Biodiesel NY Department of Sanitation

Biodiesel Plays Role in Ambitious NYC Plan

Minn. farmers get firshand look at East Coast’s growing biodiesel market

Biodiesel. Bioheat. Those two words are popular to city officials in America’s largest city. But what does New York City have to offer the Midwest when it comes to the use of one of its most valuable products?

“I think biodiesel, considering the fleet usage and the higher progressions of biodiesel blends, is as intriguing, if not more intriguing, than the Bioheat market,” says Pat O’Leary, Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council director.

Biodiesel heating oil

A Sprague Energy spokesman explains how biodiesel is blended into diesel fuel.

O’Leary was part of a contingency from Minnesota that included fellow MSR&PC Director Craig Bangasser and Minnesota Soybean Growers Association President Paul Freeman who toured New York City as part of the National Biodiesel Board’s (NBB) Bioheat tour. The NBB group met with New York and New Jersey Bioheat and biodiesel officials to better understand the use of biodiesel in diesel and heating oil blends within the city.

“New York City is aggressive in their plans for biodiesel,” Bangasser says. “They are clearly committed to using higher blends of biodiesel in their fleets and in their heating oil. It’s impressive but ambitious.”

Currently, blends of 5 percent biodiesel, or B5, are used in all city vehicles, and all buildings within New York City are required to burn B2. NYC owned buildings are required to burn B5. Those buildings include city municipalities.

NYC mayor Bill de Blasio has been aggressive in his push for a greener city with the introduction of OneNYC: The Plan for a Strong and Just City. Among those plans is a path to a healthier city, which includes air quality. Biodiesel fits into that plan as a way to cut down on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

New York Department of Sanitation Deputy Commission Rocky DiRico said his department has been pushing blends of 20 percent, or B20, for six years.

“I don’t know if there is a more easy, economically feasible way to cut fossil fuels down,” he said. “We’re going to keep doing it.”

Currently, NYC is pushing to reduce GHG emissions by 50 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2035.

“The plan in place in New York is complex and looks at several ways to improve air quality,” Bangasser, who is vice chairman of MSR&PC, said. “But if they’re successful, hopefully other major cities will follow suit.”

Bangasser does have concerns whether or not the Midwest can play a role in supplying biodiesel to the East Coast.

“I think we need to look at all aspects of their plan,” he said. “While we know they want to increase the fuel standards for their city, I wonder if it is cost effective to source biodiesel from the Midwest. As MSR&PC directors, we need to look at this market, both for its use of biodiesel in city vehicles , in ferries and as a heating fuel, and figure out if there is a way we can have an impact. Is it a crush facility in the northern part of the state? Is it through the Port of Duluth? No one knows, but we’ll go to work as a Council and find out answers to these questions.”

O’Leary gave an honest assessment of the NYC market.

“We always need to be looking for more ways to use our product,” O’Leary said. “Biodiesel and Bioheat have opened new markets and benefited those who produce, buy, sell or use our product, and as a benefit, we’ve seen impressive clean-air benefits. With biodiesel in New York, they understand how to make it work in their climate, and they are willing to increase blends for their city. While I recognize heating oil and Bioheat will always play an important role in New York and the East Coast, biodiesel consumption for light and heavy duty vehicles in cities across the country has more potential for growth.”

One question O’Leary and many of the participants on the Bioheat Tour had was whether or not American soybean oil is used to meet their demands.

Freeman, who heads MSGA, an organization built to represent Minnesota soybean farmers on the legislative side in Minnesota and nationally, understands O’Leary’s concerns. 

“The fuel standards are very important,” he said. “The economics are not always there, but they’ll never be there when you’re playing with the big elephant in the room [the oil industry]. I don’t play poker with somebody who can inflate and buy the pot. To have a fuel standard is very important and that’s what we move forward with — doing the right thing.”

Like Freeman, O’Leary, who doesn’t lobby on behalf of Minnesota soybean farmers but sees the need for such support, would like to see increased action from MSGA and farm advocates for U.S. biodiesel. 

“Minnesota is a leader in biodiesel production and use,” O’Leary said. “We understand its impact on jobs, to the economy and to the environment. But in the end, the U.S. soybean industry needs to continue to fuel this demand for the benefit of all soybean producers.”

Participants on the NBB Tour visited several places while in New York and met with several leaders. The delegation toured the City of New York Department of Sanitation, the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, Sprague Energy’s Deepwater Bronx Terminal and met with New York City Council member Costa Constantinides, who represents District 22. Constantinides gave an overview of the city fuel standards and the future path.