Biofuels: An Immediate Solution for the Climate Crisis

Time is of the essence in the race to lower carbon emissions and combat climate change. Industries relying on heavy-duty equipment find that switching to biofuels proves to be a simple and effective way to meet carbon reduction goals now.

In the race to lower carbon emissions and combat climate change, one resource that is nearly depleted is time. Carbon added to the atmosphere today compounds the environmental challenges of tomorrow, and because of technological and infrastructure restraints, many industries that rely on heavy-duty (and often heavy-polluting) equipment are years or even decades away from electrification.

“To meet the ambitious carbon reduction goals that Americans are aiming for, we have to use all of the tools in our toolbox,” says Clean Fuels Alliance America CEO Donnell Rehagen. “Both clean fuels and electric vehicles have important roles to play in staving off the detrimental effects of climate change and make progress toward those goals.”

For many companies and municipalities, switching to biofuels has proven to be a simple and effective way to meet their carbon reduction goals.

“Carbon emissions are cumulative, and they persist in the atmosphere. Anytime we can reduce more carbon now, it has less opportunity to persist in our environment,” says Scott Fenwick, technical director for Clean Fuels Alliance America. “[Biofuels] have the ability to immediately impact carbon emissions today, versus waiting five or ten years for electric vehicles to become viable and affordable, and will do more in the long term to reduce these emissions.”

Electric vehicles have become more attainable for light-duty passenger vehicles, and this success has many people dreaming of an all-electric future. However, for some applications, significant technology development is still needed.

“You have folks who really want to leapfrog technology and go straight from fossil fuel equipment to electric equipment, but the technology to go all electric is not there yet,” says Veronica Bradley, director of environmental science at Clean Fuels Alliance America.

She remarked that there are many uses for clean fuels in equipment, like commercial aircraft, that don’t have an electric option today. For example, she said that with today’s technology, the battery for a 737 would take up the whole aircraft, leaving no room for passengers or cargo. Sustainable aviation fuel, which is now coming to the market, lowers emissions by changing what’s in the tank, instead of changing the entire airplane.

Moreover, large transport vehicles such as semi-trucks travel long distances hauling heavy loads on rigid deadlines in areas without reliable access to charging infrastructure.

“There are still a lot of cases where electrification is not viable yet,” Fenwick says. “Those are the sweet spots for biodiesel and renewable diesel to be able to offer a low-carbon option for those uses and markets.”

And the OEMs are responding. Jennifer Weaver, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) market development manager for Clean Fuels Alliance America, states that nearly all of them already support B20 biodiesel blends as well as renewable diesel, and they are working in tandem with Clean Fuels to drive innovation.

“We’re seeing OEMs have a significant interest in higher biodiesel blends, on the order of B30, B40, B50 all the way up to B100,” Weaver says. “These companies are getting pressure from their customers to do more to lower their carbon footprint and to meet environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.”

Biodiesel has evolved over the last several decades, and a growing number of companies and municipalities are using it to meet their carbon goals. With assistance from the Clean Fuels team and a push from new federal regulations, OEMs are developing cleaner engines that support higher biodiesel blends and emit less carbon.

“We are in the process of working with all of those OEMs as they are developing their strategies of how they’re going to meet that new emissions level to make sure that biodiesel is included as part of the equation,” Weaver says. “They are increasingly acknowledging that using an already low-carbon fuel in their engines is going to make it even easier for them to get there. We work with them far in advance of their production time to make sure that’s all contemplated, tested and thoroughly vetted by the time those new models hit the production line.”

This symbiotic relationship between Clean Fuels and the OEMs has led to a premium product that has less impact on the environment.

“We’re really proud of what the industry has done,” says Steve Howell, senior technical advisor for Clean Fuels and an early champion for biodiesel. “We’re selling over 3 billion gallons today, and we wouldn’t be selling that amount of fuel if the standards weren’t working.”

Howell says diesel engines are cleaner than ever before, and this industry will continue to evolve.

“One of the key things that Clean Fuels Alliance America is doing is making sure that we’re doing that research for the future, and I think that’s a competitive advantage for biodiesel and the biodiesel industry,” Howell says. “We used to think of diesel technology as ‘old, dirty diesels’, but now they are clean.”

It’s not just OEMs supporting clean fuels—municipalities are too. Weaver noted that cities were some of the earliest adopters and strongest supporters. She says one of the most notable adopters is New York City, the largest city in the United States.

“New York City uses biodiesel blends in over 11,000 diesel municipal fleet vehicles,” Weaver says. “Everything from sanitation trucks and police vehicles to parks department equipment, light towers and generators. They even use Bioheat for the heating oil that powers their buildings.”

Bioheat® fuel is a clean, renewable and cost-effective alternative to liquid heating fuels. Converting a home’s heating system to electric heating can cost up to $20,000, which is cost prohibitive for many, and the electric systems can place a heavy burden on electric grids. Bioheat fuel, just like biodiesel and renewable diesel, offers an immediate solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for those that rely on liquid fuels.

Carbon buildup in our atmosphere is truly a global problem and meaningful reduction will require all of the tools in our toolkit, including electrification and the continued development of new green technologies. Clean fuels—including biodiesel, renewable diesel, sustainable aviation fuel and Bioheat—can slow the accumulation of carbon in our atmosphere and push back the detrimental effects of climate change today. Time may not be a renewable resource, but renewable fuels give companies and municipalities an option to cut the emissions of some of their heaviest polluting vehicles and equipment to make an immediate impact in their carbon footprints.

This article was funded by the United Soybean Board and state checkoff organizations.

Originally shared by Clean Fuels Alliance America, June 30, 2023.

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