RFS for Biodiesel Isn’t the Same RFS for Ethanol

This past week the presidential hopefuls for 2016 attended the Iowa Ag Summit, which for all practical purposes served as a test run for the Iowa caucus hopefuls.  Of particular concern for all the candidates was how they were going to position themselves with respect to the RFS program.  Iowa is big on corn.  Corn means ethanol, and that means jobs for Iowans.

The EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is a controversial program where the government has mandated that all petroleum motor fuels must have a certain amount of renewable fuel added to them in order to reduce harmful combustion emissions (so as to reduce greenhouse gases).   This is why you see the “This product contains up to 10% Ethanol” at the gas pump.

The government is essentially forcing the private industry (Oil and Gas) to purchase a product that under certain circumstances it would not purchase.  Ethanol by far makes up the bulk of the sales under the RFS program.  The program has increased the volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into transportation fuel from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022.   Most of this will be ethanol.

From the US EPA’s RFS site, here is the 2014 data, showing the number of RINs (Rewewable Identification Number) generated by each fuel class industry.  Biodiesel, the stuff we make at TBI, is listed under D4.  Ethanol would be under D3 and D6.

Fuel (D Code) Domestic Importer Foreign Generation
Cellulosic Biofuel (D3) 33,360,560 0 0
Biomass-Based Diesel (D4) 2,212,736,209 203,958,762 291,970,178
Advanced Biofuel (D5) 78,838,620 64,474,655 0
Renewable Fuel (D6) 14,009,755,793 79,009,021 257,366,277
Cellulosic Diesel (D7) 8,859 50,446 0

Biodiesel has long been the red-headed stepchild that just “tags along” under Ethanol in the RFS program.  Indeed, when the RFS program was first implemented, it was confusing for biodiesel producers to even comply with it because the program was so blatantly skewed towards ethanol.   But as you can see, Ethanol produced roughly 14 Billion RINs for 2014, with biodiesel trailing with a paltry 2.2 Billion domestically produced RINs.  Thus, naturally, the biodiesel faction really doesn’t have much influence into the RFS program, and we just go along with whatever big Ethanol can lobby and push to put in place.

The main issue I have as a biodiesel producer is I don’t think biodiesel needs the RFS.  As far as I can tell, it has not helped my industry.  In fact, in the past some unsavory types have fraudulently fabricated RFS data that put a black eye on my industry.   Instead we have layer upon layer of regulation, which encumbers business operations for small companies, and puts us at the mercy of political jockeying like we have seen in 2014 and 2015.

The EPA STILL hasn’t released the mandate requirements for RFS for 2014 and 2015.  This is supposed to be done in June of the year prior to the mandate year, meaning in 3 months, we should be receiving the mandate requirements for the 2016 production year.   This hasn’t happened, and it has created uncertainty and trepidity in our market.   That means depressed prices, depressed orders, and depressed revenues for producers.

The ethanol producers are big names you know well.  They have deep pockets, and can afford very powerful lobbyists and PACs in Washington DC to further their interests.   There are roughly 160 biodiesel plants in the US, most of which are 10 Million Gallons per Year (MGY) production, or less.

The shame of all of this is that biodiesel is a great renewable fuel.  It’s a drop in replacement for diesel, could be a stand alone fuel all by itself if the market were allowed to grow naturally.  (Ethanol is never sold “neat”, because of BATF regulations around ethanol and it’s low temperature ignition problems.  It is always blended with gasoline in some ratio.)

Further, there is no “Blend Wall” with biodiesel, you can blend it as high as you like as long as your engine is rated for it.  We regularly burn straight biodiesel in our cars and trucks without incident.

Biodiesel is here now.  No engine modifications needed, no refueling infrastructure changes needed, and by far, comparably less concerns or restrictions on usability or compatibility with modern vehicles on or off the road today.   The customers that use our fuel love it, and like the fact that we are recycling used cooking oil into a renewable fuel that is domestically produced here in the USA.  That, by itself, should be enough for biodiesel to stand on its own.

