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Biofuels explained Use of biomass-based diesel fuel

Biodiesel is the second-most used and produced biofuel in the United States

Only small amounts of biodiesel were consumed and produced in the United States until the early 2000s. Since then, U.S. biodiesel consumption and production increased substantially, largely because of the availability over time of various government incentives and requirements to produce, sell, and use biodiesel. In addition to its use in recent years to meet targets for advanced biofuels use under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard Program, important incentives to biodiesel blenders and producers are the Biodiesel Mixture Excise Tax Credit and the Biodiesel Income Tax Credit. In 2020, biodiesel was second to fuel ethanol as the most produced and consumed biofuel, and accounted for about 11% and 12% of total U.S. biofuels production and consumption respectively.

Pure biodiesel is called B100. B100 has limited direct-use applications and faces supply logistics challenges because of its physical properties and characteristics. B100 is a good solvent that can degrade rubber in fuel lines and loosen or dissolve varnish and sediments in petroleum diesel fuel tanks, pipelines, and in engine fuel systems that can clog engine fuel filters. B100 gels at higher temperatures than petroleum diesel, which creates problems for its use in cold temperatures. Therefore, B100 can not be stored or transported in regular petroleum liquids tanks and pipelines and it has to be transported by rail, vessel/barge, or truck.

B100 is approved for blending with petroleum diesel/distillate under the American Society for Testing and Materials specification ASTM D6751. Nearly all of U.S. biodiesel is consumed as blends with petroleum distillate/diesel in ratios of 2% (referred to as B2), 5% (B5), or 20% (B20). Petroleum diesel fuel sold in the United States often contains up to 1% biodiesel because of biodiesel's lubrication qualities that potentially prolong the lifetime of certain engine components. B100 is added to petroleum diesel only at blending terminals into tanker trucks for local distribution.

As of January 1, 2021, there were 75 U.S. biodiesel production facilities with a total production capacity of about 2.4 billion gallons of B100 per year. About 62% of the production capacity is located in midwestern states (PADD 2). In 2020, U.S. biodiesel (B100) production equaled about 1.8 billion gallons, imports equaled about 197 million gallons, and exports equaled about 145 million gallons. About 1.9 billion gallons of B100 were consumed in 2020 nearly in blends up to B20.

A photograph of a bus powered by soybean oil biodiesel

A bus powered by soybean oil

Source: Stock photography (copyrighted)

Use of renewable diesel and other biofuels is small but may increase

Because renewable diesel is chemically the same as petroleum diesel, it may be used in its pure form—called R100—as a drop-in fuel, or it can be mixed/blended with petroleum diesel and/or biodiesel in various amounts. Renewable diesel-petroleum diesel blends are labelled with an R followed by the percentage (by volume) of the renewable diesel content. For example, a blend of 20% renewable diesel and 80% petroleum diesel is called R20. A blend of 20% biodiesel and 80% of renewable diesel is called B20R80 to make a 100% biofuel. A blend of 20% biodiesel, 20% renewable diesel, and 60% petroleum diesel is called B20R20.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) (or alternative jet fuel [AJF], the biojet fuel that qualifies for use in California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard), includes non-petroleum synthesized jet fuel components produced to the definitions in ASTM D7566. SAF or AJF blended with conventional jet fuel meets ASTM D1655 for use in existing aircraft and fueling infrastructure.

According to the U.S. Renewable Diesel Fuel and Other Biofuels Plant Production Capacity report, as of January 1, 2021, there were six operating U.S. renewable diesel and other biofuels production facilities with a total production capacity of about 791 million gallons per year. In 2020, U.S. R100 production equaled about 533 million gallons and consumption equaled about 822 million gallons, which included about 280 million gallons of imports. California uses most of U.S. imported renewable diesel fuel mainly to meet its Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).

Most of U.S. SAF/AJF production and consumption occur in California at Los Angeles International Airport since 2016 and in late 2020 at San Francisco International Airport. In 2020, there was one SAF/AJF production facility operating in California and several are under construction or planned. The U.S. began importing SAF/AJF in late 2020. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) does not currently publish data on SAF specifically. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's RFS RIN transaction data indicates generation of 4.6 million gallons of SAF in 2020, all of which has been consumed in California, according to California's LCFS data.

In 2020, use and production of renewable diesel, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), renewable heating oil, and other non-ethanol biofuels (excluding biodiesel) in the United States was relatively small but could increase, if announced and developing projects are completed. Much of the planned capacity could be used to produce renewable diesel or SAF. How much of that capacity is used to produce each will depend on market factors and how the biofuels policies evolve over the next few years.

NEW CHART-U.S. biodiesel, renewable diesel, and other biofuels production, 2001-2020

NEW CHART-U.S. biodiesel, renewable diesel, and other biofuels consumption, 2001-2020

Last updated: February 8, 2022