Overview of Biodiesel

Biodiesel is a renewable, clean burning fuel, which has been in commercial production in Europe since 1991 and in the United States since 1998. Made from vegetable oils, animal fats or waste oil, biodiesel is a viable alternative fuel to conventional petroleum-based diesel.

Biodiesel is not petroleum-based and is typically used together with conventional diesel in certain proportions. Compression ignition (diesel) engines can use biodiesel without any major modifications. Biodiesel is easy to use, biodegradable, nontoxic, and essentially free of sulfur and aromatics.

Although biodiesel currently accounts for only a small fraction of global fuel use, it is predicted to capture an increasingly larger share of future global fuel use. Compared with conventional petroleum-based diesel, biodiesel enjoys some distinct advantages among which:

  • Biodiesel is renewable, nontoxic and readily biodegradable, and
  • Biodiesel is “cleaner” as it emits about 50% less carbon dioxide than petroleum-based diesel. Biodiesel is therefore seen as a practical alternative to conventional petroleum-based fuels, which are increasingly disfavored by regulators and members of the general public as environmental awareness and prices rise globally.

Due to its environmentally friendly features, the development of biodiesel is supported by many governments across the globe. To-date, Europe is the leading region in terms of biodiesel development, with biodiesel making up approximately 5% of the total fuel supply market. Biodiesel consumption in Europe increased from 1.1 million tons in 2002 to 1.9 million tons in 2004, representing a compound annual growth rate of approximately 35%.

In the United States, biodiesel consumption also increased rapidly in recent years based on estimates by the National Biodiesel Board of the United States, a national trade association. Biodiesel consumption in the United States increased from 500,000 gallons (approximately 1,638 tons) in1999 to 25 million gallons (approximately 82,000 tons) in 2004, representing a compound annual growth rate of approximately 119%.