It may be wishful thinking, and maybe even a little naive, but I’d like to see biodiesel de-coupled from ethanol.  Ethanol is giving us a bad name (I still have people ask me if we make biodiesel out of corn…), and we really need to  be out in front of this problem and explaining the benefits of biodiesel instead of relying on Ethanol and the EPA to sort out our problems for us.


Using Biodiesel for Boiler Fuel To Lower Emissions

Are you trying to lower your sulfur or volatile emissions from your diesel fired boiler?   By adding biodiesel to your boiler fuel mixture you can realize some significant reductions in Sulfur, CO2, NOx, and other harmful particulate matter emissions from your stack.    Biodiesel has virtually no sulfur, so blending it with diesel fuel can help lower your emissions, as well as helping your boiler to burn more efficiently, and possibly reducing operating costs as well.  Biodiesel burns up to 80% cleaner than diesel fuel.

Air Pollution from boiler smoke stack

Emissions testings have shown that the use of B20 biodiesel in a boiler can reduce particulate matter emissions by as much as 20%, and can decrease NOx emissions by up to 20%. Blends with higher biodiesel content can provide greater particulate matter reductions. For example, the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) has studied the use of bioheat blends in oil-fired heating systems for several years. BNL is the national leader in the United States for testing of fuels and heating equipment for the oilheat industry.  One focus of the research at BNL has been to determine if bioheat blends could be substituted for conventional heating oil without modification or adjustment to existing oil-fired heating systems.

We can offer biodiesel and biodiesel blends cheaper than #2 petroleum diesel fuel.

Triangle Biofuels has been using biodiesel for boiler fuel since the beginning of 2009, using pure biodiesel in warmer months, and sometimes using a biodiesel blend in winter months.  For new customers, we recommend starting out with a lower blend such as B5 (5% biodiesel to 95% petroleum diesel fuel).   Biodiesel will slowly clean your fuel tanks, fuel lines, and nozzles.  Using higher blends can cause problems initially as years of gunk can clog your lines or nozzles, or cause inefficient spray patterns.  Start slow and work up to higher blends over a few weeks or months.   Otherwise, there are no significant changes or modifications to observe for using biodiesel blends in your boiler.  Biodiesel works well in residential as well as large scale commercial boilers.

Because biodiesel has a higher flash point than #2 diesel fuel, a pre-heater is recommended, but not absolutely necessary.  Our first boiler was a Columba WL-60 which worked well without a pre-heater on B100.  Contact us and ask about using biodiesel or a biodiesel blend in your diesel fired boiler.

5 Things to Know About Biodiesel

Biodiesel is not Vegetable Oil

This may be the most common mistake I still hear after 10 years making biodiesel from vegetable oil using transesterification.  Transesterification is the fancy name for the chemical process used to chemically break a triglyceride molecule down and turn it into a methyl-ester (the chemical name for biodiesel) and glycerol.   In 2015, I still have conversations where someone tells me they used to “make biodiesel” by mixing used cooking oil and gasoline and pouring it in their diesel truck.  Not only is that concoction NOT biodiesel, it’s not good for your engine, or even your fuel tank.  It WILL ruin your car or truck.  Don’t do it.

Biodiesel is Not Made from Corn

Nope, it’s not.  That’s Ethanol.  Unless you mean corn oil, but even that isn’t used very much in the biodiesel industry.  Ethanol is usually made from starches or sugar, which are broken down with enzymes, yeast, and fermentation into ethyl alcohol.  Biodiesel is ALWAYS made from fats, any fat, but not from sugar or starches like corn.   Common oils used commercially for producing biodiesel are soybean, canola, palm, jatropha, and used cooking oil.

Biodiesel Will Not Ruin Your Engine

Really, it won’t.  Well, maybe, it depends…  It got more complicated around 2009 with the EPA’s ruling to require engine manufacturers to use mechanical and urea based systems to reduce harmful emissions in diesel engines.   These changes, specifically DPF (diesel particulate filters) and urea additive systems can cause compatibility problems with high concentrations of biodiesel (above B20).   All diesel cars and trucks can at least handle blends of 5% biodiesel (B5) or less.   Most cars and trucks before 2007 are usually fine for blends up to B100, but after that you should check with your manufacturer to find out if your diesel car or truck can handle biodiesel blends above B5.

