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Home > Renewable Energy > Biodiesel Program > Biodiesel Basics & FAQs

Biodiesel Basics & Frequently Asked Questions

What is biodiesel?

Biodiesel is a clean-burning alternative fuel produced from domestic, renewable resources. In Minnesota it is made primarily from soybeans, but can also be made from other materials such as vegetable oils, animal fats and spent cooking oil. Biodiesel contains no petroleum, but it can be blended with petroleum diesel. Pure biodiesel is often referred to as "B100", a blend of 2 percent biodiesel and 98 percent diesel is called "B2", 20 percent biodiesel with 80 percent diesel is "B20," and so on. Various biodiesel blends (mostly B20 or lower) are already used by hundreds of vehicle fleets, including the U.S. military, Yellowstone National Park, and cities such as Seattle and various counties and cities in Minnesota.

What economic benefits will biodiesel have for Minnesota?

Because it is made from a locally-grown, renewable resource, the use of biodiesel in Minnesota can help boost our farm economy through reduced reliance on imported oil and increased demand for Minnesota-grown soybeans. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, America currently imports petroleum to meet about 62 percent of its needs. By 2025, it is projected that we will import 77 percent of our petroleum. Pair these supply concerns with a rapid increase in oil demand from emerging countries like China and India, and you have a recipe for continued sky-high prices. For our long-term economic stability, we must start breaking this unhealthy dependence—and Minnesota is leading the way by using more home-grown biodiesel. It is estimated that the state’s B5 requirement will replace 40 million gallons of diesel fuel in Minnesota.

A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that an average annual increase of 200 million gallons of soy-based biodiesel demand would boost total crop cash receipts by $5.2 billion cumulatively by 2010, resulting in an average net farm income increase of $300 million per year. In 2006, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture issued a report (Economic Impact of Soy Diesel in Minnesota) estimating that the state’s soy diesel industry provided approximately $928 million in total economic output and more than 5,500 jobs to the state.

Will biodiesel affect vehicles?

One of the major benefits of B5 is that no engine or vehicle modifications are needed and B5 does not harm engine performance. According to the National Biodiesel Board, all known diesel engine makers with equipment in North America support the use of up to 5 percent biodiesel meeting national and local specifications. Using biodiesel in existing diesel engines does not void parts and materials workmanship warranties of any major U.S. engine manufacturer.

How does biodiesel benefit the environment and public health?

Biodiesel use benefits the state’s natural resources and public health through a reduction in harmful vehicle emissions. Independent tests have demonstrated that using biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine reduces unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulate matter. Biodiesel exhaust also has a significantly less harmful impact on human health than exhaust from petroleum diesel fuel.

Biodiesel also adds lubricity to new Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) fuel mandated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2006, which enable diesel technologies that are more than 90 percent cleaner than today's diesel engines.

Will there be enough biodiesel to meet consumer demand?

It is estimated that Minnesota’s current B5 mandate would require 40 million gallons, the B10 mandate would require 80 million, and the B20 mandate would require 160 million gallons of biodiesel to meet state blending requirements.[1] Accordingly, the state’s existing 65 million gallons of production capacity could provide sufficient biodiesel to fully meet the B5 mandate, approximately 80 percent of the product needed for B10, and about 40 percent of that required for B20. 

[1] These estimates assume 800 million gallons of annual state diesel fuel use.

Does biodiesel have a positive energy balance?

Biodiesel has the most favorable energy balance of any transportation fuel. For every unit of energy needed to produce a gallon of biodiesel, 3.2 units of energy are gained. In comparison, for every unit of energy needed to produce a gallon of conventional petroleum diesel, 0.8 units of energy are provided.

Will Minnesota’s cold winters present any special problems for B5 biodiesel blends?

Like other diesel fuels, B5 will gel in very cold temperatures. The cold flow characteristics of a B5 blend will be virtually the same as those of the diesel fuel used in the blend. In fact, blends up to B5 will cause little if any change to the cold flow properties of the diesel fuel with which the biodiesel is blended. Experience with biodiesel used in winter tests in Minnesota snow plows shows routine cold-weather precautions employed for conventional diesel are also suitable for biodiesel blends.

How will the state verify compliance with Minnesota’s biodiesel mandate?

Bills of lading for diesel fuel shipments received by retail outlets or bulk users are required to show the biodiesel content of the product. The Weights and Measures Division of the Minnesota Department of Commerce continues inspect diesel product in the normal manner. Among the tests conducted is one that determines biodiesel content of the fuel. If the required amount of biodiesel is not detected, documentation may be required to show that diesel fuel received after May 1, 2009 contained at least 5 percent biodiesel.

Where can I get biodiesel fuel?

All retail outlets selling diesel fuel should be stocking B5 biodiesel blends as of May 1, 2009.

Where can I go for more information?

In an effort to promote the successful use of biodiesel, a Minnesota Diesel/Biodiesel Hotline was established to provide technical assistance, answer questions, help diagnose problems and offer recommendations, and can be reached by calling 1-800-929-3437.

In addition, in 2009 a subcommittee of the Biodiesel Task Force issued a “Biodiesel Blend Handling Guide” to help diesel fuel users avoid potential cold weather problems.

For questions about state regulatory enforcement call the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Weights and Measures Division at 651-215-5821.