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Publication Title | Biodiesel Offers Fleets a Better Alternative to Petroleum Diesel

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May 2001



Biodiesel Offers Fleets a Better Alternative to Petroleum Diesel

Biodiesel is a domestically produced, renew- able fuel that can be used in unmodified diesel engines with the current fueling infra- structure. It is safe, biodegradable, and reduces serious air pollutants such as soot, particulates, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and air toxics. Performance, storage require- ments, and maintenance are similar for biodiesel blend fuels and petroleum diesel.

It contains no aromatics or sulfur, has a high Cetane number (good for ignition capabili- ties), and is a superior lubricant. In addition, regulated fleets can earn Energy Policy Act (EPAct) credits by purchasing biodiesel fuel.

The Technology

School districts often choose biodiesel because of concerns about health and air quality.

Biodiesel is made by chemically reacting

alcohol with vegetable oils, fats, or greases. It’s

most often used in blends of 2% (partly for lubricity) or 20% (B20) biodiesel. It may also be used as pure biodiesel (B100). It is also a very good sulfur-free lubricant. B100 and biodiesel blends are sensitive to cold weather and may require special anti-freezing precautions, as conventional No. 2 diesel does. Biodiesel acts like a detergent additive, loosening and dissolving sediments in storage tanks. Because biodiesel is a solvent, B100 may cause rubber and other components to fail in vehicles manufactured before 1994. B20 minimizes all these problems.

Making It Happen – Availability and Cost

Biodiesel can be purchased from an increasing number of manufacturers and some petroleum

distribution companies. The distribution efficiency should improve with expanding market volumes. For a list of biodiesel suppliers, see the National Biodiesel Board Web site at

Presently B100 costs between $1.25 and $2.25 per gallon depending on purchase volume and delivery costs. Biodiesel is taxed as a diesel fuel, so taxes are added to the purchase price. At today’s prices, B20 costs 13 to 22 cents more per gallon than diesel. However, because it uses existing infrastructure and vehicles, biodiesel may be a least-cost alternative for fleets regulated by EPAct. The cost difference is expected to shrink due to rising petroleum costs, new EPA rules requiring reduced sulfur content in diesel, and improvements in the biodiesel industry such as building larger plants with more efficient production technology.

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