Workshop defines biomass-based diesel options

By Bryan Sims | November 13, 2008
The federal renewable fuels standard (RFS) set forth in the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007 will greatly change the future of renewable fuel use. How this new standard could affect the biodiesel and renewable diesel industries was presented to attendees at the 2008 Advanced Biofuels Workshop & Trade Show in Minneapolis on Sept. 28-30.

The RFS mandates the United States to consume 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022, which includes a 21 billion-gallon advanced biofuel carve-out. For 2009, the RFS mandates 10.5 billion gallons of conventional biofuel (primarily corn-based ethanol) and 600 million gallons of advanced biofuel, which includes 500 million gallons of biomass-based diesel (biodiesel or renewable diesel) and 100 million gallons of undifferentiated advanced biofuel (such as biobutanol).

Stu Porter, manager of business development and projects for BBI Biofuels Canada, highlighted how the biomass-derived diesel component of the RFS could become a significant piece of the advanced biofuels category. One indication is the emergence of utilizing hydrogenation-derived renewable diesel (HDRD) reactions to produce renewable diesel fuel.

The HDRD production process differs from conventional biodiesel production in that hydrogen and a catalyst (such as platinum, palladium, rhodium or ruthenium) are used to produce renewable diesel. However, the HDRD process uses virtually the same feedstocks used to produce biodiesel.

According to Porter, the only drawback to HDRD is that it has no official specifications as a pure fuel blend component under ASTM D 6751 standards, whereas biodiesel specifications are outlined in the spec (see page 19). Otherwise, HDRD requires no special tank storage, and can be pipelined to blending sites or retail distribution centers. Porter also said HDRD plants tend to be larger and located with refineries on waterways. "[HDRD plant capital] costs are more than biodiesel plants, even when taking infrastructure and logistical costs into consideration," he said, adding, "There will be room in the industry for both biodiesel and renewable diesel to flourish."
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