IEA World Energy Outlook 2005: Not Sustainable
Bunge Europe Expands Rapeseed Crushing, Targets Biodiesel Production

Illinois Senator Introduces Legislation for Bio- and Synthetic Diesel Fuel Standard

US Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) recently introduced legislation calling for a “Renewable Diesel Standard” (RDS) that would mandate 2 billion gallons of bio- and synthetic diesel in the national supply by the year 2015.

The bill, S. 1920, or the Renewable Diesel Standard Act of 2005, specifies annual increases in the bio- or synthetic-diesel component in the national diesel supply beginning in 2008 with 250 million gallons.

RDS Schedule
YearMillion gal.
2008 250
2009 500
2010 750
2011 1,000
2012 1,250
2013 1,500
2014 1,750
2015 2,000

Obama’s legislation is modeled after the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), a bipartisan initiative that passed this summer requiring that the national gasoline supply consist of at least 7.5 billion gallons of homegrown ethanol by the year 2012 (earlier post). The RFS also commits the country to the greater use of biodiesel in our fuel supply. Obama’s renewable Diesel Standard takes that farther, however.

Current dedicated biodiesel production capacity in the US is an estimated 180 million gallons per year, according to the National Biodiesel Board. Fifty-four companies have reported their plans to construct dedicated biodiesel plants in the near future, but those plans are dependent upon regional and national demand prospects. Obama sees the Renewable Diesel Standard as a way to stabilize demand and encourage alternative domestic diesel production.

According to the statue, “renewable” diesel includes fuel produced from:

  • Vegetable oil

  • Animal fat

  • Recycled yellow grease

  • Thermal depolymerization

  • Thermochemical conversion

  • Fischer-Tropsch processes for Coal-to-Liquids (and presumably other GTL or BTL production)

  • Diesel-ethanol blends

(The inclusion of CTL makes sense from the perspective of alternative sources of fuel, although it does confound the “renewable” label on the bill. )

The bill has been referred to the senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works.


  • S. 1920, the Renewable Diesel Standard Act of 2005



Remove the Coal-to-liquids clause and it sounds like a pretty decent proposal.

Six months ago I bought a 74 mercedes 240D. The first tank of fuel I bought was B100 Biodiesel. It ran great. I continued to buy this stuff all summer long. I have had ZERO problems with the B100 and did NOTHING to convert this car. I just filled the tank and drove it.

Now that the weather has turned cold the only supplier in Utah refuses to sell B100. The best I can get is B20 as he says this will work in cold weather. Why not make the national standard B20 and cut our oil imports by 20 percent.


By virtue of some ad-hoc googling, I find that the USA burns on the order of 117 *Billion* gallons of gasoline per year. Add diesel consumption to that.

What amount of feedstock for biodiesel refining would be required to replace all this? What is the feasible scenario which replaces fossil hydrocarbons with renewables? Clearly some highly scalable alternatives are required. Or, perhaps, a different approach to transportation...


Both highly scalablesa solutions *and* different approaches to transportation.


A UNH study says all the diesel fuel AND heating fuel the USA needs could be produced from algae grown around the Salton Sea.

After the infrastructure was set up it would cost $46 billion a year. All that money would stay in the US.

Think that would be better than giving $100-150 billion a year to our good friends in the middle east?


I imagine the generous interpretation of CTL as "renewable" diesel is not unrelated to your 7 November posting regarding the CTL polygeneration plant being constructed in Obama's home state of Illinois.
But it's nice to see some legislation that might push the engine makers to certify their engines for a reasonable biodiesel blend standard.

Mark A

2 billion gallons of domestically produced biodiesel sounds great. Now all we have to do is find something else to eat.

In addition, with most of the automakers now focusing on hydrogen or hybrids or fuel cells, will we have enough cars to burn all this biodiesel? I dont see the kinds of developments in diesels as in the other powerplants. Where are the cost versus demand versus supply studies, to support this initiative?


The CTL will also get support from Montana and West Virginia, two other states with their eyes on using their coal in the future.

The nice thing about that is the support of two purple states, which helps move the idea from "lib'rul enviro-weenie" to "moderate and reasonable."

Throw in the fact that and this renewable bill might pick up traction.


The CTL will also get support from Montana and West Virginia, two other states with their eyes on using their coal in the future.

The nice thing about that is the support of two purple states, which helps move the idea from "lib'rul enviro-weenie" to "moderate and reasonable."

