Biodiesel makers join ‘fight’ for diesel over natural gas

The National Biodiesel Board has joined forces with a diesel group to battle for the fuel’s reputation in Washington and beyond in the face of growing support for natural gas.

The board, a group of 260 biodiesel producers, users and marketers, has become a part of the Diesel Technology Forum, the groups announced this month.

The move will help the groups in the “fight for clean diesel technology,” the groups said.

The forum is a nonprofit advocacy group for clean diesel that is backed by BP and several engine manufacturers and automakers, including General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, Mazda, Volvo and Volkswagen.

Diesel fuel has come under fire from natural gas producers amid recent booms in production that brought gas prices this year to their lowest levels in 10 years.

Although natural gas has, in years past, suffered from large price fluctuations because of inconsistencies in supply, producers have now made a case that supplies will remain high for decades because of shale drilling and hydraulic fracturing. That will bring with it a consistent stream of low-priced natural gas that fuel users can rely on, they say.

The argument has caught the attention of the heaviest fuel users, long tied to diesel to move trucks, trains, oil field equipment and other heavy machinery.

Diesel prices, meanwhile, are tied to currently high oil prices, making it an easy target for natural gas companies promoting the cost savings of their fuel. Natural gas users can save as much as 30 to 40 percent on fuel costs for the energy equivalent of one diesel gallon.

A recent conference in Houston drew makers of some of the world’s largest engines along with their users to discuss using natural gas instead of diesel for high horsepower applications.

In joining the Diesel Technology Forum, the National Biodiesel Board is hoping to create more awareness for the benefits of diesel over other fuels, the organizations said in a statement.

“Many people do not realize that today’s new technology diesel engines with ultra-low-sulfur biodiesel blends provide tailpipe emissions as clean or cleaner than natural gas or gasoline, while providing superior fuel economy, horsepower, and durability,” said Steve Howell, technical director of the board. “In addition, when you combine the increased efficiency diesel engines with the low-carbon nature of an advanced biofuel like biodiesel, new technology diesel engines are positioned to become the clean – and green – technology of the future.”

Biodiesel makers convert used cooking oils, discarded animal fat and other materials into fuel that can be used in cars, trucks and heavy machinery.

They range in size from small operations that collect waste materials from local restaurants to large-scale producers.

Traditional diesel fuel is made from oil and has long been associated with dirty emissions, despite years of improvements that have made it both cleaner and more efficient. Diesel makers have said they do not fear any loss of business to natural gas because of an established and growing global customer base.

Still, Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the forum, said the group’s partnership with the National Biodiesel Board will help it make a stronger case to the public and policymakers about diesel.

“This is an excellent partnership with the Diesel Technology Forum’s mission of educating policymakers about the economic importance, energy efficiency and environmental progress of clean diesel technology,” Schaeffer said. “We share the common goal of assuring that future energy and transportation policies recognize the unique value and capabilities of diesel technology, particularly as it relates to the energy security and environmental benefits of the use of high-quality biodiesel fuels in diesel engines and equipment.”