Highlights from the 2021 National Biodiesel Conference

January 29, 2021

Recently Virginia Clean Cities participated in the National Biodiesel Conference and Expo, which took place on January 18 – 21, 2021. This year the annual conference was completely virtual due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The conference featured industry insiders, Clean Cities coalition members, biodiesel enthusiasts and a wide-range of companies.

Biodiesel dispenser (Credit: National Biodiesel Board)

Biodiesel is a non-toxic renewable fuel made from diverse organic materials such as soybean oil, vegetable oil, animal fats, algae and recycled organic waste. Biodiesel blends dramatically reduce air pollution by using less sulfur and 10% to 12% more oxygen.

In ideal circumstances, the U.S. government considers biodiesel (B100) to be carbon-neutral because “the plants that are the sources of the feedstocks for making biodiesel, such as soybeans and palm oil trees, absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) as they grow. The absorption of CO2 by these plants offsets the CO2 that forms while making and burning biodiesel. Most of the biodiesel produced in the United States is made from soybean oil. Some biodiesel is also produced from used vegetable oils or animal fats, including recycled restaurant oil and grease.”

Hosted by the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) and brought to fruition by a large number of dedicated sponsors, the conference featured panels on a variety of topics affecting the industry. In the session, “Catching up with America’s Fleet Trailblazers,” fleet managers from across the country discussed how they achieved higher biodiesel blend levels, renewable diesel use and other sustainable solutions. They agreed that biodiesel provides performance plus sustainability.

Three out of four trucks on the road today are powered by diesel powertrains, and 98 percent of the large over-the-road Class 8 trucks are diesels. The panel, “Changing Landscape for Diesel Vehicles,” discussed the major changes ahead for diesel equipment manufacturers with new regulations for Ultra Low Emissions Diesel Engines. Biomass-based diesel fuels were seen as a major component for manufacturers to meet these requirements.

Speakers in the panel, “Driving Decarbonization: Eliminating Emissions Throughout the Supply Chain,” discussed all the players involved in biodiesel production, from farmers to manufacturers. Modern farmers use precision agriculture to reduce inputs and increase their revenue. New carbon markets have the potential of unlocking additional revenue streams. Combining these efforts with advances in manufacturing will result in reduced emissions.

NBB’s Technical Director Scott Fenwick stated, “Everyone wants to look for a silver bullet for a fuel solution, one size fits all, but that doesn’t exist. The challenges moving forward may not have even been thought of yet!”

In the last session of the conference, “Biomass-Based Diesel Volumes on the Rise,” panelist Gene Gebolys, CEO of World Energy LLC, had some final thoughts for attendees. “One thing that has emerged in the last four years is we’ve seen non-national actors become much more important in meeting carbon policy,” referring to states such as California, Colorado and private entities pushing new technologies. Speaking of his company and others, he said:

“We exist to be of societal value, as policy changes it impacts us. I think the wind is very much at our backs from a policy point of view.”

He added, “In this decade, you will see irreversible change towards greater efficiency, towards greater carbon reduction, [and] as that happens you’ll see business models that embrace it.”

For more information on the conference and biodiesel in general, visit the National Biodiesel Board website.