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Study finds clear trend of increasing NOx with higher biodiesel blends with CARB diesel; NOx neutrality achieved by blending in renewable or GTL diesel

NOx emissions results of biodiesel, renewable, and GTL diesel fuel blends, and CARB diesel fuel for 2006 Cummins ISM. Credit: ACS, Hajbabaei et al. Click to enlarge.

A study by researchers at the University of California, Riverside’s College of Engineering – Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) and colleagues at the California Air Resources Board (ARB) found a relatively clear trend of increasing NOx emissions with increasing biodiesel blend level at levels of B20 and above for CARB-like/high cetane diesel fuels. The study is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

They also found that increasing renewable diesel (Neste Oil’s NExBTL) and gas-to-liquids (GTL) diesel blends showed NOx reductions with rising blend level. Blending GTL or renewable diesel fuels with various levels of biodiesel or by using di-tert-butyl peroxide (DTBP) can achieve NOx emissions neutrality with the CARB diesel, according to their results. The study is part of a larger program conducted by ARB in conjunction with UC Riverside, UC Davis and others to develop diesel formulations with higher levels of renewable biofuels.

Biodiesel, noted the authors, is the most widely used biofuel in diesel engines, and it is currently the main fuel being used or considered to meet renewable fuel requirements for diesel fuel. In California, biodiesel use accounted for 86% of the alternative fuels consumed by the state fleet in 2010. (Earlier post.)

Studies have shown that biodiesel generally reduces carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM), and total hydrocarbons (THC) emissions compared to conventional diesel fuel. It has also been reported in many studies, however, that average nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from biodiesel blends can increase with increasing biodiesel content. Although the impact of biodiesel on NOx emissions has been studied for many years, there is still uncertainty as to how prevalent this effect is, and the specific factors that might be contributing to biodiesel NOx increases, especially with newer engines.

...Although the impacts of biodiesel on NOx emissions may be small on a percentage basis, and difficult to quantify, this remains an important issue in regions and cities when poor air quality is a persistent problem...The impacts of biodiesel on NOx emissions for diesel fuels that are stringently regulated, such as CARB diesel, have not been as extensively studied as for other fuels used throughout the United States.

...This is one of the largest studies to date on biodiesel emissions impacts. The focus of this larger research study was on understanding and mitigating any impact that biodiesel has on NOx emissions from diesel engines for CARB-like diesel fuels, or diesel fuels with properties consistent with those needed to meet CARB diesel fuel requirements, and understanding the potential impacts of biodiesel on toxic emissions and health effects.

—Hajbabaei et al.

The focus of the paper was on the results of engine dynamometer testing conducted on two on-highway, heavy-duty diesel engines (2006 Cummins and 2007 MBE4000), with a primary focus on understanding biodiesel NOx impacts. The test fuels included a baseline CARB-certified diesel fuel, biodiesel blends produced from two different feedstocks (one soy-based and one animal-based), and a gas-to-liquid (GTL) and a renewable diesel fuel, with blend levels from 5% to 100%. A range of strategies were also evaluated for the mitigation of any potential NOx impacts.

The test cycles included the standard Federal Testing Procedure (FTP) for heavy-duty engines and three other cycles derived from chassis dynamometer data: a lightly loaded Urban Dynamometer Driving Schedule (UDDS) cycle; a 40 mph CARB heavy heavy-duty diesel truck (HHDDT) cruise cycle; and a 50 mph CARB HHDDT cruise cycle.

Among the findings were:

  • The average NO emissions were higher at a statistically significant level for the B20 and higher biodiesel blends compared to the CARB diesel for all the test cycle/engine combinations, with the exception of the animal-based biodiesel on the UDDS cycle for the 2006 Cummins engine.

  • NOx increased with biodiesel blend level. NOx increases ranged from 1.5% to 6.9% for B20, 6.4% to 18.2% for B50, and 14.1% to 47.1% for B100, with the magnitude of this effect differing for different feedstocks, engines, and cycles. The soy-based B20 and higher biodiesel blends showed higher increases in NOx emissions for the different blend levels, test cycles, and engines, in comparison with the animal-based biodiesel blends. Differences between the NOx percentage increases for the soy-based and animal-based biodiesel were statistically significant for each of the cycle/blend level combinations on both engines.

