JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Americans can feel more confident than ever in biodiesel's ability to meet today's energy needs without sacrificing the ability of future generations to do the same. A new study shows production continues to be astonishingly energy-efficient in making biodiesel for diesel vehicles and home heating, demonstrating its long-term sustainability.
Newly published research from the University of Idaho and U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that for every unit of fossil energy needed to produce biodiesel, the return is 5.54 units of renewable energy. This energy-in, energy-out ratio is called "energy balance" or "fossil energy ratio."
"This study shows the clear trend that biodiesel production continues to improve when it comes to efficient use of resources," said Don Scott, director of sustainability for the National Biodiesel Board. "No other fuel available in the U.S. comes close to such a high energy balance."
Scott noted the most recent data available for this study was from 2006. "Using data from 2009 or 2010 would likely show an even greater gain in energy efficiency," he said.
In the new study, three things are primarily responsible for the leap in biodiesel's energy balance number:
- New data from USDA and the National Biodiesel Board show that soybean crushing facilities and biodiesel production plants have become increasingly energy efficient
- Soybean farmers have adopted energy-saving farm practices, such has minimum tillage
- Increases in soybean yields
Specifically, in comparison to the 2009 study, the new study finds:
- The energy input in soybean agriculture was reduced by 52 percent
- The energy input in soybean processing was reduced by 58 percent
- The energy input in biodiesel production (transesterification) was reduced by 33 percent, per unit volume of biodiesel produced
- Overall, the energy input reduction was 42 percent for the same amount of biodiesel produced
- The addition of secondary inputs, such as farm machinery and building materials, did not have a significant effect on the fossil energy ratio