Biodiesel is produced by the reaction of a vegetable oil or animal fat with an alcohol (typically methanol) in the presence of a catalyst to yield mono-alkyl esters (biodiesel or methyl ester) and glycerin (~10% by weight). This reaction is called transesterification. Raw or refined vegetable oil or recycled greases that have not been processed into biodiesel are not biodiesel.

One of biodiesel’s advantages is that it can be used in unmodified diesel engines and with little or no change to fuelling infrastructure. Biodiesel has a higher cetane number than most diesel fuel, allowing it to provide similar fuel consumption, horsepower, torque, and haulage rates as fossil diesel fuel. Hundreds of millions of on-road kilometers and countless marine and off-road applications as well as extensive studies have demonstrated biodiesel’s power and efficiency across the full range of duty cycles and applications.

Numerous tests of biodiesel and petroleum diesel show the distinct improvement in lubricity when biodiesel is added to conventional diesel fuel, above the additized level in all commercially available diesel. Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel has poor lubricity, and is heavily additized with lubricity conditioners. Biodiesel blends as low as one percent can provide up to a 65 percent increase in lubricity in distillate fuels and help prevent premature engine component deterioration. The increased lubricity of biodiesel is associated with a noticeable decrease in engine noise in some applications.

Blends of up to B20 have been widely shown to be compatible with all diesel engines in high-blend states such as Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa. Biodiesel contact with natural or butyl rubber components (primarily fuel hoses and pump seals) is not recommended in excess of B20 blends in engines older than 2004. Certain elastomers soften and degrade with prolonged exposure to higher levels of biodiesel.

Refinery diesel and biodiesel are both amended at the wholesale rack to create fit-for-purpose fuels. Diesel fuels are additized, and biodiesel is additized and blended into diesel to provide predictable performance. Like regular diesel fuel, biodiesel blends can gel at very low temperatures. The composition and cold flow properties of diesel fuels vary widely across Canada. Low levels of biodiesel can be accommodated in any diesel fuel in Canada. The biodiesel content will depend on factors such as the time of year, location, diesel and biodiesel properties (including cloud point).

The cold flow properties of B20 or higher biodiesel blends can vary appreciably based on the feedstock from which they are made. In general, the better the cold flow characteristics of the base diesel fuel, the greater the effect of blending biodiesel on its cold flow properties. Mid-level (up to 20%) blends can be used seasonally in most parts of Canada.

Diesel and biodiesel blends are both placed into the market with ‘fit for use’ assumptions that anticipate probable use, including delays between purchase and use and travel by the fuel user to a colder region.

Additizing biodiesel blends to achieve expanded cold flow performance is a common practice in northern US states; Minnesota fleets blend 5% biodiesel into winter diesel in part through additization. A 2011 third-party documented demonstration of B10 blends in a large longhaul trucking fleet showed that biodiesel is a robust fuel. Biodiesel vehicles parked outside cold-started when straight diesel did not, and 10% blends with no additization or kerosene were employed through the full temperature range of an Alberta winter. Another Alberta study in 2009 showed that a B2 blend was fully compatible with an Alberta winter, performing well beyond the projected operability limit.

All major Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) approve the use of up to 5% biodiesel (B5) when blended with diesel fuel that meets the appropriate CGSB and ASTM standards. BQ9000 accreditation is specified by some OEMs. Cummins has approved all of its engines for 7% biodiesel blends.

Millions of diesel vehicles run mid-level blends (B6-B20) every day with full operability and billions of successful US and Canadian road miles over two decades. Engine manufacturers are full participants in developing the strict biodiesel quality standards that enable the use of blends up to 20% (B20). OEMs have been party to widespread commercial use of B11, B15 and B20 in several US states (e.g., Illinois, Minnesota) and neither they nor other stakeholders have reported any more incidence of engine or operability issues than is found with straight diesel.

Truck manufacturers have not intervened in markets to disapprove regulations and incentives for mid-level blends. Strong fuel quality oversight, and an experienced petroleum sector, has been important to mid- level blend success, including BQ9000 fuel quality accreditation and the adoption of inline biofuel blending capabilities.

OEMs express warranty approval only for models that have been tested on biodiesel blends; this is common for late-model engines. When an OEM does not express biodiesel approval for an engine, it means only that biodiesel testing has not been conducted on that engine. Manufacturers mostly do not test legacy models; they are ‘out the door’, with biodiesel testing conducted only on new models.

Lack of warranty approval is sometimes mistakenly taken to mean that an engine will not be operable above the warranted blend level or that warranties will be voided for use above the stated level. This is not accurate. Where an affirmative warranty statement has not been given, the OEM has not specifically tested that model.

A joint statement by the Oregon Auto Dealers Association and the Northwest Biofuels Association explains the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA) for biodiesel in the simplest terms:

“A vehicle’s warranty cannot be voided solely due to the use of biodiesel. Even if the manufacturer recommends a blend of 5% biodiesel and a customer uses a higher blend such as 20% or 99% biodiesel, this does not void the warranty. If a customer uses a blend of biodiesel that is not recommended, that in and of itself, does not void the warranty. If the biodiesel is not the cause of the engine or parts failure, the warranty must be honored (assuming the failure is not the result of another external factor).”

The term ‘blend wall’ is sometimes used to claim that a 5% biodiesel blend is the level above which engine manufacturers will not honor for their warranty”.

Warranty positions by engine manufacturers have not prevented the petroleum industry from distributing very large volumes of mid-level B6, B7, B11, B15 blends (up to B20, B50 and B99) in markets far larger than Canada. US major oil companies widely market blends >5%. There is no impediment to such mid-level blending in Canada.

(See Warranties) Hundreds of millions of miles of on-road heavy-duty fleets history in the US alone shows no adverse engine impact. One US fleet alone reported in 2010 that, “Its vehicles have accumulated more than 60 million miles using B20 without encountering biodiesel-related issues, and evaluations have demonstrated no appreciable change in fuel economy, engine wear, or driver acceptance.” And a report of 26 months of data collection on 10 commercial HD trucks running B20 for 2,035,968 miles, matched with a control group on ULSD, was supported with engine teardown analyses that “did not reveal any notable differences between the two groups.”

To quality for eligibility in renewable fuel regulations in all four western provinces, commercially available biodiesel must meet strict CGSB (Canadian General Standards Board) specifications. Updated standards were published in 2012 for B1-5, B6-20, and B100 to ensure that biodiesel produced to these standards will ensure full operability in modern diesel engines.

The US and European Union have ASTM and EN standards respectively.

U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that 95% of the samples from 2011-12 met ASTM International fuel quality specifications.

Used cooking oils that are non-transesterified are not biodiesel. Higher viscosities, and impurities in these unprocessed fuels, are associated with problems that may include piston ring sticking, fuel system deposits, reduced power, shorter engine life, lower fuel economy, increased exhaust emissions, plugged fuel filters and higher injection pressures. Based on these issues, ABFC has not supported the commercial application of non-CGSB or non-ASTM fuels.

The CGSB biodiesel standards (e.g., CAN/CGSB-3.520-2011 for B1-5) contain appendix guidelines for biodiesel handling and blending of biodiesel. O