Biodiesel Production

As of April 2005, there were 35 active commercial biodiesel production facilities in the U.S., with approximately 17 more proposed plants in the development or construction phase. Producing soy-based biodiesel results in an energy balance of 3.2:1. This means that for every one unit of energy that goes into producing biodiesel, 3.2 units of energy are contained in the fuel. This positive balance classifies biodiesel as a renewable fuel.

National Biodiesel Board estimates that with current biodiesel production capacity and long-term production agreements, 2006 US biodiesel production will surpass 200 million gallons/year. (National Biodiesel Board and NREL). Due to increasing pollution control requirements and tax relief, the U.S. market is expected to grow to 1 or 2 billion US gallons by 2010.

What are the Feedstocks for Biodiesel in NC?

Pure vegetable oil, used frying oil, and waste animal fats can all be utilized for biodiesel in North Carolina. At present, virgin soybean oil is the standard feedstock for biodiesel in the United States. North Carolina produced 42 million bushels of soybeans in 2003. Around 47 million bushels are estimated for 2004 (Robert M. Murphy, NCDACS). Of the total cropland in North Carolina, around 500,000 acres are idled and available for production. In addition to currently idled cropland, reductions in tobacco quotas will lead to additional cropland available for energy crops. This available in-state cropland could help to support a new biofuels production industry, while giving farmers a share in the value-added products.

Alternative oilseed crops suitable for biodiesel production include mustard seed, sunflower, and rapeseed. Advantages of these crops are increased yield, improved cold weather performance, and secondary or value-added products.

CropLbs. Oil/AcreUS Gal/Acre
Soybean (short-cycle)33548
Mustard seed43061

Table 1. Yields of alternative oilseed crops

Waste Vegetable Oil

Restaurants, hospitals, cafeterias, supermarkets, and some large food processors all produce waste vegetable oil that can be used to manufacture biodiesel. Currently waste oil is picked up at businesses by waste oil renderers. Moisture, solids, and other impurities are removed to create yellow grease. Using data from renderers, estimates for waste oil produced in North Carolina can be made.

2006 Estimated annual waste oil production
Eastern NC45 mil pounds
Central NC40 mil pounds
Western NC30 mil pounds
Total115 mil pounds

Currently almost all processed "yellow grease" originating in North Carolina is sold to the animal feed industry. The product is utilized as concentrated calories, offsetting the quantity of corn and soybeans used in feed.

Waste Animal Fats

Waste animal fats can also be utilized for biodiesel production. Currently North Carolina ranks second in the U.S. for hog production and third for poultry and egg production. Currently, the vast majority of fats from these industries are used in animal feed. As with waste vegetable oil, future research may indicate that these resources could be better utilized in the production of biodiesel if viable alternatives are available for the feed industry.