Biodiesel’s Front Line
Minnesota lawmakers are on track to increase the state’s current mandate that 2 percent of diesel fuel be composed of biodiesel. By May of next year, that requirement will be increased to a 5 percent blend, known as B5; then up to B10 in 2012 and finally to B20 in 2015. If all goes as planned, Minnesota could once again be in position to raise the bar nationally on biodiesel.
In 2005, Minnesota became the first state to pass a mandate of any kind on the biodiesel component of its fuel, starting fairly simply—calling for 2 percent biodiesel mix in all diesel fuel. It seemed like an easy target to hit, since Minnesota farmers were producing the soy feedstock for biodiesel, and production plants were either in place or under construction. However, the change didn’t come without its share of setbacks. Twice in the first year, the biodiesel component was pulled out of the fuel mix to address quality issues. First, the fuel was out-of-spec—not meeting the minimum standard laid out in the mandate—and the state pulled it off the market.
The second shutdown was even more problematic—the fuel supply met specifications, but truckers complained of fuel filters getting clogged, forcing the state to pull the biodiesel requirement and temporarily revert back to straight petrodiesel. Since those initial glitches though, the B2 in Minnesota has flowed in a smooth and steady stream.
The same new bill that would increase biodiesel content also adds a ban on the use of palm oil as a feedstock—calling for at least half of the feedstock to come from within the state and for at least 5 percent of the feedstock to come from non-agricultural sources, such as waste oil, or eventually, algae or other processes. The palm oil prohibition comes in response to reports of Southeast Asian nations burning down rainforests to plant palm farms to cash in on the biofuel boom.
The ban shows admirable concern, and reflects the multiple and sometimes conflicting goals explored at the California Biomass Collaborative’s Fifth Annual Forum on Bioenergy Sustainability and Lifecycle Analysis. Danielle Fugere, director of climate change at the Friends of the Earth, participated in the forum. She said, “We don’t want a solution that may create more problems than it solves.”
The group viewed the “food for fuel” issue as a dagger aimed at the heart of corn-based ethanol. Biodiesel gets caught up in the same argument, although its supporters argue that soy-based biodiesel doesn’t affect the food supply at anywhere near the level of ethanol.