Historical Analysis of U.S. Biodiesel Production and Feedstock Usage

By Sampath Jayasinghe
Decision Innovation Solutions, 11107 Aurora Avenue, Urbandale, IA 50322

In this month’s article, we look at pure biodiesel production and its feedstock usage for the last eight years. Pure or traditional biodiesel is known as Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (FAME). Renewable diesel (also known as Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil or HVO) and FAME often are confused. They are both made from organic biomass, but are different products due to their production process and quality attributes. 

Renewable diesel is produced by hydrotreating very clean biomass materials after removing impurities from the raw biomass-based feedstocks. Renewable diesel has an identical chemical composition with traditional petroleum diesel (i.e. both are hydrocarbons) and can be used in high concentration in all diesel engines. Pure biodiesel, an ester, is produced by esterifying vegetable oil and fats. The usage of pure biodiesel in high concentration can cause problems in conventional diesel engines, so in general is limited to a maximum inclusion rate of up to 20 percent (B20) in the United States.

Pure Biodiesel Production 2009-2016

The U.S. Energy Information Administration publishes only pure FAME-type biodiesel production in its Monthly Biodiesel Production Report. Therefore, this descriptive analysis only looks at pure FAME-type biodiesel production and its feedstocks usage for the last eight years.

U.S. Annual Pure Biodiesel Production

Figure 1 shows the U.S. production of pure biodiesel from 2009 to 2016. The U.S. production of pure biodiesel in 2016 was 1.566 billion gallons based on EIA data released Feb. 28, 2017. Pure biodiesel production during 2016 was 298 million gallons higher than production in 2015, a significant 24 percent increase.

The production in 2013 was 1.339 billion gallons, compared to 0.991 billion gallons in 2012, an increase of 35 percent. This is mainly due to the implementation of a biodiesel blender’s tax credit from the beginning of 2013, which expired at the end of 2013. The total production in 2014 was 1.339 billion gallons, a decrease of 5 percent from 2013. The production in 2015 was 1.268 billion gallons, 3 million gallons short of 2014 production. The production in 2016 is the highest recorded in U.S. history. In 2016, a biodiesel blender’s tax credit was approved, and expired at the end of 2016. Notice the annual production linear trend line in Figure 1, indicating U.S. pure biodiesel production has increased an average of 157 million gallons each year.

Pure Biodiesel Feedstocks Usage 2009-2016

There was a total of 11.051 billion pounds of feedstocks used to produce pure biodiesel in 2016. Vegetable oils was the source of 77 percent and animal fats and recycled feeds were 23 percent of the total feedstocks.

Vegetable Oils

Figure 2 shows annual usage of soybean oil, corn oil, and canola oil in pure biodiesel production from 2009 to 2016. Soybean oil remained the largest vegetable oil feedstock, 71 percent of the total vegetable oil in 2016. Soybean oil represented 55 percent of total feedstocks including vegetable oils, animal fats, and recycled feed.

U.S. Inputs to Biodiesel Production: Vegetable Oils

The U.S. biodiesel industry used 6,096 million pounds of soybean oil in 2016, compared to 4,908 million pounds in 2015, an increase of 24 percent. The February 2017 Oil Crops Outlook published by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA-ERS) indicates total U.S. soybean oil production in 2016 was 22.098 billion pounds. This shows the biodiesel industry utilized approximately 28 percent of the total soybean oil produced in the United States in 2016. 

Corn distillers oil (CDO) is the second largest vegetable oil used in pure biodiesel production in 2016. Total usage of CDO in pure biodiesel production in 2016 was 1,306 million pounds, compared to 1,057 million pounds in 2015, an increase of 24 percent. Total U.S. production of CDO was 3,205 million pounds (1.602 million tons) in 2016 based on the Grain Crushings and Co-Products Production report published by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA (USDA-NASS). This indicates approximately 41 percent of total CDO production was utilized by the U.S. pure biodiesel industry in 2016. 

Total canola oil usage in pure biodiesel production was 1,130 million pounds in 2016, compared to 745 million pounds in 2015, an increase of 52 percent. Corn distillers oil and canola oil account for 12 percent and 10 percent respectively in total feedstock usage including vegetable oil, animal fats, and recycled feed in 2016.

Animal Fats and Recycled Feeds

Figure 3 shows annual usage of yellow grease, choice white grease, tallow, and poultry fat in pure biodiesel production from 2009 to 2016. Yellow grease remained the largest animal fats and recycled feeds inputs in the U.S. biodiesel production.

U.S. Inputs to Biodiesel Production: Animal fats and recycled feeds

The U.S. biodiesel industry used 1,389 million pounds of yellow grease in 2016, compared to 1,254 million pounds in 2015, an increase of 10 percent. Total choice white grease usage was 578 million pounds in 2016, compared to 589 million pounds in 2015. Tallow usage was 332 million pounds, compared to 429 million pounds in 2015. Poultry fat usage was 220 million pounds, compared to 197 pounds in 2015. Choice white grease and tallow usage have decreased and poultry fat and yellow grease usage has increased from 2015 to 2016.


The U.S. pure biodiesel industry has increased its production from 519 million gallons in 2009 to 1,566 million gallons in 2016, a significant growth over the last eight years. Along with its tremendous growth, soybean oil as the number one feedstock has continued its predominance, while corn distillers oil and canola oil have much potential in the years to come. Despite the lapsed federal biodiesel blenders tax credit and delayed implementation of the 2017 renewable volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard, the U.S. biodiesel industry will remain strong in the future.