Biodiesel is Inexpensive

Biodiesel is usually cheaper than diesel fuel.   The government instituted a biodiesel tax credit for producers starting in 2004 to help make biodiesel more cost competitive with diesel fuel (which has subsidies already built in the tax code).   Because biodiesel is usually cheaper, and often because it is mandated for blending, petroleum companies regularly buy biodiesel in bulk for blending with regular diesel fuel in order to improve profits and take advantage of some of the beneficial properties of biodiesel in their fuel (like increased cetane and lubricity).  In fact, many times that diesel you are buying at the truck stop or convenience store is already a B5 or less blend, it just isn’t labeled as such.

You Don’t Have To Commit

Biodiesel is a certified fuel by the EPA and the ASTM.  That means that when used properly, it is compatible with any modern engine that is on the road today.  It also means you can use B20 biodiesel this week, then next week fill up with regular diesel, and next month use B5 biodiesel, and so on.   You can be a dedicated biodiesel enthusiast, or you can be a philanderer and switch back and forth as often as you wish.  It’s your choice.  Your engine won’t care.  Really.

That’s five things.  Want to know more?  Check out our Frequently Asked Questions or Why Biodiesel pages

B20 Biodiesel Use in Big Agriculture.

This article was taken from the National Biodiesel Board’s quote from “Today’s Trucking”, a Canadian trucking magazine. Of interesting note, the fuel is soy biodiesel, not Canola, which we expected when we first read the article.  Also noteworthy is their improved fuel economy when running the B20 blend.  We get this claim from customers quite often, but EPA, DOE, and industry claims say it isn’t so.  We beg to differ…


When you run the biggest farming operation in northern Ontario, plus a busy 12-truck fleet, the price of fuel matters quite a lot. So saving even just a penny a liter is a big deal. And when you switch the fuel that powers your trucks and get an extra 200 km on a tankful, you’ve gained again.

The fuel in question is a B20 biodiesel blend.

That’s part of the story at Koch Farms and Koch Logistics in Earlton, Ont., about seven hours due north of Toronto.

Norm Koch runs this huge operation with the help of sons Rob and Chad, who share the operations load. Rob tends to deal more with another side of the business, namely with their grain elevator — and construction of same for other customers — while Chad hangs mostly around the farming end of things and looks after the machinery. But they all share the general load while, as Rob describes it, “Dad holds the gavel.”

It would be hard to define success any better than by describing what you see here. A thriving family enterprise by any measure.

And when I say “huge”, I mean it. Norm farms 11,000 cash-crop acres, not all of them owned. Asked about the farm equipment fleet, he says he has “a bunch of combines” by which he means seven of the giants. There’s also a pair of multi-wheeled, 400-hp Case IH Steiger tractors, brutish things that could probably pull a dozen tree stumps out of the ground at the same time. Plus more smaller tractors and other equipment than they can count.

And those monster Steiger tractors are using 200 fewer liters a day on the B20 biodiesel that Koch has been using for nearly two years now, supplied by FS Partners, based in Stratford, Ont.

That sounds like a lot but doesn’t actually mean much until you realize that fuel consumption went from 700 litres down to 500 right away. A staggering drop in consumption that’s been consistent from the start.

“We noticed that saving in the first two weeks,” says Rob, adding that they were astonished. Not least because all they were looking for was a cheaper fuel at a time when the cost of straight diesel had risen pretty high and was looking like going higher.

Nowadays, the soybean-based B20 blend that FS supplies to the Koch operation is about a penny a liter cheaper than ordinary diesel, but this past spring the difference was about three cents. Ironically, given that price was the initial impetus for the biodiesel switch, it’s now irrelevant.

“We don’t even look at the cost any more, because the other benefits are bigger,” says Rob.