  • NOx emissions also differed as a function of cycle power for both engines.

  • NOx reductions with the renewable diesel fuel (NExBTL) ranged from .9%-4.9% for R20, 5.4%-10.2% for R50, and 9.9%-18.1% for R100 over all the cycles.

  • The GTL diesel fuel showed reductions of 5.2% for the GTL50 and 8.7% for the GTL100. Over the FTP cycle, the NOx reductions for the renewable and GTL diesels were comparable for the 50% and 100% fuels, but the GTL fuel did not show statistically significant reductions at the 20% blend.

Taking these results in conjunction with other literature studies of CARB-like diesel fuels, it appears that biodiesel likely has a more prominent impact on NOx when used with CARB-like diesels compared to more conventional US average diesels, at least at B20 or higher levels. For low level B5−B10 blends, that are most likely to be implemented in the near term in meeting regulatory requirements, it is still unclear if or what level of mitigation might be needed in regions such as California that have stringent provisions against any increases in NOx emissions. Potentially NOx neutral blends for such regions could include a B5 blend with a highly saturated biodiesel base stock, or combinations of B5 or lower blends with renewable diesel or GTL-like fuels, or with an additive. For biodiesels with a greater propensity for increasing NOx, such as soy-based biodiesel, further modification to the base fuel might also be possible to offset any potential biodiesel NO increases.

—Hajbabaei et al.

In the coming months, several follow-up studies are planned, including: more comprehensive testing with 5% biodiesel blends; adding additives to reduce NOx emissions in 20 percent biodiesel blends; and evaluating the impact of biodiesel blends have on emissions from light-duty vehicles, such as passenger cars. This will include the development of certified biofuel and biodiesel blends that can be sold in diesel fuel throughout California.


  • Maryam Hajbabaei, Kent C. Johnson, Robert A. Okamoto, Alexander Mitchell, Marcie Pullman, and Thomas D. Durbin (2012) Evaluation of the Impacts of Biodiesel and Second Generation Biofuels on NOx Emissions for CARB Diesel Fuels. Environmental Science & Technology 46 (16), 9163-9173 doi: 10.1021/es300739r



But what achieves the best lifecycle emissions:  GTL diesel, biodiesel, or carbureted NG/biogas ignited with a pilot charge of liquid fuel?


This article is obviously written automatically by an informatic bot and have nothing to say. Im minding by who is it read, other informatic automatic processing powers ? Anyway i prefer articles written by a human.
Usually humans are more clever and clearer and have better solutions on the energy technologies.


One more confirmation that burning liquid fuel (from any sources) in our fuel guzzlers is not the proper solution.

Naysayers and Oil fans-supporters will not believe it.

This article is obviously written automatically by an informatic bot and have nothing to say.
I guess it takes one to know one.

"The focus of the paper was on the results of engine dynamometer testing conducted on two on-highway, heavy-duty diesel engines (2006 Cummins and 2007 MBE4000), "

They call a test of just two engines one of the largest studies to date? That doesn't say much of past efforts, does it?

More to the point, how does dynamometer testing translate to the real world where NOx emissions will be ingested by the following vehicles?

Could something like this be done with NOx?


There is of course another way to reduce emissions from these heavy-duty diesel engines - use less fuel.


@HarveyD -

Are you suggesting that solid and gaseous fuels don't produce NOx and a host of other products of combustion?


Carl....I'm in favor of electrified vehicles using electricity from cleaner sources such as Hydro, Sun, Wind, Geothermal, Waves, Nuke etc. FCs make become an interesting alternative for heavy vehicles.

Fossil fuel could/should be saved for airplanes and other essentials uses.


Carl, it's much easier to control the NOx production from a homogeneous mixture than a liquid injection because there are not going to be richer and leaner spots.  Gaseous fuels have an advantage there, especially if they have a lower flame temperature.

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