Throw in the fact that Willie Nelson sells biodiesel and this renewable bill might pick up traction.



There is a surplus of food in world, especially the United States. Additionally, most U.S. biodiesel is made from soybean oil, a *byproduct* of the presscake used to feed cattle and chickens. Soy uses little to no nitrogen fertilizers produced from natural gas because they are legumes. Much of our production could (and should) shift to canola and after some research, algae, or from oil waste oil reprocessing. It's absurd to perpetuate this myth that scaled-up biodiesel production would alter our food supply.

Mark A

So, Emil, this additional soybean production, to help multiply our current production by a factor of eleven, will not affect our food supply, because we will eat more (or exclusively) beef and poultry, and less vegatables and fruits? Given this avian bird flu epidemic, and another major mad cow disease scare could throw our food supply into chaos.

And also to think soybeans require "little to no" added fertilizers, because of their being a legume having "nitrogen fixing nodes" in their roots, is another absurd myth.

I am not against biodiesel in any way. It just needs to be balanced against our existing food supplies, which are constantly being challenged ever more frequently by natural disasters and changing weather patterns. I applaud any and all efforts at making changes to our current unsustainable energy problem. Just dont create other more serious problems in doing so.

According to the statue...C'mon, Obama is a LOT more animated than that!

Unfortunately, biodiesel is just another farm-subsidy program like corn ethanol.  We can't possibly grow enough to replace the 4 million barrels/day of distillate (diesel and heating oil) we used last year.  Such simplistic, brute-force responses aren't going to cut it.


Wait a minute...the proposal is to create 2 billion gallons a year by 2105. That would generate more than the necessary 4 million gallons a day, wouldn't it?


If the plan is to generate 2 billion gallons a year by 2015, wouldn't that more than cover the 4 million gallons a day needed? Sure, demand will probably increase more too, but so would efficiency hopefully.


The requirement for transportation is 70% of 20.83 million barrels per day or 14.581 millions barrels per day. 4 million gallons ( not barrels) doesn't even come close.

Regardless of whether or not there may be a food surplus, we don't have enough land to generate the soybeans, etc. to take care of our transporation needs as currently structured.


Stop focusing on soy based biofuels. Soy sucks as a biofuel feedstock. Shift the production to better plant oil sources such as mustard seed. Easy.

Why does everyone get stuck in one mode?

Harvey D

Moderate use of surplus land areas to produce alternative fuel may be positive for hard pressed farming communities in countries with large farm surplus problems. However, it seems to be a shame to use edible corn or soy as feedstock.

Wouldn't the production of large quantities of cellulosic ethanol from elephant grass, straw, corn and sunflower stalks, wood chips, bamboo chips and other similar waistes and non-edible fast growing plants be more acceptable?

I keep reading about cellulosic ethanol, but the information on the yield and the energy required for distillation is very sparse.

Even if you grow elephant grass and turn it into ethanol, you'll still be burning it in 17%-efficient vehicles.  We know how to do much better, and we should.

Shirley E

Focusing on the limitations of any single resource for producing biodiesel or bioethanol is like saying, hey, we don't have nearly enough hydropower to supply all the nation's electricity needs! Or taking this a step further, hey, we don't produce nearly enough electricity to supply all the nation's energy needs!

Diversity of supply, diversity of alternatives is the hallmark of our energy system. We've been relatively spoiled in having a single cheap resource provide most of our transportation energy to date, but this is not the case in the other sectors and is not likely the future case for transportation either.


The problem with cellulosic ethanol is that it forces an investment in a very inefficient pathway.  If the field-to-wheels efficiency is 10%, and we could get 40% using some other pathway, it makes no sense to invest lots of time and money (and create a constituency for) turning cellulose into ethanol.

Mark A

The reason every talks about soy based biodiesel is because...everyone talks about biodiesel made with soy. Also, alot of folks are pushing for corn based ethanol. How are we to plant everything in soybeans (for biodiesel) while we are planting everthing in corn (for ethanol) at the same time???

Thats the first I have heard about mustard seed. Arent mustard seeds extremely small, almost like dust? I have heard that "switch grass" has a high potential for a fuel, but dont know if its biodiesel or ethanol. But this nation needs to be careful in introducing new plants into areas where they have not been before. Under certain conditions, non native species could spread wildly, creating greater economic havoc than higher fuel costs could ever create. Witness the "kudzu" plant in the southern states. It was touted for its erosion control properties and as a cattle feed, and it is now considered a major weed, and a threat to many operations as it cannot be easily controlled.

