Oregon’s foray into renewable fuels takes another step this year with an approaching requirement for diesel sold in the state to contain 2 percent biodiesel.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and Oregon Department of Energy are giving diesel motorists a heads up that the renewable fuel standard for biodiesel could take effect by September 2009. The notice is more of a reassurance for those who drive vehicles that use petroleum diesel.

“The most important thing for motorists to know is that they shouldn’t see any change to their fuel economy or their vehicle’s performance when using a 2 percent biodiesel blend,” said Stephanie Page, ODA’s renewable energy specialist.

House Bill 2210, which established Oregon’s renewable fuel standards, passed in the 2007 legislative session and was signed into law. When in-state biodiesel production, using materials from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, reaches five million gallons per year, the renewable fuel standard for biodiesel kicks in.

With the expansion of SeQuential Pacific’s biodiesel manufacturing facility in Salem, that capacity is expected to be reached sometime this summer. Ninety days after the trigger has been reached, the standard requires that only 2 percent biodiesel blends be sold. By fall, it’s likely that every licensed Oregon gas station that carries diesel must sell the 2 percent blended fuel.

The implementation of the biodiesel requirement follows last year’s implementation by ODA of the renewable fuel standard requiring 10 percent ethanol in gasoline sold in Oregon. About 1.5 billion gallons of gasoline are sold in Oregon each year and about a half billion gallons of diesel. Even though the biodiesel requirement will affect far fewer motorists, state officials want to get the word out.

“Pure biodiesel, or B100, contains only 8 percent less energy per gallon than the diesel motor fuel currently offered for sale in Oregon,” Page said. “A 2 percent biodiesel blend, or B2 blend, has less than 2/10ths of a percent less energy than the standard diesel motor fuel. That is such a small difference that motorists should see no noticeable effect on their gas mileage.”

Biodiesel can act as a solvent at higher blends, dissolving deposits accumulated in a vehicle’s fuel system and potentially clogging fuel filters. However, the National Renewable energy Laboratory’s Biodiesel Handling and Use Guide reports that the cleaning effect should not be an issue with B5 and lower blends.

“The large diesel engine and automobile manufacturers don’t seem to have an issue with blends up to the five percent biodiesel,” said Clark Cooney, assistant administrator of ODA’s Measurement Standards Division. “A 2 percent blend should not have any impact on the vehicle warranty.”

Another potential concern with biodiesel, especially in the winter, is that it can gel at higher temperatures than the standard diesel.

“That’s a problem with higher biodiesel blends, but it shouldn’t be a problem at the 2 percent level,” said Cooney. “It may raise the gelling point very slightly, but it won’t be noticeable to consumers. Biodiesel blends of 5 percent or less must meet the same national fuel quality requirements as straight diesel. Even straight diesel fuel has to be treated in the colder months to prevent gelling.”

Inspectors with ODA’s Measurement Standards Division check motor fuel quantity and quality on a routine basis. As part of the new renewable fuel standard, ODA will require testing of B100 biodiesel at the receiving terminal prior to it being blended with the standard diesel fuel. The program will ensure that the parent products — the biodiesel and the diesel itself — meet specifications prior to the blending.

“The B100 biodiesel will be sampled periodically at the producer’s location as well,” said Cooney. “Samples will be taken and analyzed to assure that the product is meeting specifications.”

Once again, Cooney emphasized that dealers and motorists shouldn’t see much impact from the B2 blend. In fact, he said, at very low blends, biodiesel adds needed lubrication to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel.

“As a precaution, retail and wholesale dealers should clean and prepare their storage tanks before receiving the blended diesel simply because biodiesel does have a tendency to absorb water and act as a cleaning agent,” said Cooney. “There are no real precautions needed for motorists. However, they may need to change the vehicle’s fuel filter after a period of time after the first fill up.”

Although biodiesel blending is not yet required, many Oregon consumers choose to fill up with biodiesel blends. Some businesses sell blends of five percent, 10 percent, and 20 percent or higher biodiesel. Many vehicle fleets use B20, and some burn 100 percent biodiesel with only minor modifications needed to the engine and fueling system.

Biodiesel is a cleaner fuel that produces fewer harmful emissions than standard diesel. Besides some environmental benefits, the B2 requirement in Oregon can help the local economy.

“We believe the use of a biodiesel blend is a good thing,” said Page. “It supports Oregon biodiesel producers, which are local businesses. It also supports the folks who produce the material used to make the biodiesel — farmers who grow oil seed crops, and others who make use of waste oil and grease.”

Motorists may not notice a thing, but the B2 requirement coming Oregon’s way later this year is helping Oregon agriculture by providing a market for locally-grown crops and it’s recycling a waste product that can actually be a source for renewable energy. Advocates say if it also reduces dependency on foreign oil, even by a small measure, that’s just a bonus.