By Doug Schmitz
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A new study sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board found switching to biodiesel results in significant health benefits such as decreased cancer risk, fewer premature deaths, and reduced asthma attacks.
“We have always known that biodiesel offers a better and cleaner alternative to petroleum diesel,” Donnell Rehagen, National Biodiesel Board CEO, told reporters during an April 29 virtual news conference, the day of the study’s release.
Rehagen joined Floyd Vergara, board director of state governmental affairs, and Matt Herman, board director of environmental science, to present the findings.
“This study quantifies the health benefits and shows that by using renewable fuels like biodiesel and renewable diesel, we are bringing positive change to people’s lives, the nation’s health and the economy,” Rehagen said.
Conducted by Trinity Consultants, the study is 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.
Trinity Consultants specialize in air dispersion modeling, and related health risk assessments.
“The study used well-established EPA air dispersion modeling tools, coupled with health risk assessments and benefit valuations to assess the public health benefits, and resulting economic savings of converting from petroleum-based diesel to 100 percent biodiesel, known as B100, in 13 sites and communities in the U.S. exposed to high rates of petroleum diesel pollution,” National Biodiesel Board officials said.
Biodiesel is a readily available, low-carbon, renewable fuel made from a diverse mix of resources such as recycled cooking oil, soybean oil and animal fats, according to the board.
Vergara said, “For the 13 sites that were evaluated, the study shows that switching to 100 percent biodiesel in the home heating and transportation sectors would annually prevent up to 340 premature deaths, 46,000 fewer sick days, and $3 billion in avoided health care costs.”
Herman said, “The greenhouse gases have tended to dominate the conversation around biodiesel and other transportation alternatives and these conversations have unfortunately drowned out the other significant benefits of the fuel, mainly its ability to reduce harmful air pollutants.
“So, while the greenhouse gas reductions are very important for global implications, improving air quality has a much more local, much more personal benefit,” he added. “Communities which suffer from poor air quality tend to be located in areas nearby high volumes of diesel traffic such as ports, shipping and logistics centers, and other transit hubs. Biodiesel is a highly sustainable solution that’s available for use today.”
In the transportation sector, the study found benefits included a potential 45 percent reduction in cancer risk when heavy-duty trucks such as semis use 100 percent biodiesel, and 203,000 fewer or lessened asthma attacks.
When Bioheat®, an ultra-low sulfur fuel made from 100 percent biodiesel, is used in place of petroleum heating oil, the study found an 86 percent reduced cancer risk, and 17,000 fewer lung problems.
The study also 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 in the form of reduced premature deaths and health care costs and increased productivity.
Rehagen said 100 percent biodiesel can achieve these benefits by reducing pollution from markets that are hardest to decarbonize: heavy-duty transportation and residential heating.
“Saving lives by reducing the health impacts of transportation and home heating fuels is a priority, and biodiesel is widely available today to achieve that goal,” he said. “These immediate and substantial emissions and health benefits can and should be an important part in any state, regional or national climate program as our nation moves toward decarbonization through advanced alternative fuels like biodiesel and renewable diesel.”
According to the study, Trinity Consultants identified the communities believed to be most impacted by the emission sources modeled and has highlighted the benefits of biodiesel to those specific communities to the degree possible. The study said communities and sources were selected to be as representative as possible of the broad range of facilities and sources that use large volumes of petroleum diesel or are impacted by its use.
“The immediacy of these potential health benefits, especially for disadvantaged communities, is even more critical when one considers the years it will take for states to pursue deep electrification and other decarbonization strategies,” he added.