Biodiesel (FAME) production and use in Europe


Fatty Acid Methyl Esters (FAME) are esters of fatty acids. The physical characteristics of fatty acid esters are closer to those of fossil diesel fuels than pure vegetable oils, but properties depend on the type of vegetable oil. A mixture of different fatty acid methyl esters is commonly referred to as biodiese. FAME has physical properties similar to those of conventional diesel. It is also non-toxic and biodegradable.

For further technical information please see the FAME Fact Sheet.

First generation (conventional) biodiesel is typically produced from oil crops (rape, palm, soy, etc.). Increasing use of crops for biofuels production has raised concerns about sustainability, which is an important crosscutting issue for all Working Groups of the EBTP. The sustainability section of this website includes information and links on land use issues, biofuels certification and environmental impacts.

The short report Rapeseed opportunity or risk for the future produced by UFOP in 2013 provides a producers' perspective on use of rape seed for biodiesel production in Euorpe. UFOP also produces a monthly bulletin "Market Information - Oilseeds and Biofuels," which is now available in English. The annual report 2012 of the German Öl-Wärme-Institut (OWI) offers a detailed overview of the current state of research in the area of oil heating and the usage of FAME as a blend component.

Following a previous study by Greenpeace, UFOP carried out a study in July 2013 to investigate the raw material composition of the fatty acid methyl ester, offered by public filling stations as the blend component in Diesel (B7).

New energy crops (e.g. Jatropha) are now being cultivated on a large scale in several countries (e.g. India) for production of biodiesel. Other oil crops, such as Camelina and Salicornia bigelovii, are also being developed as 'sustainable' biodiesel feedstocks. Such crops can be grown on marginal land and hence do not directly compete with land used for food production. Biodiesel can be produced from waste fats and oils such as Used Cooking Oil (UCO) or waste animal fats.

Advanced biodiesel can be produced via a number of routes, for example, gasification of lignocellulosic feedstocks or biogenic wastes to produce syngas, which is then converted to BtL (biomass to Liquid) via the Fischer Tropsch process (which converts a mix of CO and hydrogen into liquid hydrocarbons). Plant sugars can be converted into biodiesel (and drop-in transport fuels) via catalysis or biotechnology. Residues from the pulp/paper or forestry industry (e.g. tall oil) can also be used to produce biodiesel. System are being developed to cultivate algae on an industrial scale so that the oil can be extracted and converted to liquid fuels. These new technologies will take several years to reach their commercial potential, but can make an important contribution to low-carbon transport in Europe and to the developing European bioeconomy (creating new jobs and wealth, while reducing reliance on fossil fuels and GHG emissions).

Up-to-date information and statistics on biodiesel production in Europe is available from the European Biodiesel Board

European R&D&D on biodiesel

ECOBRIBER process for biodiesel production with improved efficiency

In Spain, Ecoproductos Ibericos SA (ECOPRIBER) and INMASA have developed and patented two efficient processes for the production of biodiesel. The first method (with methyl acetate) does not produce glycerin as a byproduct and the second method improves the efficiency of the conventional processes with methanol. These technologies enable higher production and profitability ratios with investment, operation and maintenance costs notably lower than those required with current technologies.

Greasoline® Technology for conversion of oily feedstocks and fats to diesel and gasoline

Greasoline® technology converts oily and fatty raw and waste materials to hydrocarbon mixtures consisting of chemical substances occurring in fossil gasoline, kerosene and diesel fuels. These products may be used as fuels and fuel components but also as chemical raw materials. The procedure was developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT in Oberhausen, Germany. In contrast to biodiesel, the product is chemically identical with fossil fuels. [Source: Fraunhofer Instiute].

Use of B100 in Agricultural Engines

In June 2012, German engine producer DEUTZ AG, Cologne, in cooperation with UFOP, annoucned provision of a warranty for use of B100 in the new agripower-engine.

