What Is Biodiesel and Why Does It Matter?

Biodiesel (fatty acid methyl esters) is an advanced natural substance fuel derived from vegetable oil, animal oil/animal fats, recycled grease, various kinds of used cooking oil such as triglycerides. There are also certain species of algae that are used to make biodiesel.

Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification, which separates glycerin from vegetable oils or animal fats. The final product is comprised of fatty acid methyl esters and glycerin and has similar properties to regular petroleum diesel fuel but with a few key differences. It is a high British Thermal Unit (BTU) content fuel designed to be used only in diesel engines.

The Biodiesel Industry Meets National Fuel Quality Standards

Certified plants used to make biodiesel under the biodiesel industry's quality assurance program, BQ-9000, ensure national fuel quality standards are met consistently. In addition, biodiesel production facilities certified under the quality assurance program represent a volume of more than 90 percent of commercial biodiesel marketed in the U.S. 

Biodiesel is a Legally Registered Motor Fuel

To place fuel-grade biodiesel in the same category as "raw vegetable oil" would be incorrect. It must be refined to extract trace impurities and meet rigid ASTM D6751-07b industry specifications to perform properly. Fuel-grade biodiesel is legally registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for commercial motor fuel sale and distribution. 

Biodiesel is a Clean-Burning Renewable Fuel

Biodiesel is an alternative, clean-burning fuel that serves as a replacement for petroleum diesel fuel. Biodiesel blends can include any ratio of biodiesel and petroleum diesel fuel.

Why the Use of Biodiesel Matters

The use of biodiesel as a fuel source matters greatly to conserve energy costs. Scientists are constantly looking for new ways to produce biodiesel fuel of which sugarcane holds great potential as a dual-purpose bio-energy source. As the world's population grows larger, fuel from renewable natural sources will play a bigger role.

There is virtually no performance impact to high-quality,(up to B20) when exposed to cold climates.

Consumers can qualify for tax credits when they use ASTM certified biodiesel fuel.

Biodiesel has no land impact since it is produced from co-products and by-products of crops already grown for food and other materials.

The process of making biodiesel by only using the oil of the soybean increases its protein availability as a nourishing, cost-effective food and feed source for humans and livestock worldwide.

Biodiesel has the highest energy balance of any fuel with a return of 5.5 units of energy for every one unit of fossil energy needed to make it.

Biodiesel is virtually free of strong odors and sulfur, has a higher cetane level than U.S. diesel fuel, possesses high lubricity, and contains the highest amount of BTU of any alternative fuel.

Specifications for Biodiesel Blends

In addition to ASTM’s original specification for pure biodiesel, D6751, biodiesel blends also have specifications:

• Boiler and home heating applications (D396) 

• Biodiesel blends up to B5 in diesel fuel (D975)

• Biodiesel/blends ranging from 6 to 20 percent (D7467) 

All Major U.S. Diesel Equipment Manufacturers Support Biodiesel Blends

Biodiesel blends (up to B5) are fully supported by all major manufacturers producing diesel equipment for the U.S. market. Biodiesel fuel does not void manufacturers’ parts and workmanship warranty coverage of any vehicle or engine manufacturer. High-quality B20 and lower blends that meet the latest stringent ASTM standards report satisfactory results from users in regards to its performance.

Biodiesel Blend B20

The blend B20 delivers similar performance rates as diesel fuel in respects to torque, horsepower, haulage and fuel economy. 

Certified Biodiesel Checklist

There can still be some confusion among consumers as to what classifies as certified biodiesel fuel. The simplest way to find out this information is to go through the following checklist:

• Transesterification must be implemented as the chemical process to produce certified biodiesel from naturally occurring fats and oils.

• Biodiesel must be refined to remove trace impurities and contain fatty acid methyl esters. 

• It must meet the ASTM standard D6751-07b “Specification for Biodiesel (B100)”.


Biodiesel is one of the only commercially available advanced biofuels produced in the U.S. It is made from renewable natural resources and will even include its production from algae in the very near future. Roughly ninety percent of medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks support biodiesel blends up to B20. Consumers who want to qualify for tax credits must check with their fuel provider to ensure that the biodiesel fuel they use is ASTM certified.