“The cost of biodiesel is slightly less,” adds Norm, “but even if it was more, we’d be fine.”


Koch runs a small but always busy fleet of 12 trucks, including nine Kenworths, a pair of older Western Stars, and a lone Peterbilt. All future purchases will be Kenworths, says Norm.

For the most part they pull B-trains with their own agricultural products but they haul customer loads as well. Three of the Kenworths are 2008/09 models running 2007-spec Cummins 525 engines in front of Eaton Fuller 18-speed gearboxes. Most of the older trucks are Caterpillar-powered.

The trucks were not the target when the biodiesel idea first arose, though there was some concern about the lubricity of ultra-low-sulphur diesel, such that they used an additive to combat it.

When the biodiesel proved itself in the farm machinery, they switched it to the trucks as well. And given that the B20 is inherently more slippery than straight diesel, they were able to dispense with the additive.

The increase in fuel economy is real, though they haven’t measured it precisely. They’ve been consistently getting an extra 200 km on a full load of fuel, and all their trucks have twin 150-gal (U.S.) tanks. That’s about 1,135 liters in total. Not a bad gain at all.

Asked how he likes the biodiesel switch in the trucks now that they’ve had a little over a year and one winter with the fuel, Norm says he’s pretty pleased.

“Things have gone well,” he says. “The three newer trucks especially do well, it seems. Much better fuel economy.

“Our understanding was that the biodiesel would mostly help the older engines, with less smoke and that, but it seems to be helping the newer ones more.”

The Kochs of Earlton are doing just fine the way things are.

There’s lots of smart money betting on the latter “second generation” biofuels, but there’s at least one family in northern Ontario that doesn’t need to look that far ahead.

The Koch fleet had no issues with the new fuel this past winter, though the blend was changed from B20 down to B5 through the cold months. In fact, Tom O’Neill of FS Partners, who manages the Koch fuel business, takes a conservative approach to the fuel he delivers to the 45,500-liter tank in the Earlton yard.

“Everything’s been running fine on B20,” O’Neill says, “but I made the call last week to cut them back to B5 as we’re already getting into colder temperatures up there.”

He notes that another of his customers, Rainbow Concrete in Sudbury, Ont., is “very forward-thinking” and has actually been running its fleet lately on B100 biofuel — that’s essentially pure soybean oil, no diesel in the mix at all.

“We got them up to B50 in the summer of 2009, then cut them back to B5 for the winter,” O’Neill explains. “This year we went to B60, then B70, then B80, and then the last load was B100.”

Last month, the fleet had 10 days experience with the B100 non-blend and there’d been no hiccups.

“They’ve got me awful nervous,” he admits with a chuckle, “but they’ve had no issues so far.”


Getting back to the Koch operation, they’ve suffered only one small glitch in their biodiesel experience, and it was easily remedied.

Tom O’Neill reports that last fall there was a mysterious algae formation in one of the dyed-fuel storage tanks used not for the trucks but for the farm equipment. It was a steel tank — the clear-fuel truck tank is concrete — but there’s no obvious reason why that distinction should matter.

In any case the 25,000-liter tank was emptied and cleaned aggressively and the problem hasn’t come back. Being his conservative self again, O’Neill was just about to head up to Earlton to do another cleaning when we last spoke in September. Better safe than sorry, he figures.


For all the success that Norm Koch and his sons are having with biodiesel, and that’s clearly quite a lot, the fuel’s future is a little cloudy. At least as far as crop-based variants are concerned.

Biodiesel proponents answer one common charge — that fuel sourced from soybeans, for example, plunders food resources — by saying that the edible components of the soybean are left intact after the oil is extracted, meaning no loss on the food front.

But it may not be enough. For one thing, most folks agree that there isn’t anything like enough land to make these first-generation biofuels broadly useful.

There are indeed laws in place to promote their use, however, and there are many commercial-vehicle operations — especially some municipalities — that swear by it.

The feds passed a bill two years ago mandating a five-percent renewable content in gasoline by 2010 and two-percent renewable content in diesel fuel and heating oil by 2012. The source of that “renewable content” wasn’t specified.

