Celebrating National Biodiesel Day with biodiesel success stories

By The National Biodiesel Board | March 18, 2019

National Biodiesel Day takes place March 18, in honor of Rudolf Diesel’s birthday. In the 1890s, Rudolf invented the diesel engine, which was designed to run on peanut oil. Rudolf knew early on the prominent role plant oils could play in fueling the future’s vehicles.

“It’s amazing, in this day and age, to see a concept like Rudolf Diesel’s that has the longevity to continue to deliver for what’s now over 100 years,” said Donnell Rehagen, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board. “Obviously, the diesel engine has improved since those first models, but the concept is largely the same. It’s hard to improve on something with such staying power, but we’ve been able to do that with biodiesel. Our industry owes its origins to Diesel, but our staying power is a function of our commitment to continued improvement, our dedication and our passion. Our industry has seen its challenges as every new product does, but, more than two decades into commercial biodiesel production in the U.S., we just never took no for an answer. The success of our early pioneers challenged us and others to think bigger, think bolder, and think without limits. And now, here we are, a nearly 3 billion gallon-a-year industry.”

On Biodiesel Day, NBB celebrates a few of the many biodiesel champions who helped make this industry the success it is today.

Biodiesel Researcher, Earl Christensen, a senior scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, has continuously put biodiesel to the test. Over the past eight years, Christensen and his colleagues have done extensive testing on biodiesel, and the findings have impressed him. “As we did more and more long-term storage testing, I was a bit surprised at how stable all these recent samples were,” Christensen said. “Today’s biodiesel can be very stable and can be stored for a long time, especially as a blend, so we have started looking at even longer storage times and more storage scenarios.” Christensen’s work at NREL has given him a strong appreciation of biodiesel. “I’m entirely neutral on how we reduce the amount of petroleum we use, but from what I’ve seen of biodiesel, I think it is a really great path for us to supplement our diesel usage in a way that reduces emissions and ultimately gets us all to where we want to be.”

Policymaker, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, is a biodiesel advocate veteran. The Iowa Republican has made the biodiesel industry a chief concern for much of his 37-year tenure on Capitol Hill. He led the way in 2004 and 2005 when Congress passed two landmark measures that have helped spark the industry’s growth to 2.5 billion annual gallons and beyond: the Renewable Fuel Standard and the biodiesel tax incentive. Grassley, a family farmer himself, has been proud to bring his legendary tenacity to bear for biodiesel. “There is an abundance of soybeans in my state, and the value added beyond exports is very important to our economy,” he said. Biodiesel also helps reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources of energy and improves national security. “The fuel is clean burning and low-carbon, so it’s very good for the environment, and you create good-paying jobs in rural America, where the small towns often don’t have that.”

Biodiesel Producer, Hero BX, is an industry leader who got its start in 2004 with its first production plant in Erie, Pennsylvania. Owner Pat Black believes highly in the societal benefits biodiesel brings to the table. “We are making fuel out of byproducts that would otherwise be dumped in a landfill or poured down the drain,” Black said. At the same time, the industry has brought an economic revitalization to many communities across the country. “Erie used to get 50 percent of its GDP from manufacturing, but that has fallen off, as it has across the country,” Black said. “I wanted to build that back up, because the best-paying jobs with the most sustainable wages are in manufacturing.” Hero BX now directly employs about 100 people in Pennsylvania and another facility in Alabama, while indirectly supporting contractors, logistics providers, and others throughout the supply chain. Nationally, the industry supports more than 60,000 jobs across the country.

Soybean Industry Leader, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, has been making big strides in the biodiesel sector. The biodiesel industry passed a major milestone on May 1, 2018, when fuel retailers throughout Minnesota began dispensing B20. Minnesota’s statewide standard, which calls for B5 in the winter months and B20 in the summer, is the fruit of nearly two decades of labor by the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and its allied confederation of farmers, lawmakers and associations. The entire soybean industry has been a key ally in the biodiesel industry’s growth in the U.S.

The School System of Medford, New Jersey, began using biodiesel to help the local schools be more progressive about emissions. The school system originally switched its bus and vehicle fleet to a B20 biodiesel blend in 1997 in the pursuit of emissions reduction and the fuel has delivered beyond expectations, according to Joe Biluck, who recently retired as director of operations and technology. As the longest-running user of biodiesel among school districts nationwide, Medford has experienced direct improvements in fleet operations, as well as many indirect benefits. The district has built goodwill in the community, created learning opportunities for students, bolstered pride among district staff, and even become a better magnet for educational talent.

If you want more information about these innovative industry leaders, or to discover some of our other biodiesel pioneers, read the full Biodiesel Success Stories online.

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