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.

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  • Skeptic

    Fuel the cars, don’t feed the people! Cars don’t kill people, people kill people!

  • Indigo

    I think biofuels are great as long as they meet two “ifs”. IF it doesn’t jack up the price of food; IF the production of the fuel doesn’t rape the environment.

  • JJO5478

    Someone should tell minnesota biodiesel is old news, we found out it doesnt work.

  • Dopalchenski

    I agree that biodiesel does not work and it is old news; plus you get worse MPG. I see no point in getting it when people all over the world want better MPG not less MPG. I feel that we are working backwards when we are trying to move forward with this so called biodiesel bs!!

  • Dom

    What’s your problem guys? I think biodiesel does work, as compared to ethanol. Biodiesel doesn’t effect mpg nearly as much as ethanol does in a flex fuel car, and it burns much cleaner than regular diesel. I think we’re going to need biodiesel more than ethanol, as our country’s economy depends on diesel.

  • Shines

    Minnesota is a sparsely populated state. Maybe biodiesel will work for them. I agree with Dom that biodiesel is much better than ethanol. But, if anyone thinks the whole country can be running on 20% diodiesel they’re dreaming. We’ll end up with the same issues we have with ethanol. It is not going to save money and food prices would skyrocket. Still if we set realistic goals – maybe 1% of all diesel could be bio and we at least recycle what bio oils we have. We need to think of realistic and comprehensive strategies. That is a combo if electric, hybrid, diesel, lighter vehicles, public transportation, better traffic design etc…

  • Wetdog

    Biofuels are the only viable and usable alternative we have.

    Oil is running out. Much faster than you have been told.

    By this time next year, we’ll have $8 per gallon petroleum gas.

  • Dom

    Shine mentioned better traffic design as a strategy. That’s an interesting concept. I visited Europe four years, ago, and they had hardly any four way intersections… they used traffic circles instead. Those seemed to keep traffic moving better… I wonder if we could benefit from more of those.
    But I also think that biodiesel is a better solution than people hear think, at least if we use non-food stock. HOWEVER, the fact that >60% of Americans are significantly overweight indicates that we probably have a bit of extra food to spare… so turn it into fuel and lets tighten our belts.

  • Angel

    I don’t know about you but I’d rather give my money to the farmers and their families instead of sending it to the Middle East. I believe biofuels should be more utilized here and incentives issued to help develop production and lower the costs. I think we need to use Europe as an example on how they have been living with high fuel prices by producing more fuel efficient vehicles and utilizing a more efficient public transportation system.

  • JJO5478

    I agree with your second part that we need to produce more fuel efficient cars, and we are, i saw a stat that said 75% of cars bought in the U.S. this month were 4-cylinder, and hybrids are through the roof with sales. And just to let u kno we get most of our oil from Canada, and mexico before the middle east.

  • Anonymous

    “I don’t know about you but I’d rather give my money to the farmers and their families instead of sending it to the Middle East. I believe biofuels should be more utilized here and incentives issued to help develop production and lower the costs.”–Angel

    Increasing goods and services produced here in the US is also the only way to combat inflation caused by deficit spending by the government, and about 80% of the trade deficit of almost $1 Trillion per year goes to pay for oil.

    Biodiesel and ethanol would reverse those factors causing inflation.

  • Big Tex

    I use B99 on a daily basis, so I know it works. Getting oil from algae and or using waste grease is the wave of the future. We don’t need food crops for the oil. The quickest way to reduce our dependance on foreign oil is to get rid of 18 wheelers and use trains that run on biodiesel to move our cargo. Trains are much more efficient than trucks, combine it w/biodiesel and you have a win/win situation.

    Naysayers will always crap on technology they don’t understand or like. If uneducated minds make our decisions we might as well bring back Carter or Clinton.

  • Anonymous

    We have a choice.

    We can run on biodiesel and ethanol.

    If we don’t, in just a short time we will be running on fumes.

    Very expensive fumes.

  • GS

    Biodiesel works, I run a 2001 TDI with over 260,000 miles on it and track my MPG very closly with the following results.
    B20 49-51 MPG
    Diesel 47-49 MPG
    B50+ 45-47 MPG

    On the “fuel filters getting clogged” problem, this is to be expected as the Bio acts as a cleaning solution so you should change your filters after the 2nd or 3rd tank.

  • Fraw

    I always saw biodiesel discussions particularly the one that I saw in a nissan blog. I really support biodiesel like the one with the soy milk & stuff.