National Biodiesel Day and National Agriculture Day: The “Other” Green Celebrations

It’s a busy week of observations. We started off with St. Patrick’s Day on Sunday and National Biodiesel Day the very next day. Just yesterday we celebrated our country’s farmers during National Ag Day lead by the Agriculture Council of America, and the first day of Spring has arrived. There’s so much green to discuss!

We commemorate the birthday of Rudolf Diesel, the visionary mind behind the diesel engine, annually on March 18. The original design for his groundbreaking efficient and powerful engine was intended to run on peanut oil which laid the groundwork for recognizing the potential of vegetable oils as a renewable fuel source. 

His innovative spirit continues to drive progress in today’s modern diesel engines, but we are barely moving forward when it comes to policies on renewable fuels.

That’s because in June 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which implements fuel policies, finalized the Renewable Fuel Volume Standards (RVO) for 2023-2025 well below biofuel production capacity. Coming at the height of progressive climate policies, these no-growth biofuel targets are as confusing as they are inconsistent. The agency states that “Low-carbon fuels are an important part of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the transportation sector, and the RFS program is a key federal policy that supports the development, production, and use of low-carbon, domestically produced renewable fuels.” 

It’s confounding that the EPA chose to keep renewable fuel volumes at a virtual status quo rather than issuing a robust and growth-oriented future volume set rule. It is a missed opportunity to expand the use of renewable diesel and biodiesel fuels, as well as achieve faster and easily achievable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through a means that doesn’t require investment in new engines or infrastructure.

Renewable fuels offer many significant benefits. They reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease dependency on fossil fuels, help promote rural economies, as well as drive technological innovation and research. 

Delivering these biofuel benefits to society demands an effective public policy. The EPA’s administration of the Renewable Fuel Standard and its latest Renewable Volume Obligations (RVO’s) isn’t delivering. We’re experiencing the outcomes from that policy today which include:

Delaying environmental and climate benefits: By keeping RVOs low, EPA is standing in the way of progress towards faster greenhouse gas reduction. It also extends reliance on fossil fuels, exacerbating climate change and environmental degradation.

Creating uncertainty for farmers and producers: Weak RVO policies and fuel volumes are challenging for biofuel producers, making it difficult for them to plan and invest in their operations. This uncertainty has a trickle-down stunting effect on investments in the entire biofuel supply chain, as well as infrastructure from the growers’ fields to the fuel tanks. 

Stifling industry growth: EPA’s latest renewable fuel standards do not mandate biofuels to the level of current US biofuel capacity. This hinders the growth of the industry, as well as discourages innovation and expansion in the biofuels sector which slows the nation’s progress towards achieving renewable energy goals.

Slowing farm economies: Recent announcements of two biodiesel plant closures in the Midwest turn concerns with EPA’s renewable fuel policy from a possibility on paper to a negative economic reality for workers and their two communities. Low RVOs deliver negative economic repercussions for stakeholders throughout the biofuels supply chain, including farmers, producers, and consumers. Agricultural markets and rural economies are the most affected. 

Both biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel deliver significant carbon reductions in every application. These fuels are endorsed by engine and equipment makers and can be used in any new, or existing, diesel engine. Trucking fleets, farmers, contractors, and others use these fuels as an affordable way to help reduce greenhouse gas and other emissions by up to 80% without investments in new infrastructure, vehicles, or equipment. 

Mandating biofuels (via the RVO policy) at levels below the biodiesel industry capacity is hindering progress to meeting climate and environmental goals. The economic ramifications of the EPA’s policies are having negative economic consequences for workers and communities. 

We can’t rely on the luck of Irish to deliver carbon reductions. So, let’s hope that this time next year we can celebrate EPA having revised its fuels policies to deliver rational biofuels levels that reflect true industry capacity and what society needs.

Originally shared by the Engine Technology Forum, March 20, 2024. Title updated for purpose and clarity.

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