Update on U.S. Biodiesel Production and Feedstocks Usage in 2017

By Sampath Jayasinghe
Decision Innovation Solutions

In this month’s article, we look at pure biodiesel production and its feedstock usage for 2017. A previous update covering pure biodiesel production can be found in the April 2017 Report.   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. These both are made from organic biomass, but are different products due to the 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 - 2017

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 nine years, focusing mainly on the year 2017 numbers.  

Figure 1 shows the U.S. production of pure biodiesel from 2009 to 2017. The U.S. production of pure biodiesel in 2017 was 1.596 billion gallons. Pure biodiesel production during 2017 was 26 million gallons higher than production in 2016, a nearly 1.7 percent increase. The production in 2017 is the highest recorded in U.S. history. However, pure biodiesel production during 2016 was 301 million gallons higher than production in 2015, a significant 24 percent increase. This is mainly due to the implementation of a biodiesel blender’s tax credit at the beginning of 2016, which expired at the end of 2016. As shown in the annual trend line in Figure 1, U.S. pure biodiesel production has increased on average 148 million gallons each year.

Pure Biodiesel Feedstocks Usage 2009 - 2017. 

Vegetable Oils

Figure 2 shows annual usage of soybean oil, corn oil, and canola oil in pure biodiesel production from 2009 to 2017. Soybean oil remained the largest vegetable oil feedstock, 67 percent of the total vegetable oil used in 2017, compared to 71 percent in 2016. The decline in soybean oil usage in 2017 is due mainly to relative high usage of both corn distillers oil (CDO) and canola oil, compared to their usage in 2016. The usage of CDO has increased to 17 percent in 2017 from 15 percent in 2016 and the canola oil usage has increased to 16 percent in 2017 from 13 percent in 2016.

As shown in Figure 2, the U.S. biodiesel industry used 6,230 million pounds of soybean oil in 2017, compared to 6,096 million pounds in 2016, an increase of two percent. The March 2018 Oil Crops Outlook published by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA-ERS) indicates U.S. soybean oil total domestic disappearance in 2017 was 19.861 billion pounds. This shows the biodiesel industry utilized approximately 31 percent of the total soybean oil demand in the United States in 2017.

Corn distillers oil is the second largest vegetable oil used in pure biodiesel production in 2017. Total usage of CDO in pure biodiesel production in 2017 was 1,579 million pounds, compared to 1,306 million pounds in 2016, a significant increase of 21 percent. Total U.S. production of CDO was 1.836 million tons in 2017 based on the Grain Crushings and Co-Products Production report published by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA (USDA-NASS). This indicates approximately 43 percent of total CDO production was utilized by the U.S. pure biodiesel industry in 2017.

Total canola oil usage in pure biodiesel production was 1,452 million pounds in 2017, compared to 1,130 million pounds in 2016, an increase of 28 percent. According to USDA-ERS, total domestic disappearance of canola oil in 2017 was 5,844 million pounds indicating approximately 25 percent of total US canola oil demand was from biodiesel industry. Corn distillers oil and canola oil account for 17 percent and 16 percent respectively in total vegetable oil feedstock usage in 2017.

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. 

The U.S. biodiesel industry used 1,471 million pounds of yellow grease in 2017, compared to 1,389 million pounds in 2016, an increase of 6 percent. Total choice white grease usage was 591 million pounds in 2017, compared to 578 million pounds in 2016, an increase of 2 percent. Poultry fat and tallow usage data were withheld by EIA in 2017 to avoid disclosure of individual company data.  


The U.S. pure biodiesel industry has increased its production from 1,569 million gallons in 2016 to 1,595 million gallons in 2017. Along with its tremendous growth over the years, soybean oil has continued its predominance as the number one feedstock, while corn distillers oil and canola oil usage have increased significantly. Soybean oil use dropped to 67 percent in total vegetable oil use in 2017 from 71 percent in 2016. Corn oil remained second in total vegetable oil use, and increased its use to 17 percent in 2017 from 15 percent in 2016. Canola oil use also increased to 16 percent in 2017 from 13 percent in 2016. Yellow grease and choice white grease use in 2017 also increased by six and two percent respectively from 2016.