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BioFuel Availability

BioFuel Availability


During 2005, more than 5 million gallons of biodiesel was consumed in Washington State. Since then, demand for biodiesel has grown, although recent consumption has been decreasing. The Department of Licensing reported that 3,407,387 gallons of biodiesel were sold into Washington fuel markets during the third quarter of 2007, accounting for over 1.25 of total diesel sales. Biodiesel sales were reported at 1,652,831 gallons for the first quarter of 2008 and 2,042,155 gallons for the following quarter. For the 12 month period ending September 2008, the amount of biodiesel sold as a percentage of total diesel sales is about 0.67%. Biodiesel sales are anticipated to increase however, as both Chevron and Exxon Mobil have announced plans to carry B5 fuel at a number of their stations.

Much of the current consumption is by fleets, however, an increasing number of individuals are using biodiesel to fuel their vehicles. There are approximately 60 biodiesel retail stations in Washington State. The National Biodiesel Board maintains an excellent map showing the locations of these stations, as well as information on biodiesel suppliers and distributors.

Overall, consumer experience using biodiesel in Washington has been positive. However, some users have experienced limited problems when fueling with biodiesel. Early on these problems included clogged fuel filters, fuel injector pump problems and engine stalling. Some of these cases can be traced to poor quality fuel, while others may be the result of fuel handling problems.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has adopted a set of standards and testing protocol to ensure that Washington consumers receive quality fuel and avoid any fuel related problems. So far, WSDA fuel inspectors have tested more than 180 samples of biodiesel. The field inspections have noted increased microbial growth and sediments in some of the samples, but overall the tests have found that the fuel is meeting quality requirements. Inspectors have also found that some of the samples blend percentages have varied from the posted percentage. WSDA is currently working on establishing acceptable blending tolerances.

Because of its inherent solvent properties, there can be some material compatibility issues when handling biodiesel. In older engines, rubber seals and hoses should be replaced as they will degrade after prolonged exposure to biodiesel. Fuel filters should also be checked when first using biodiesel as they may become plugged with accumulated sediments resulting from biodiesel operations. Similarly, onsite fuel storage tanks should be thoroughly cleaned prior to accepting biodiesel to avoid fuel contamination issues. To ensure proper handling and storage, consumers should refer to the Department of Energy publication "Biodiesel and Handling and Use Guidelines".

Engine warranty issues may also be a concern to potential biodiesel users. Engine manufacturers do not warranty fuel - whether that fuel is biodiesel or petrodiesel fuel. Instead, they warranty the materials and workmanship of their engines. Federal law prohibits the voiding of warranty just because biodiesel was used- it has to be the cause of the failure. If there are engine problems caused by the fuel, and the problems are not related to the materials or workmanship of the engine, it is the responsibility of the fuel supplier and not the engine manufacturer to fix the problem. So, it is important to purchase your fuel from a reliable supplier.

The Engine Manufacturers Association supports the use of biodiesel in blends up to 5 percent, or B5, as long as the biodiesel blending stock meets the ASTM D6751 specification for B100 fuel. Many individual companies support higher blend rates, and the industry as a whole is continually working on improving biodiesel standards and specifications. In June, 2008, ASTM announced new standards for B20 blends which will help satisfy many of the OEMs concerns on using biodiesel. Additional information on engine company warranty positions can be found at the Biodiesel Board website website.


Ethanol has been used as a gasoline additive in Washington for decades, either to oxygenate gasoline for control of carbon monoxide emissions, or to improve gasoline octane levels. These blends contain approximately 10% ethanol fuel, commonly referred to as E10. In addition, higher blends of ethanol fuel are now being sold into Washington markets, although these sales account for only a small fraction of total ethanol fuel sales. The Washington Department of Licensing reported that more than 116 million gallons of ethanol fuel were sold into Washington markets from July, 2007 through June, 2008. Nationally, more than 6.5 billion gallons of ethanol fuel was consumed during 2007.

In the U.S., fuel ethanol is mainly produced from corn grown in the Midwest. A bushel of corn (approximately 56 pounds) yields about 2.8 gallons of ethanol. Ethanol can also be produced from a variety of materials which contain starch or sugar, including grains, sugar beets, sugar cane, agricultural and food wastes and cellulosic materials. In August, 2008, the Renewable Fuels Association reports a current U.S. production capacity of 9.8 billion gallons, with another 3.77 billion gallons of capacity under construction.

The majority of ethanol sold is consumed as E10. However, automakers also manufacture vehicles capable of operating on higher blends of ethanol fuel. These vehicles are called flexible fueled vehicles (FFVs) and can operate on a wide blend of ethanol and gasoline; from 0% ethanol and 100% gasoline, up to 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, or E85.

