About biodiesel

What is biodiesel?

Biodiesel (FAME; Fatty Acid Methyl Ester) and renewable diesel (HVO; Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) are renewable alternatives to fossil-derived diesel fuel. They are produced from an array of renewable feedstocks including rapeseed oil, used cooking oils (UCOs) and animal fats. Although often made from identical feedstocks, the processes used to make FAME and HVO are different, with different end uses.

FAME is produced via biomass esterification, where fats are broken down then reacted with methanol to produce a final product similar to fossil diesel, but with a higher oxygen content. Like conventional diesel, biodiesel must comply with a CEN standard, EN14214. This ensures a standard quality and performance when FAME is used in a diesel engine, whether as pure biodiesel or as a part of a diesel/biodiesel blend. EU engine manufacturers have performed tests on blends with 5 to 10% biodiesel, 25 to 30% biodiesel, and with 100% pure biodiesel, resulting in guarantees for each blend. Blends are designated “B”, followed by a number indicating the percentage biodiesel; B100 would be pure biodiesel. B7 is currently the maximum blend permitted by the Fuel Quality Directive for sale across the EU, although in this case B7 indicates a maximum FAME content of 7%. No minimum FAME content is required by EU legislation.

Unlike other renewable fuels, biodiesel is compatible with the existing transport fuel distribution system, and can also be used efficiently as a heating oil.

HVO is produced via the hydro-processing of oils and fat, which gives a final product chemically indistinguishable from conventional diesel fuels.

Why use biodiesel?

The use of biodiesel decreases the impact of global warming, promotes European energy independence, and supports EU agriculture. Biodiesel use emits between 65 and 90% less CO2 than fossil diesel,1 with every kilogram of biodiesel use reducing CO2 emissions by approximately 3 kg.2 Engines using biodiesel also emit significantly fewer pollutants, with tailpipe particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbon emissions all reduced.3 Furthermore, biodiesel has an extremely low sulphur content4 and natural self-lubricating properties that reduce metal emissions associated with engine wear.5

Biodiesel uses millions of hectares of arable land in the EU today, forming a pillar of Europe’s agricultural6 and energy economies.7 The current Renewable Energy Directive allows biodiesel crops to be grown on land that would otherwise be taken out of production,8 providing additional income for farmers and encouraging efficient use of existing resources. Moreover, with every kilo of crop-produced biodiesel generating two kilos of vegetable proteins,9 biodiesel use supports EU food- and feed-supply independence. With the EU importing close to two-thirds of vegetable proteins used in agriculture,10 biodiesel crop co-products provide a secure base of internal supply and help balance this import dependence.

Increased use of European biodiesel will help the EU meet the emission reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement while also reducing emissions of other pollutants harmful to human health. The feedstock-neutral nature of biodiesel also creates supply flexibility that buffers the impact of commodity supply shocks.11 Moreover, the use of used cooking oils as feedstocks reduces the loss of used oil to the environment while turning waste into a competitive and low-emission form of transport energy.12

What does the EU biodiesel industry look like?

In the EU, biodiesel represents a significant source of renewable energy. The industry dates back to 1992, when responding to positive signals from EU institutions, industrial-scale European biodiesel production first began. As the ambition of climate change targets has grown, so has the European biodiesel industry. Today, the EU is the world leader in producing and using biodiesel and renewable diesel in transport. Close to 200 plants are in operation across the EU, producing around 13 million tonnes of biodiesel annually.7 Most of this is consumed in France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and Italy, which in 2018 cumulatively made up two-thirds of the EU biodiesel market; other markets are smaller but growing.

European production of green diesel helps reduce the EU’s annual diesel deficit of more than 17 million tonnes,13 avoiding expenditures of more than €10 billion on fossil diesel in 2018 alone.14 Biodiesel supports most of the more than 248.000 jobs linked to the European biofuels industry.15 With 99.7% of biodiesel consumed in the European Union Renewable Energy Directive compliant,7 the biodiesel industry provides an important source of sustainable employment across a range of sectors, forming a central pillar of the European bioeconomy.16

  1. JEC Well-To-Wheels Report v5, JRC, 2020.
  2. Economic and Social Aspects of Applying Biodiesel Fuel in Road Transport, M. Skočibušić et al., 2010.
  3. N. Travis, Biofuels, 2012, 3, 285.
  4. M. S. Graboski and R. L. McCormick, Prog. Energy Combust. Sci., 1998, 24, 125.
  5. A. K. Agarwal et al., Renewable Sustainable Energy Rev., 2011, 15, 3278.
  6. Impact of the EU biofuel target on agricultural markets and land use, JRC, 2010.
  7. Biofuels Barometer, EurObserv’ER, 2020.
  8. Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/807.
  9. Biofuel Co-products as Livestock Feed: Opportunities and Challenges, FAO, 2012.
  10. EU Feed Protein Balance Sheet 2020/21, European Commission, 2021.
  11. F. G. Santeramo et al., Land Use Policy, 2021, 101, 105102.
  12. T. Tsoutsos et al., ChemEngineering, 2019, 3, 19.
  13. EUROSTAT, 2021.
  14. The State of Renewable Energies in Europe, EurObserv’Er, 2019.
  15. N. Sönnichsen, 2020
  16. Drivers of the European Bioeconomy in Transition, JRC, 2016.