Growing biodiesel use in the existing consumption model

Just because the availability of U.S. diesel passenger vehicles is limited, it doesn't mean that biodiesel growth is
By Ron Kotrba | March 06, 2013

I often hear people say that the U.S. biodiesel industry is held back by the lack of diesel passenger vehicles in the U.S. market and, furthermore, by the low biodiesel blend limits that the few automakers who do offer diesels in the U.S. set in their manufacturer warranties. I say this is ridiculous.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to see more diesel options available on the showroom floors, and I strongly want the message to stick with the U.S. driving public that diesels are more efficient, cleaner and high-performing machines compared to their predecessors, as well as compared to their gasoline counterparts.

But the fact is, according to the Energy Information Administration, in 2012 the U.S. consumed 57.5 billion gallons of diesel fuel (excluding jet fuel). If you assume the U.S. EPA’s 2012 biodiesel production figures of 1.1 billion gallons are accurate, and if you further assume that the entirety of that production was consumed in the U.S., then biodiesel penetration in the diesel fuel pool comes in at a meager 1.9 percent.

With up to 5 percent allowance in ASTM D975 and D396 (diesel fuel and heating oil specs, respectively) without labeling, there’s still plenty of room to grow just to reach a 5 percent penetration rate—in the existing consumption model that consists mostly of heavy-duty applications.

To reach B5 saturation, this would require 2.874 billion gallons of biodiesel, nearly three times the production achieved last year, and significantly more than twice the 1.28 billion gallons the RFS2 requires this year.

B20 has received greater approval in the heavy-duty sector than in the light-duty passenger sector. If we assume this trend is to continue, and eventually all heavy-duty diesels in the U.S. will be B20-compatible, then this opens the door to much greater biodiesel market growth. Keeping in mind the figures and assumptions from above, 20 percent of the current diesel fuel consumption would equate to about 11.5 billion gallons of biodiesel—10 times the production levels reached last year.

I admire the passion and dedication many of you display in your desire to grow the biodiesel market through greater availability of light-duty diesels. And I understand the personal connection you have when you can drive your diesel to the pump and fill up on B20 or B99.

But everyone can, and should, share in that feeling.

When you buy groceries, you must remember that those crops were planted, harvested and transported with diesel-powered equipment that, chances are, support use of B20. When you go to Kmart or Walmart and make a purchase, those goods were shipped either cross-country or across the world thanks to the power of the diesel engine. When you send or receive packages for business or personal reasons, chances are the carrier runs a diesel engine and supports B20. I could go on and on. But the bottom line is, the next time someone says U.S. biodiesel is limited by the lack of diesel passenger vehicles in the market, tell them this is simply untrue.