There are more than 6 million E85 compatible vehicles operating in the U.S. These vehicles are similar to gasoline vehicles. In fact, most drivers do not even know if they own an FFV, as the vehicle looks and drives the same as an equivalent gasoline powered model. FFVs are fully warranted and available at no extra cost to the consumer. For a list of E85 vehicles available for purchase, visit the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition website, or contact your local auto dealer.

In Washington State, there are more than 100,000 FFVs registered with the Department of Licensing. These vehicles are located throughout the state and include all makes and models. By comparison, there are about 16 E85 fueling stations located in the state, four of which are not open to the public. For additional information on fueling site locations, or to determine if your current vehicle is E85 compatible, visit the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition website.

Increasing the number and availability of E85 fueling stations is an important step to expanding the use of biofuels in Washington State. In late 2006, zipcode maps showing where E85 vehicles are located within state zip code areas were developed to help prospective retail fuel providers identify opportunity areas for installing E85 refueling stations. These maps can be viewed at the Community Trade and Economic Development Energy policy website. The US Department of Energy also maintains a website, E85 Toolkit, which provides a comprehensive set of information for fuel retailers interested in selling E85, including information on codes and regulations, permitting, ethanol compatible equipment, maintenance issues and cost information.

Given projected growth in ethanol production and the new federal RFS requirements, most analysts agree that the E10 market will be saturated in the next few years, possibly as soon as 2010. While the E85 market may be able to pick up some of this supply, that market represented less than 1% of the ethanol consumed in 2007. As a result, both DOE and some states have begun assessing the viability of using intermediate ethanol blends as a way to accommodate growing volumes of ethanol. Currently, all automakers cover the use of up to E10 (10% ethanol, 90% gasoline) by warranty for standard, non-flex-fuel vehicles, but do not allow for the use of higher blends

Minnesota and South Dakota, have begun to look at mid-level ethanol blends which contain 20, 30 or even 40 percent ethanol. These mid-level blends are created using a "blender pump" which mixes appropriate percentages of E85 and unleaded gasoline. Blender pumps are clearly labeled with their ethanol content and state that mid-level blends E20, E30 and E40 are for flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) only. Minnesota has also conducted some preliminary testing of conventional vehicles using E20. Drivability and compatibility test results found that motor vehicles operating on a 20-percent blend of ethanol fuel performed as well as those running on 10-percent ethanol or straight gasoline. The tests also found that using the higher E-20 ethanol blends did not cause significant problems for a wide range of materials, including metals, plastics, rubbers and fuel pumps used in vehicle fuel systems. E20 test results can be downloaded at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Ethanol website.

The Department of Energy, in partnership with the Oak Ridge National Labs, is also investigating the use of mid-level blends (up to E20) in regular, non-FFV vehicles. In their October 2008 report, Oak Ridge found the following:

  • None of the vehicles displayed a malfunction indicator light (MIL) as a result of the ethanol content of the fuel.
  • No fuel filter plugging symptoms were observed.
  • No cold start problems were observed in 75°F and 50°F laboratory conditions.
  • No fuel leaks or conspicuous degradation of the fuel systems were observed.
  • Regulated tailpipe emissions remained largely unaffected by the ethanol content of the fuel
  • With E20, the average reduction in fuel economy (i.e., the reduction in miles per gallon) was 7.7 percent compared to E0. A linear trend with increasing ethanol content

These preliminary findings suggest that higher blends of ethanol fuel may be suitable for use in conventional gasoline powered cars. Additional testing is underway

Washington State RFS

In 2006, the Washington State legislature passed a renewable fuel standard –ESSB 6508. The standard requires that at least 2% of the diesel sold in Washington must be biodiesel, beginning November 30, 2008, or when a determination is made by the Director of the State Department of Agriculture that feedstock grown in Washington State can satisfy a 2% fuel blend requirement. The biodiesel requirement would increase to 5% once in-state feedstocks and oil-seed crushing capacity can meet a 3% requirement. At current fuel consumption levels, a 2 percent biodiesel requirement is equivalent to approximately 20 million gallons per year. Details on Washington’s renewable fuel standard are contained in RCWs 19.112.110 to 19.112.180.

The 2006 renewable fuel standard also requires that beginning on December 1, 2008, at least 2% of the gasoline sold in Washington be ethanol. The ethanol requirement could be increased to 10% if the Director of Ecology determines that this would not jeopardize continued attainment of Clean Air Act standards. At current fuel consumption levels, a 2 percent requirement is equivalent to approximately 55 million gallons of ethanol per year.

The following charts show the percent of biofuels being consumed by Washington motorists as of July, 2008. As shown, biodiesel use is below the 2% standard, while ethanol use is significantly above the 2008 standard.

Additional Resources

Biodiesel Refueling Station Locations
Ethanol Refueling Station Locations
E85 Toolkit
Minnesota E20
AFDC- Intermediate Ethanol Blends
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