A host of new initiatives is paving the way toward expanded biodiesel use in Michigan. Last month, about 70 state policymakers, Detroit city officials, clean-air stakeholders and others joined a marine biodiesel tour on the Detroit River to learn about these initiatives.
The tour was hosted by Michigan Advanced Biofuels Coalition (MiABC), in partnership with Michigan Clean Cities (MICC) and Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, and sponsored by Warner Petroleum Corp.
The key takeaway: Biodiesel is a currently available solution to improve air quality and support more sustainable shipping in Detroit-area waterways and communities. But incentives are needed to support infrastructure for biodiesel production and distribution.
Electric power will not be enough to achieve goals of zero-carbon emissions by 2050, according to Pete Probst, director of MiABC and one of the featured speakers at the July 26 event. Formed in 2022, MiABC provides education, technical expertise and other resources to help public and private fleets take full advantage of the many benefits of advanced biofuels.
“Some types of vehicles and applications are hard to electrify, especially in heavy-duty sectors,” Probst said. “It will take too long to reach zero emissions with electricity alone.”
Probst used an analogy of “eating an elephant one bite at a time” to meet Michigan’s long-term emission-reduction goals. “Biodiesel is an immediate solution that we can implement locally to take a bite out of the problem,” he said, encouraging Michigan communities to invest in renewable energy sources such as biodiesel. “Biodiesel burns cleaner and reduces greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, making it a win-win.”
At the marine biodiesel tour, Michigan District 83 State Rep. John Fitzgerald called attention to a recently introduced bill in the Michigan House of Representatives. If passed, the bill will provide financial incentives to produce and sell biodiesel in Michigan.
Fitzgerald spoke in support of biodiesel as a tool to “bridge the gap” to reach zero emissions by 2050. “Biodiesel will make a difference,” he said. “Producing and using more biodiesel can both improve the economy and reduce our carbon footprint in Michigan.”
Although state legislation is pending, certain incentives and grants are already available to Michigan fleets and communities interested in reducing emissions, according to Maggie Striz Calnin, MICC director. Millions of dollars are available through various channels to help organizations adopt biodiesel, renewable diesel and other clean-fuel solutions.
For example, national grant programs include the USDA Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program, a grant program that covers 50 percent to 70 percent of the costs, up to $5 million, for new or upgraded fueling facilities to offer higher blends of biofuels. HBIIP accepts applications quarterly and the next deadline is Sept. 30.
Other grants are available to Michigan communities through U.S. EPA’s Diesel Emission Reduction Act, said Striz Calnin. EPA-approved technologies that enable fleets to run on 100 percent biodiesel (B100) year-round are eligible under the vehicle-replacement category of the DERA program. Applications are due Dec. 1.
Striz Calnin added that MICC uses a portfolio of strategies to advance affordable domestic transportation fuels and energy-saving technologies. Among those strategies is targeting existing or former biodiesel users to increase their adoption. “We use a fuel- and technology-neutral approach to help fleets and communities find one or more solutions to reduce tailpipe emissions,” she said.
Raquel Garcia, executive director of SDEV, encouraged Detroit stakeholders to work together to find ways to reduce engine emissions. Working with MICC, SDEV helps organizations access grants to replace diesel equipment and encourages other fuel-saving measures. “Biodiesel is a great in-between step since it’s not possible for everyone to do electric power right away,” Garcia said.
The Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority is joining efforts to decarbonize the region through the Port of Detroit Decarbonization Project, aimed at transforming the port’s environmental and community impact.
“We are engaging all terminals to quantify the greenhouse-gas footprint of port operations,” said carbon-reduction scientist Robert Moorcroft with Tunley Engineering, a contractor with the port-decarbonization project. “Then we will develop a plan for decarbonization, with a goal of net-zero carbon by 2040. Ninety percent of the shipping companies already plan to go net zero by 2050. Therefore, our port could risk losing business if we don’t lower our carbon footprint. Biofuels have a key part to play in decarbonization and reducing lifecycle emissions. We’ve had very positive engagement with the terminals so far and we hope our efforts have an impact beyond the port operations.”
A waterside view of Waterfront Petroleum Terminal Co., a leader in offering biodiesel to customers on the Great Lakes (Photo: Michigan Advanced Biofuels Coalition)
Warner Petroleum is on the leading edge of decarbonization by offering biodiesel at terminals operated by sister-company Waterfront Petroleum Terminal Co. in Detroit and Dearborn.
“Many of our marine fuel customers are striving for more sustainable operations by using biodiesel blends,” said Jason Smith, vice president of supply and sales for Warner Petroleum. “Biodiesel is a drop-in replacement for fossil fuels and is the best choice to reduce carbon emissions from heavy-duty vessels shipping on the Great Lakes and beyond.”
Waterfront Petroleum Terminal Co. is involved in a public-private partnership with the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority to improve efficiency and increase economic development in the region. The Port Authority received a $16 million federal grant to fund port improvements and Waterfront Petroleum Terminal Co. will invest an additional $6.9 million in the project.
These initiatives are expected to significantly impact the current and future health of Detroit residents and the surrounding community. The recent State of the Air report from the American Lung Association ranked the Detroit/Warren/Ann Arbor metropolitan area as the nation’s 12th most polluted based on particulate-matter content in the air.