Concern about rising prices and unstable sources of petroleum fuels is driving the search for U.S. domestically-produced, renewable transportation fuels such as biodiesel. Although vegetable oils can be used directly in biodiesel engines, experience has shown that excessive deposits in the engine cylinder degrade engine performance and increase emissions over time. Conversion to methyl esters allows vegetable oil to be used in diesel engines with fewer problems. These methyl esters have become known as “biodiesel.”

The new CAST commentary reviews the technology of biodiesel production in the United States and outlines major issues and policy implications associated with its expanded production and use. Specific topics include:

• Introduction to biodiesel fuels, their current use and future needs for development

• Summary and illustration of the biofuel production process

• Overview of quality requirements and concerns

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• General characteristics of biofuels; advantages and disadvantages compared with petroleum diesel

• Economics of biodiesel production—current supply and demand, role of the U.S. government, existing and potential feedstocks, production costs, and technological advances

• Balance of energy—both energy requirements for production and potential energy output

• Conclusion, glossary, and complete reference list

“Biodiesel is developing into a widely accepted alternative fuel,” said Task Force Chair Dr. Jon Van Gerpen, University of Idaho, Moscow. “Quality concerns have been addressed, and most fuel today integrates easily into the existing diesel fuel infrastructure. Further expansion of the industry will require new or larger sources of vegetable oils and animal fats that can be produced at prices that allow biodiesel to compete with petroleum-based diesel fuel.”