Last week I attended the National Biodiesel Conference in Las Vegas. I didn’t lose any money at the slot machines, but I did lose a few of my own pre-conceived notions about where the biodiesel (and greater biofuel) market is today (read my recent blog on the basics of this biofuel here.
First, biodiesel is big. This annual gathering started about 20 years ago with a few dozen people, and has now swollen to over 2000 attendees representing major oil companies, auto manufacturers and distributors. It was obvious that this industry has left their garage projects and old Mercedes modified to run on used fryer oil for entry into the big leagues.
The key to this growth: a focus on ensuring the consistency and quality of biodiesel produced in the U.S.A. Biodiesel has gained standard fuel certifications and is being tested by almost every major auto manufacturer and farm equipment manufacturer for higher blend levels. This means biodiesel could soon be blended into all diesel, everywhere. But in the meantime, more people can feel safe pumping higher blends of biodiesel into their cars.
There are a lot of signals that this fuel is becoming mainstream, and many biodiesel companies are positioning themselves to compete with the big oil companies. Imperium Renewables, a biodiesel producer based in Washington, recently announced their intentions to use the Port of Grays Harbor to deliver crude oil. Even Koch Industries is getting into the biofuel business through its subsidiary Flint Hills Resources, which has purchased five first generation biofuel plants, among many other advanced biofuel equity investments.
Companies with large vehicle fleets such as Frito Lay, Waste Management, and UPS have made the business case for integrating alternative fuel vehicles into their fleets, recognizing that alternative fuels such as biodiesel can stabilize and even reduce fuel costs.
While biodiesel has made this transition from niche to mainstream, so will other biofuel varieties just now coming onto the scene. We can expect them to be blended into diesel and gasoline with many consumers never knowing the difference. This is intentional, and signs of a successful shift. Advanced biofuel companies will grow, merge and be acquired, and the eventual number of players will be relatively small.
However, there will be increased competition in the overall fuel market, and competition is good for consumers: it offers more choices and stabilizes prices. With oil monopolizing our fuel supply, fuel prices are about as controllable as the roulette wheels I saw at the National Biodiesel Conference. And I’m sure we would all prefer not to gamble with our transportation fuel.
Cover photo by Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz), via Wikimedia Commons