Sorry for the long post and as a side note, what is the current accepted measure of a barrel today? I have heard anywhere from 30-70 gallons in a barrel.


Mark, our small farm in southern Virginia produces soy and peanuts, so I know for a fact it's not some "absurd myth" they don't require nitrogen fertilizers. It's a function of the initial inoculation procedures and the success thereof. We aren't organic and don't use nitrogen, only potash. We also grow switchgrass, which is subsidized by the government. At the present, there's more income on switchgrass than on soy-the bushel price is low, and there's lots of it on the market. Our switchgrass isn't even used for's simply mowed twice a year and left as green sheet compost. I wish the cellulosic process were better refined.

The ultimate point is, we shouldn't even attempt to substitute soy biodiesel for petroleum distillates. Silly idea to think it's possible. What's needed is diversification (as I've alluded to in the previous post). Waste stream recovery and efficiency are the ways to go. That said, I love biodiesel and the fact it can be used to fuel the equipment used to harvest the oilcrop.

I am a biologist and currently a renewable energy manager and consultant in city government (a rather large city, I might add), so I do have a bit of experience in these fields.

Shirley E

I've said this before but I think it bears repeating in the current context: the future lies in systems design. Attempting to economically justify and implement any single advanced technology on its own is, well maybe not doomed to failure but certainly hindered by a significant, and yet unnecessary barrier.

For illustration purposes only, consider the following system: In the future, locate the ethanol plant next door to a gas turbine plant that generates electricity. Waste heat from the turbine is transferred to the ethanol plant. The production of ethanol extracts the starches from a locally grown feedstock but leaves the proteins behind. The proteins are piped to a nearby farm for enhancing animal feed. Waste from the animals flows into a digester that produces methane gas, that is fed back to the turbine generator. Meanwhile, as this is a rural area, several megawatts of wind generation capacity are located in the same fields that grow the ethanol feedstock. Plug-in hybrid vehicles in this town do most of their local driving using renewably-generated electricity from the wind and gas turbines, while using the ethanol for most longer trips. The PHEVs also act as distributed storage for the wind capacity, which smooths out the intermittent availability of that resource. Meanwhile, this whole system is largely carbon-neutral outside of the supplemental natural gas probably needed for the gas turbine.

Okay, I'm making this up as I go along, but the point is that such a complete system may be quite cost-effective even though any of the individual technologies may not be when considered in isolation. There is synergy between them; the fact that the vehicles are plug-ins means that the demands on the liquid fuel (ethanol in this example) are greatly reduced. The fact that you're getting some revenue out of the vehicles while they are parked (credits on your electric bill?) means you can justify a higher first cost for them. Etc. Insert your own system components that better apply in your particular geographic location.

I think that this kind of systems design is where our future lies. We have to stop thinking about this or that technology and start thinking about them together, and optimizing the overall system. I'd love for an angel investor to pick some little town in North Dakota and build the whole system above, and take the whole thing off the grid. As soon as I win the lottery, watch out!

Harvey D

EP. Iogen Corp, with Petro Canada and Shell, is planning to build a commercial size cellulosic ethanol plant in 2007. The production cost per US gallon is estimated at 40 cents for feedstock + 58 cents for production for a total of $1.08/gal. A major portion of the production cost goes for procurement of cellulase and hemicellulase enzimes required to break down lignin. A recent break through in enzymes prodcution cost could reduce Iogen Corp total cost by up to 20%.

A $1.08/gal cost would be more than Brazilian sugar cane ethanol selling for $25/barrel or about 59.5 cents/gal. However, the Canadian produced cellulosic ethanol cost would be similar to US produced corn or soy ethanol. If not, subsidies or grants will be introduced. Since Canada has huge fossil fuel reserves, it is very doubtful that ethanol plants will grow beyong the level required to keep the farmers happy.

Did you know that environnment friendly US administration applies a 50 cents/gal. import tax on Brazilian ethanol, raising the price to $1.095/gal.?

Amazing what US OIL and FARM lobbies can do. European countries do about the same thing by giving generous subsidies to ethanol feedstock producing farmers.


Shirley, click my link and go comment.  I think you'll like it.

The comments to this entry are closed.