Biodiesel: A Cleaner Air Choice

A new, landmark study proves that biodiesel could decrease premature deaths, reduce cancer risk, and alleviate respiratory illness and asthma complications for thousands of Americans. The study, from Trinity Consultants, quantifies how switching to biodiesel can result in significant benefits at the neighborhood and census tract level, making immediate impacts in the backyards of many Americans today.

The study, sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board with support from the Nebraska Soybean Board, South Dakota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, California Advanced Biofuels Alliance, Iowa Soybean Board, and the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board, used well established EPA air dispersion modeling techniques coupled with leading health risk assessment tools to evaluate the public health benefits and resulting economic savings of converting from petroleum-based diesel to 100% biodiesel, known as B100, in 13 sites and communities across the U.S. that have historically been exposed to high levels of fossil diesel pollution.

This study demonstrates that use of renewable fuels like biodiesel can bring immediate, positive changes to people’s lives while helping reduce carbon emissions in our long-term fight against climate change.

Researchers found that switching to 100% biodiesel in the home heating oil and transportation sectors would:

  • Prevent 370 premature deaths annually.
  • Result in 46,000 fewer sick days annually.

In transportation sectors, benefits included a potential 45% reduction in cancer risk when heavy-duty trucks such as semis use B100 and 203,000 fewer or lessened asthma attacks.

When Bioheat® fuel made from 100% biodiesel is used, the study found an 86% reduced cancer risk and 17,000 fewer lung problems.

And, because the study looked only at 13 sites and communities, the benefits noted above represent just the “tip of the iceberg.” Applying similar air dispersion and health risk assessments to other freight and high diesel-use sites would show substantially greater benefits across the country.

The study considered the economic cost of premature deaths, asthma cases, reduced activity due to poor health, and work impacted due to sick days. For example, researchers found the communities surrounding the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach would avoid about $1.69 billion in health costs due to improved air quality.

Biodiesel Health Benefits Infographic

Beyond the numbers, one aspect which makes this study so meaningful is that it shows B100 can achieve these benefits by reducing pollution in markets that are hardest to decarbonize: heavy-duty transportation and residential heating.

This means these communities, which continue to be disproportionately affected by diesel pollution, don’t need to wait 5 to 10 years for an electrified solution to deliver cleaner air. With biodiesel, they can enjoy cleaner, healthier air today.

Saving lives by reducing the health impacts of diesel pollution should be a high priority, and biodiesel is widely available today to achieve that goal. These immediate and substantial emission reductions and associated health benefits can be an important consideration in any local, state, regional, or national climate program as our nation moves toward decarbonization and cleaner air.

As the conversation on climate and environmental justice continues to evolve and gain speed, the immediacy of these health benefits, especially for communities exposed to high levels of pollution cannot be understated. It is critical that we consider the benefits biodiesel deliver to these historically disadvantaged communities today, while states pursue deep electrification and other decarbonization strategies.

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Matt Herman
Matt is an experienced sustainability professional with deep experience using life cycle assessment to measure the environmental attributes of biodiesel, renewable diesel, and the supply chains which support their production. He is passionate about ensuring that policy adequately reflects biodiesel and renewable diesel's contribution in the fight against climate change.
Matt has held positions as the Director of Environmental Science for Clean Fuels Alliance America, Director of Policy of the Industrial and Environmental Section at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) and as Manager of Sustainability for Renewable Energy Group, a leading producer of biomass-based diesel. Matt earned his bachelor's degree in History and Political Science and completed graduate studies in Biorenewable Resource Policy at Iowa State University.
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