Critics traditionally cite the cold-weather gelling problem and maybe filter plugging with biodiesel, but there’s now a fair bit of evidence to suggest that with the right fuel and with proper management, the winter issue is a non-starter. The Koch experience is but one case in point.

Tom O’Neill, biased though he would obviously be, is adamant about this angle.

“Biodiesel acts similar to ethanol in gasoline,” he says. “It cleans the walls of every tank and fuel system it touches so proper filtering is a must.

“The gelling problem is either too much too late or too much too early,” he goes on. “You must blend the product in accordance with the weather. If the blend is too high you will gel up, guaranteed.”

O’Neill allows that there have been some such problems in the company’s own fleet, which runs B40 and beyond, and in some customer trucks as well.

“I’m not saying we haven’t had issues but they have been very, very minimal and a high blend or a dirty tank was the problem every time and was corrected with very little hardship,” he says.

All of that said, the long-term future of crop-based biodiesel is not quite as strong as it once looked like becoming.

For one, variations on the natural gas theme have taken the spotlight recently and that’s likely to continue. But there’s been an enormous amount of research done on other “bio” sources — organic waste and “woody” biomass, for example, even algae-sourced oils for the longer term — and the requisite manufacturing processes.

Diesel Engine Updates for Biodiesel Compatibility

Like many biodiesel myths, rumors about the incompatibility of biodiesel blends with new light duty diesel vehicles’ emission control technologies are for the most part inaccurate. The fact is, B5 blends are virtually indistinguishable from diesel fuel in terms of engine performance and compatibility with emission control systems, making all diesel engines easily compatible with blends up to at least B5. The rumors about incompatibility, however, stem from concerns about the possibility of increased engine oil dilution that can come into play with the use of higher biodiesel blends (B10 and higher) in some of the new light-duty diesel vehicles that utilize an emissions control system with in-cylinder post-injection. This system utilizes a late in-cylinder injection of raw fuel to burn off the material collected on particulate traps required to meet stringent new emissions standards for particulate matter. This is predominantly limited to the light duty diesel product offerings from Volkswagen, Audi, Mercedes and BMW, which are a small portion of the U.S. market. The other light, medium and heavy duty diesel engine manufacturers do not generally use late in-cylinder injection of raw fuel and have not reported problems with B20 compatibility or excessive engine oil dilution in their new diesel models. They have opted for systems that utilize an exhaust-stream injection of fuel to regenerate the particulate traps, therefore mitigating the risk of engine oil dilution.

While recent research studies by Volkswagen in Germany as well as the National Renewable Energy Lab did conclude that use of biodiesel blends above B10 could lead to slightly higher engine oil dilution levels in diesels using in-cylinder post-injection systems, both studies also found that the absolute level of viscosities still remained in an uncritical range for the applied oil quality, and there were no negative impacts on vehicle emissions, engine performance, or parts wear as a result of the biodiesel use. The increase in oil dilution can be easily addressed with an oil change, and can be further mitigated through a proactive engine oil change service interval (e.g. consider an oil change at 7,500 instead of 10,000 miles). VW and NREL are also planning further studies on this issue.

GM’s next-generation heavy-duty Duramax diesel V-8 won’t just burn cleaner to meet tough new emissions standards for 2010; it will also burn greener — fuel that is. The so-called LML Duramax will be certified to run on biodiesel blends of up to B20, which is 80 percent ultra-low-sulfur diesel and 20 percent biodiesel, in GM’s 2011 model year 2500 and 3500 Silverado and Sierra pickups.

The move finally matches the B20 capability of the current 2007-09 Cummins 6.7-liter inline-six that powers the Dodge Ram HD lineup. The 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 was the only pickup in our last Heavy Duty Shootout that was able to burn B20. B20 is available at many truck stops today, but the current 2007-10 LMM Duramax and Ford’s 2008-10 6.4-liter Power Stroke V-8 are only approved for B5 biodiesel.