Bioheat Makes for Hot Topic

By Greg Anderson | June 15, 2010
Boston in the summer: Fenway Park, warm weather and home heating? Though it may not fit with summer the way swimsuits and sunscreen do, Bioheat fuel is certainly a hot topic in the Northeast.

The United States uses 6.7 billion gallons of No. 2 heating oil annually. The mid-Atlantic and Northeast states account for 88 percent, or 5.5 billion gallons, of that volume, so a delegation of more than two dozen industry stakeholders from around the nation headed to Boston to see exactly what this means for biodiesel.

In a three-day whirlwind of meetings, press events and demonstrations, we absorbed as much Bioheat information as possible. The group hit Massachusetts for the Biodiesel & Bioheat Conference and additional collaboration meetings. We heard from industry experts and learned how biodiesel is having a positive impact on the home heating industry. We learned Bioheat fuel is the industry-accepted term for 2 to 5 percent blends of pure biodiesel blended with conventional high or low sulfur home heating oil.

Last year the oilheat industry set a new course for home heating oil. At the national oilheat industry policy summit, oilheat leadership, including National Oilheat Research Alliance, the New England Fuel Institute, and Petroleum Marketers Association of America, adopted formal goals for a cleaner, greener and more sustainable course, including expanding Bioheat heating oil use and requirements.

Home heating presents a unique situation. As far as I am aware, it is the only circumstance where one industry has come to another saying, "We want your product. We want to be required to use your product. Your product is good for our business, are you in?" Biodiesel is that product and "Yeah, we're in!" in a big way.

The Bioheat heating oil market, at a 5 percent blend, has the potential to increase demand for biodiesel by 450 million gallons annually.

Bioheat testing results demonstrate Bioheat fuel's benefits are many, and include:

Reduced life-cycle CO2 and greenhouse gases

Reduced nitrogen oxide emissions

Reduced sulfur oxide emissions

Reduced smoke numbers

More pleasant odor

Because of its domestic production, reduction of our dependence on foreign oil and positive environmental impacts, consumer focus group results showed customers would be willing to pay 4 to 6 cents more per gallon for Bioheat than conventional heating oil.

For the oilheat industry, this means a reduced carbon footprint, a new market strategy and a chance to regain some of the market share lost to natural gas.

With higher blends of biodiesel (B12 and above), home heating oil actually delivers lower annual CO2 emissions than a natural gas condensing boiler. As a result, NORA and NBB formed a committee to begin the approval process for biodiesel blends from 6 to 20 percent biodiesel.

Bioheat is among the strategies and goals the oilheat industry is championing before state and federal regulatory agencies. At the industry's urging, many states and communities are already considering or have passed minimum renewable fuel blends for heating oil. Connecticut was the latest state to pass legislation, joining Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, which already had requirements on the books.

Five years ago there were just six Bioheat dealers. Today, thanks in part to support from NBB and state checkoff boards like South Dakota and Nebraska, more than 300 fuel dealers have registered to use the Bioheat trademark.

For the biodiesel industry, the oilheat market is an open door and a potential home for hundreds of millions of gallons of biodiesel. This market demand offers hope for shuttered biodiesel production facilities and laid-off biodiesel employees.

While it may seem strange to talk about home heating with the air conditioners running in the background, it is clear that oilheat opportunities for biodiesel are really beginning to heat up.
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