Biodiesel from wastes commended by EPA, not so for soy-based fuel

By Nicholas Zeman | April 15, 2009
Posted May 6, 2009

Life cycle analysis of Greenhouse gas (GHG) for biodiesel is a new part of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2) and, under the proposed parameters established by U.S. EPA, biodiesel made from waste vegetable oils or yellow grease is among the top performing environmental fuels. The National Biodiesel Board, the American Soybean Association and others, however, think the EPA proposed ruling for the implementation of RFS2 is potentially damaging to soy and virgin vegetable oil-based biodiesel. "I think it's wonderful that waste grease performs so well under this ruling," said Charles Neece of FUMPA BioFuels in Redwood Falls, Minn. "But it seems like they aren't giving us any other options."

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 established new categories and eligibility requirements based on the Environmental Protection Agency's analysis of life-cycle GHGs from increased renewable fuel use. Biodiesel made from waste greases is one of the top renewable fuels in terms of reducing GHG emissions, said EPA in the proposed rule released Monday.

As a multi-feedstock operation, Neece says that a part of his job now will be to manage the mix of feedstocks to give FUMPA the best percentages for reducing GHGs and meeting the EPA guidelines. "Some of us that don't use waste grease in our refineries are not going to be able to make it," he says. "There's just not going to be enough to go around-and if that is the only feedstock that will receive benefits, the industry is not going to be able to meet the volume requirements outlined by the federal government."

The established time horizon analyzes emissions and applies a discount rate to value near-term versus long-term emissions, but there are many factors that the biodiesel industry feels EPA is not considering. "They're taking a snapshot in time and considering the headway agricultural economy has made in the last 50 years," Neece told Biodiesel Magazine. "Crop plantings, including oilseeds are down nearly seven million acres in the United Sates and that has a lot to do with increased efficiency, so some of their statements and conclusions are little hard to accept."

Indirect Land Use Change refers to global cropland expansion resulting from the use of agriculturally based fuels. An environmental criticism of biodiesel-made from virgin crop oils-is that it compromises land historically not needed for farming, like the Amazon. NBB, however, along with other industry leaders disagrees with this assessment. "We've not seen deforestation in sensitive areas in the last three years," Neece said.

While using non-food-based and recycled sources to make biodiesel will be important for the future of the industry, it is important to accommodate the "step-changes" that might be necessary along the way. "Using clean-coal technology to power our plants might be one of the transitional ways we improve our efficiency until biomass derived power is more pervasive," Neece said. "It seems like the new rule is promoting an 'all-or-nothing' atmosphere for the development of alternative energy."
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