This summer, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released its final report and recommendations for legislative and regulatory measures to address carbon emissions. The report provided an action plan, including a national Low Carbon Fuel Standard that would reach the goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Robert Morton, chairman of Newport Biodiesel, Inc., and a board member of the National Biodiesel Board, recently published this opinion piece in The Providence Journal:
The United States can achieve that net-zero emission economy by building on the steps we are taking today. Low-carbon fuels like biodiesel and renewable diesel are an effective step up. Even beyond 2050, they will remain vital tools to decarbonize our economy. That is because diesel powers some of the hardest-to-decarbonize economic sectors, such as freight, farm machinery and heavy-duty construction equipment. Biodiesel and renewable diesel are the best tools available to address those emissions, and they are available today for use in existing diesel engines.
Newport Biodiesel has been turning used cooking oil into biodiesel since 2007. Last year, our 45 employees collected grease from over 4,500 restaurants. Combining this collected material with feedstock purchased from renderers, Newport Biodiesel produced a company record 7.5 million gallons. Nationwide, recycled cooking oil and rendered animal fats make up 30% of the raw materials that go into biodiesel and renewable diesel. Surplus and inedible oils from U.S. crops make up the rest.
Biodiesel use cuts particulate matter emissions by nearly half and hydrocarbon emissions by two-thirds. Even a 20% blend of biodiesel in petroleum diesel can reduce particulate matter and carbon monoxide emissions by 17% and hydrocarbon emissions by 13%.
Reducing carbon emissions brings immediate health benefits, including reductions in respiratory illnesses, like asthma and bronchitis, and lower mortality rates. Reductions in particulate matter emissions from biodiesel use could prevent hundreds of premature deaths from respiratory illness each year. That has an economic benefit too, including fewer hospital admissions and lost work days. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, biodiesel use could save the nation as much as $5 billion in health-care costs each year.
The Northeast region represents 80% of the U.S. heating oil market, with more than five million homes and businesses relying on it. At a blend of just 7% Bioheat, heating oil is as clean as natural gas. Heating oil distributors in New England, through the Providence Resolution sponsored by the National Energy and Fuels Institute (NEFI), have already committed to a 40% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 and net-zero by 2050. Therefore, it is critical that heating oil be included in any proposal for a national Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
With policies that support renewable energy, biodiesel and renewable diesel also could evolve to net-zero carbon fuels. Already, biodiesel can reduce carbon emissions by as much as 86% on a lifecycle basis that considers all energy used in converting renewable raw materials into fuels. As lifecycle analysis has improved over the last decade, the biodiesel industry has demonstrated genuine, measurable carbon reductions. The industry can continue to improve. Using renewable energy and biofuels throughout the process — including biodiesel use on farms and renewable electricity in production facilities — will advance the biodiesel lifecycle toward 100% carbon neutrality.
Increased biodiesel production also creates incentives for other environmental innovations. the industry needs stable federal policy to bring the technology to market. Likewise, there are several new crops in development that could deliver environmental benefits to the agriculture sector. Incentives to produce additional biodiesel and renewable diesel could generate the revenue necessary for farmers to implement carbon-saving practices.
The U.S. biodiesel industry is already achieving measurable carbon reductions and improving environmental health for many communities. Building on that success is a starting point for achieving the goal of a net-zero carbon economy.
Robert Morton is the board chairman of Newport Biodiesel Inc., and a member of the governing board of the National Biodiesel Board. This column first appeared as an Opinion piece in The Providence Journal.