Biodiesel is a diesel replacement fuel made from new and used vegetable oils or animal fats that have been chemically reacted with an alcohol. In the United States, most biodiesel is made from soybeans. Biodiesel is also made from canola oils and from waste stream sources including used cooking oils or animal fats. Biodiesel in its pure form, 100 percent biodiesel, is known as “neat diesel” or B100. But it can also be blended with conventional diesel, B5 is 5 percent biodiesel and 95 percent conventional diesel and B20 is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent conventional diesel. The use of higher-level biodiesel blends tends to require fuel and engine parts seals and elastomers that are compatible with biodiesel and other usage considerations.
Currently in California, there are no cars certified to use biodiesel. However, some auto manufacturers are endorsing the use of B5 in their diesel cars and trucks, but higher blends above B20 need universal fuel biodiesel standards. If you are interested in using biodiesel in your vehicle or equipment, check with the manufacturer for any recommendations and information regarding engine warranties. In addition, once you have determined the proper blend for your vehicle, make sure to purchase your fuel from a reputable dealer selling commercial grade biodiesel.
The price of biodiesel blends vary depending on geographic area, base material (corn, soybeans, etc.), and supplier. B20 typically costs about the same as conventional diesel but higher blends will cost more. To find out the latest price of biodiesel go to the DOE Alt Fuel Price Report.
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Biodiesel in blends of 20 percent or less can be handled with the current fueling infrastructure. There are about 50 biodiesel stations in California with some limited availability for general public use. However, individual consumers can purchase biodiesel, by the drum, directly from suppliers. Below are resources for biodiesel stations and distributors.
- MapMuse: The Biodiesel Fuel Stations directory and Biodiesel Fuel Stations locator map can be used to view all of the 661 Biodiesel Fuel Stations locations and listings, and check individual listings for hours of operation, contact info, visitor reviews and photos, and more.
- National Biodiesel Board: The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) is the national trade association representing the biodiesel industry in the United States.
- U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuel Data Center: A site developed by the Department of Energy that provides maps to refueling stations in the US for CNG, LPG/propane, ethanol, electric, biodiesel, hydrogen, and liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Chemically speaking, biodiesel has a cetane number comparable to Air Resources Board (ARB) diesel, but slightly lower energy content than ARB diesel. To the average driver, this means a small decrease in fuel economy (2-8 percent).
Using either blended or pure biodiesel in a diesel engine will generally reduce emissions of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, sulfates, and particulate matter. Emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx), a contributor to smog, can increase with the use of biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine and ARB is currently assessing strategies to reduce these emissions. The bio in biodiesel is renewable and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions depending on the source.
Since the feedstock for biodiesel can be domestically produced, it reduces the nation's dependence of foreign oil. At this time biodiesel is mainly used by fleet operators such as the U.S. Postal Service, school districts, utility companies, garbage and recycling companies, agricultural vehicles, construction equipment, and marine applications.
Perks & Conveniences
Use of biodiesel does not require major engine modifications. That means operators keep their fleets, their spare parts inventories, their refueling stations and their skilled mechanics.