The National Biodiesel Board(NBB) just published the latest US biodiesel capacity numbers. 148 existing plants are reported (up from 105 in January 2007), for a total of 1.39 billion gallons/year of capacity. 96 new projects, and 5 expansions are currently underway, which will account for 1.89 billion gpy of capacity when they come online by the end of 2008. Here are the maps: existing and in construction.
The total is 3.28 billion gallons. This is a nameplate capacity: the output possible when running 24/7, 350 days/year. Collectively, US biodiesel plants run at about 25% of their capacity, a severe underutilization of assets. To put that 3.28 billion gallons per year capacity in perspective, at full capacity it would replace 5.1% of US diesel consumption, take up 126% of US soy oil production, take up 113% of all US vegetable oil production, and take up 84% of all US animal fat and vegetable oil production.
Clearly, biodiesel demand pushes up food prices. High oil prices, and subsequently biofuel prices, will cause food prices to rise, potentially pricing out poor people. This effect is well recognized, and many countries, including China, have set limitations on biofuels to combat the possibility of hunger problems resulting from biofuels.
Biodiesel reduces carbon dioxide emissions significantly- 70% is a frequently quoted percentage reduction of carbon emissions. The reduction won't approach 100% any time soon- it takes fertilizers, diesel tractors, petroleum powered transportation measures, and methanol to get biodiesel to the pump. However, [Carbon Trading] has the potential to benefit biodiesel producers immensely- on an energy basis, substituting a gallon equivalent of biodiesel for diesel (biodiesel has about 92% of the energy content of petroleum diesel) saves about 6.5 kg of CO2 emissions. It takes about 150 gallons to eliminate a metric ton (mt, or 1000kg) of CO2 emissions, making the roughly $4/mt carbon credit that the Chicago Climate Exchange offers reduce the price of a gallon of biodiesel by a mere 2.6 cents. To eliminate the need for the $1/gallon subsidy currently in place, the price of a ton of CO2 would have to be about $150.
In its current form, the biodiesel market scope is small. For the long term, soybean, rapeseed, and palm biodiesel are not great solutions: soybean and rapeseed crops compete with food and have low oil/area yields relative to plants like palm and jatropha. Palm oil is a great feedstock, however it is currently being developed in a highly unsustainable form: deforesting land for palm oil production. It takes many decades to recapture the carbon emitted from forest destruction by planting biodiesel crops. Renewable fuels must become globally traded commodities if they are to have any significant impact on the world's energy portfolio.
Companies who have their hands in jatropha plantations and those with logistics favorable to an international oilcrop market.
Companies in the middle of Iowa.