In the U.S., biodiesel is the only fuel currently produced at a commercial scale that meets the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) definition of an “advanced biofuel.” Biodiesel is a renewable, clean-burning diesel substitute that meets strict fuel specifications and can be burned in existing diesel engines. It is also produced in nearly every state in the country, and can be made from an increasingly diverse mix of resources such as agricultural oils, recycled cooking oil and animal fats.

These factors enabled the U.S. biodiesel industry to produce 1.1 billion gallons of fuel in 2011—an industry record, according to the National Biodiesel Board (NBB). This volume far surpasses the 800 million gallon target set by the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), and the previous record for biodiesel production, which was about 690 million gallons, set in 2008.

image via Imperium Renewables

According to the NBB, the biodiesel industry’s success in 2011 was driven by two key factors: Congressional reinstatement of the $1-per-gallon tax credit for biodiesel producers, and the first year of implementation of the EPA’s RFS program for biodiesel. In fact, the numbers show that a record 160 million gallons of biodiesel were produced in December alone, to take advantage of the tax credit.

However, the tax incentive for biodiesel producers expired on Dec. 31, 2011, and the industry is urging Congress to reinstate it. Biodiesel producers learned their lesson in 2010, when production fell dramatically in the U.S. without the tax incentive, despite being record year for biodiesel production globally. A recent study commissioned by the NBB found that extension of the tax credit and continued growth in the RFS could create an additional 11,698 jobs over the next two years.

Unlike the cellulosic biofuels industry, the U.S. biodiesel industry has consistently met the production goals established by the RFS. The 2012 RFS calls for 1 billion gallons of biodiesel—a number the industry has clearly demonstrated it is capable of delivering. The industry is now calling on the EPA to boost the biodiesel volume requirement under the RFS to 1.28 billion gallons in 2013.

OnSite Biodiesel
image via OnSite Energy

“We’ve been seeing a lot of stories about setbacks in the renewable energy sector recently, and I think our success in 2011 reflects the bigger picture reality, which is that strong energy policy is working to stimulate production of clean, American-made energy,” said Anne Steckel, vice president of federal affairs for the NBB. “Specifically, our success clearly demonstrates that the biodiesel tax incentive and the Renewable Fuel Standard are working just as Congress envisioned. Our industry is creating jobs, reducing our dependence on imported fuel, and improving the environment. Now is not the time to be second-guessing the RFS or eliminating the biodiesel tax incentive.”

The EPA’s complete 2011 renewable fuels data can be found here.

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