have always known that biodiesel offers a better and cleaner alternative to petroleum diesel; on average, biodiesel reduces carbon emission by 74%. This study quantifies the health benefits and shows that by using renewable fuels like biodiesel and renewable diesel, we can bring major improvements to people’s lives.

This new research demonstrates that switching to biodiesel results in a multitude of benefits at the neighborhood level, including health benefits such as decreased cancer risk, fewer premature deaths and reduced asthma attacks.

The research, sponsored by NBB with support from the Nebraska Soybean Board, South Dakota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, California Advanced Biofuels Alliance, Iowa Soybean Board and the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board, used well established EPA air dispersion modeling tools coupled with health risk assessments and benefit valuations to assess the public health benefits and resulting economic savings of converting from petroleum-based diesel to B100 in 13 communities in the U.S. exposed to high rates of petroleum diesel pollution (e.g., ports, logistics facilities, high traffic urban areas, and communities using petroleum heating oil for space heating).

Researchers found that switching to 100% biodiesel for home heating oil and transportation would annually bring the 13 communities studied:

  • 340 fewer premature deaths.
  • 46,000 fewer lost workdays.
  • $3 billion in avoided health care costs.

In transportation sectors, benefits included a potential 45% reduction in cancer risk when heavy-duty trucks such as semis use B100 and 203,000 fewer or lessened asthma attacks each year.

When Bioheat® fuel made from 100% biodiesel is used, the study found an 86% reduced cancer risk and 17,000 fewer lung problems each year.

And, because the study looked only at 13 sites and communities, the benefits noted above represent just the “tip of the iceberg.” Applying similar air dispersion and health risk assessments to other freight and high diesel-use sites would show substantially greater benefits across the country. That is what makes this study so meaningful — it shows that B100 can achieve substantial benefits by reducing pollution in our hardest to decarbonize markets.

The study also considered the economic cost of premature deaths, asthma cases, reduced activity due to poor health, and work impacted due to sick days. For example, researchers found the communities surrounding the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach would avoid about $1.69 billion in health costs each year due to improved air quality in the form of reduced premature deaths and health care costs and increased productivity.

Saving lives by reducing the health impacts of transportation and home heating fuels is a priority, and biodiesel is widely available today to achieve that goal. These immediate and substantial emissions and health benefits can and should be an important part in any state, regional or national climate program as our nation moves toward decarbonization through advanced alternative fuels like biodiesel and renewable diesel.

As the conversation on climate and environmental justice continues to evolve and gain speed, the urgency of these health benefits, especially for communities exposed to high levels of pollution, cannot be understated. It is critical that we consider the benefits biodiesel deliver to these historically polluted communities today while states pursue deep electrification and other decarbonization strategies.

This means these communities, which continue to be disproportionately affected by diesel pollution, don’t need to wait 5, 10 years and in some cases 20 for an electrified solution to deliver cleaner air. With biodiesel, they can enjoy cleaner, healthier air today and for the many years it will take for states to achieve deep electrification.

The science is on our side. This is why NBB has taken a focused, conscious effort to develop, communicate and advocate for that science. The public health benefits that biodiesel provides can create conversation that can directly help many Americans, especially those at risk today. We don’t want Americans to live in fear of the air they breathe. We all deserve better.

Biodiesel has the ability to create a swift impact on human health today, right now, versus waiting on a solution that could be decades away. This pandemic took a lot from each of us and we recognize that Americans will look at their health and wellness through a different, more concerned lens. Our desire is that, when it comes to the air we all breathe, people across the country feel secure in the promise that biodiesel brings.

Biodiesel is better than the alternatives, a cleaner choice for consumers, and available to all now. We will continue to make meaningful advancements in this industry, for the safety of everyone and we will continue to share that biodiesel is “Better. Cleaner. Now!”


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