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mustard flowers, Photo Credit: James Atland
James Madison University Biodiesel two pots, one burning diesel, the other burning biodiesel fuel The left pot is burning diesel fuel. The right is burning biodiesel fuel.

Non-toxic and Biodegradable

Biodiesel is a clean alternative to diesel fuel. It can be used wherever diesel or fuel oil is currently used: for transportation, heating or electric power generation. Biodiesel is made entirely from renewable resources such as soybeans, sunflowers, waste vegetable oils, rapeseed and palm oil. It yields a significant reduction (50-100%) in the various forms of hazardous exhaust gas emissions when compared to standard petroleum diesel. It is also non-toxic and biodegradable. Production of biodiesel helps stimulate rural economies by increasing the demand for agricultural products and is also beneficial to the communities where the crops are manufactured into fuel.

Biodiesel Blends

What does B2, B5 or B20 mean? Biodiesel can be mixed in any proportion with diesel fuel. For example: “B2” is equal to 98% diesel and 2% biodiesel, “B5” is equal to 95% diesel and 5% biodiesel, “B20” is equal to 80% diesel and 20% biodiesel, and so on.

Diesel Engines

Biodiesel benefits diesel engines by acting as a detergent to remove hydrocarbon deposits throughout the fuel system and reducing engine wear by increasing fuel lubricity. Additionally, it has a much safer emissions profile (produces less smoke) than diesel fuel. It is recommended for use in vehicles made after 1993 in blends up to 20% biodiesel, 80% diesel (B20). Though many US vehicle owners are running their cars on higher blends and some use pure biodiesel (pure biodiesel is offered only in Germany ), that's not yet the standard in the States. It is important to check engine/vehicle warranty information to verify what percentage of biodiesel is recommended. Most manufacturers warrant up to B20, provided the biodiesel is certified to ASTM standards.


Biodiesel costs a bit more than diesel fuel, but recent legislation is intended to make the cost of B20 equal to that of petroleum diesel. B20 will become more available as a result of this long-awaited tax incentive. An increased demand for biodiesel is expected in all proportions, and an increase in domestic production of biodiesel will be a result. More information on the B20 legislation can be found on our Announcements page, or by checking the National Biodiesel Board's webpage.

Biodiesel Use at JMU

As of March 21, 2004 (Earth Day) JMU diesel vehicles and diesel heavy equipment run on a minimum of B2 (with many running on B20). The JMU Transportation Department is committed to biodiesel and will increase the proportion of renewable fuel in its blend as funding permits.


In October, 2004, the City of Harrisonburg began to phase B5 in to its transit and school bus fleets, with a goal of powering the buses with B20. The City and JMU are collaborating on generating a portion of their B20 from waste vegetable oil produced by JMU's campus dining facilities thanks to a grant from the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy.

On November 16, 2004, JMU partnered with The City of Harrisonburg and Blue Ridge Clean Fuels of Charlottesville to host the first Virginia Biodiesel Conference: “Perspectives and Possibilities.” to increase biodiesel awareness and the use of biodiesel in the region. Over 250 people came to hear experts from around the country present information and answer questions. Information from the conference can be found on our 2004 Conference webpage. The next biodiesel conference is scheduled for April 3, 2006 which will focus on small scale biodiesel production.


Biodiesel is not a catch-all solution. Although it offers excellent particulate (black smoke) reduction benefits and the potential to displace some foreign fossil fuel use, there are limited supplies of natural oils to make biodiesel. The amount of biodiesel used will be a fraction of total petroleum diesel use until biodiesel can be commercially made from more waste products (which is possible through research and development). However, commercial availability of biodiesel is growing. For example, biodiesel can be purchased at Liberty gas stations in the Harrisonburg Area, Virginia Biodiesel is expanding and increasing its production capacity to meet increased demands after one year of operation, Noblett Oil, of Williamsburg VA , has opened a new soybean biodiesel production facility, and local biodiesel plant developments are in the planning stages.