View technical sheet

E-Diesel (Diesel/ethanol blends)

The ethanol-diesel blend, better known as e-diesel, is obtained by mixing bioethanol with traditional diesel oil, in a percentage that varies between 5 and 15%, and an additive that ensures the stability of the mixture. It can be used in traditional diesel oil motors with slight modifications or without them. Compared with regular diesel fuel, e-diesel can significantly reduce the emissions of particles and other contaminants, and improve cold start-up properties. It is currently in the development stage, and not yet commercially available. ABNT is working to reduce the main technical and regulatory barriers for its commercialization. These barriers include:

  • Low flashpoint and tank volatility.
  • Instability of the micro-emulsion (separation of ethanol phases and diesel at low temperatures).
  • Guarantee from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), by generating data in real tests.
  • Lack of process standardization that allows its registration according to the standards on emissions and health.

The use of e-diesel will further expand the market for ethanol applications.

E-diesel has been mainly tested in the USA and Brazil and currently in Spain and Europe. Fleet demonstrations indicate that the e-diesel can be easily handled and used with proper staff training. No significant operational or material problems have been reported. The main differences in the handling of e-diesel compared with conventional diesel oil are based on ensuring that water is not added to the fuel. In order to ensure a correct performance of the fuel, a quality control system of the ethanol, the diesel oil, and the final blend are necessary, as well as the establishment of a fuel specification. [Source: Abengoa Bioenergy].

Biodiesel developments in the United States and globally

A wide range of Biodiesel Fact Sheets are avilable from in the United States.

In the United States, some corn ethanol producers are also starting to produce corn oil, which can be readily converted to biodiesel. For example, in October 2013 Pacific Ethanol began commercial production of corn oil using the Edeniq Oil Plus™ process.

In June 2012, Piedmont Biofuels "cut the ribbon" at its new biodiesel refinery, which uses FaESTER enzymatic biodiesel technology. The plant, supported by a $1.2m DoE innovation grant, uses enymes (from Novozyme), as opposed to the conventional sodium methoxide, to catalyse production of biodiesel.

In June 2012, POET announced that it's network of plants is now using its corn oil technology to produce feedstock for 31 million gallons of biodiesel.

In May 2012, UOP, a Honeywell company, announced a licensing agreement with Emerald Biofuels LLC to produce 85 mg/year of Honeywell Green Diesel™ from non-food oils and animal fats. Honeywell Green Diesel is a drop-in fuel that is "identical" to fossil diesel.

In January 2011, the US DoE announced a conditional $241 million loan guarantee for Diamond Green Diesel, LLC, the proposed joint venture between Valero Energy Corporation and Darling International Inc., for an industrial scale plant to produce biodiesel primarily from waste animal fats.

JetE LLC  has successfully converted corn oil, a coproduct of ethanol production, into drop-in green diesel and jet fuels, using a modular biorefinery system that facilitates distributed production [Source: JetE].

Wake Forest University, North Carolina has developed a sugar-based catalyst that enables more cost-effective conversion of low quality waste fats into biodiesel.

In October 2013, Sweetwater announced a 15 year $250m project to provide "biomass sugars" to Naturally Scientific for production of high-value vegetable oils. Naturally Scientific operates a pilot in Nottingham, UK, and also has developed processes for converting CO2 into C3 sugars. The technology could potentially be used for production of advanced biofuels.

Under the 2012 Joint Call on "Green Technologies" of KORANET (Cooperation between Korea and the European Research Area), the PROMOFUEL Project focuses on new feedstocks for advanced biodiesel production, using 'rubber seed oil' and fish oil as representative of novel non-food feedstocks with high unsaturation. The project involves a collaboration between University of Coburg, Germany and the Korean Institute oif Energy Research. In particular PROMOFUEL aims to improve stability of novel biodiesel feedstocks as well as study the influence of feedstock type on engine emissions.

TransBiodiesel enzyme-based transesterfication

In Israel, TransBiodiesel has developed enzyme based transesterification systems for production of biodiesel, which can be used with a variety of oils and fats as feedstocks.