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U.S. biodiesel production soars, but crude oil is still king

June 22, 2012|By Ronald D. White
  • A worker removes a pumping tube at a biodiesel plant in Glenville, Minn., in 2011. U.S. biodiesel production is soaring, but the numbers are still dwarfed by the nation's dependence on crude oil fuels.
A worker removes a pumping tube at a biodiesel plant in Glenville, Minn.,… (Renee Jones Schneider /…)

Biodiesel production in the U.S. has surged so far in 2012, just two years after a collapse in which 52 of the nation's 170 biodiesel plants were idled. But the fuel still has many miles to go before it becomes a significant addition to the nation's energy needs, according to Energy Department statistics.

During the first quarter of 2012, which are the most recent statiistics available, 241 million gallons of biodiesel was produced, the Energy Department said. That was a 78.5% increase over the same three months in 2011 and a whopping 169% increase over the same period in 2010, the year the industry was rocked by the temporary loss of federal tax credits.

Most of the biodiesel was derived from soybean oil, followed by canola oil, yellow grease and finally corn oil. The bulk of the production came from six states. In order of annual production capacity, those states were Texas (328 million gallons), Illinois (278 million gallons), Iowa (250 million gallons), Missouri (110 million gallons), and California and Pennsylvania (91 million gallons each).

But biodiesel still represents a relative drop in the bucket of the nation's immense thirst for liquid fuel. The 92 million gallons of biodiesel produced in March -- the best month so far this year -- compares to some staggering numbers.

The U.S. consumed 4.9 billion (with a "B") gallons of crude oil-derived diesel and heating oil in March, the Energy Department said. The nation also consumed 11.2 billion gallons of gasoline in March. Total petroleum consumption in March in the U.S., the Energy Department said, was 23.6 billion gallons.


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