Biodiesel: Information for Citizens
Biodiesel facilities may undergo environmental review and typically require MPCA permits. This page gives a basic explanation of biodiesel and outlines the process from the project design stage to construction and operation of a biodiesel facility. It also includes information on the public participation process and information on individual projects and facilities.
What is Biodiesel?
Biodiesel fuel refers to renewable, biodegradable, mono alkyl ester combustible liquid fuel derived from agricultural materials (e.g., soybeans) and other plant oils (e.g., algae) or animal fats. To be classified as biodiesel, a fuel must meet American Society for Testing and Materials specification D6751-07 for biodiesel fuel (B100) blend stock for distillate fuels. Making biodiesel involves a process that removes glycerin from bio-oils so they can be used in diesel engines. Minnesota has facilities that manufacture biodiesel from both soybeans and canola, though biodiesel can be made from any vegetable oil or animal tallow. Biodiesel can be used in unmodified diesel-engine vehicles or can be blended with conventional petroleum diesel.
The current minimum biodiesel content is two percent biodiesel blended with 98 percent conventional diesel (B2). Beginning May 1, 2009, diesel fuels sold in Minnesota must contain at least five percent biodiesel (B5). The amount of biodiesel in diesel fuels will continue to rise in the coming years with a mandate of 10 percent biofuel by May 1, 2012, and 20 percent by May 1, 2015.
Content levels apply only during warm-weather months (April – October), with B5 required during the remainder of the year unless an ASTM fuel standard is in place to address cold-weather diesel issues.
The environmental review process in Minnesota looks at how a proposed project could potentially affect the environment and ways to avoid or minimize impacts before the project is permitted and built. Environmental review can be a one or two-step process - the shorter, less detailed Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) or the longer, more complex and detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The environmental review process operates according to the rules of the Environmental Quality Board (EQB), but is carried out by a designated local government unit or a state agency. For industrial projects such as ethanol plants, as well as many other types of projects, the MPCA leads the review
The goal of an EAW is to provide the public with a multi-program analysis of a proposed project's environmental effects. Once an EAW is written, it is put on public notice for a 30-day comment period, during which the public or any interested party may ask questions or provide written comments on the proposed project. Following the public comment period, the project manager for the EAW responds to written comments and works together with MPCA staff to write a Findings of Fact document. The EAW project manager makes a recommendation to the commissioner about whether or not an EIS is needed. If it is determined that an EIS is not needed and there is no formal request for an EIS, the environmental review process is complete, and the facility may pursue the issuance of any required permits. If an EAW is controversial or there are formal requests for an EIS, the EAW is normally considered by the MPCA Citizen’s Board for determination of the need for an EIS.
The EAW provides an analysis of a project’s potential effects on the environment. The EAW looks at a number of elements including air quality, water quality, water quantity, noise, traffic, solid waste, and cumulative impacts from the proposed project. The EAW covers a number of issues not specifically mentioned here as well. EQB rules require certain facilities to complete the EAW or EIS process, including fuel conversion facilities dealing with ethanol, biomass, peat or coal which have thresholds for environmental review. However, if a project does not specifically fall under the rules for environmental review, please contact the MPCA biofuels environmental review project manager to determine if review is necessary.
The EAW and EIS Web page provides information about projects that currently have an EAW or EIS on public notice. This page also includes projects that were recently on public notice. You can also find more general information about the environmental review process on the Environmental Review Web page.
An EAW is likely required for proposed biodiesel construction or expansion projects that use 25,000 or more dry tons of feedstock per year such as soybeans or canola. An EIS is mandatory for any proposed biodiesel construction projects or capacity increases of 250,000 dry tons or more of feedstock per year. A more complete description of the environmental review process and the requirements included is located at the MPCA’s Environmental Review Web page. To determine if a specific project will need to go through the environmental review process, please contact the Biofuels Project Manager.
Like most industrial facilities, biodiesel facilities typically have permits from the MPCA. Permits establish specific limits and requirements to protect human health and the environment. They are issued for a specific period, usually five years, after which they expire and must be renewed. Permits are regularly reviewed and updated as they expire, allowing the MPCA to incorporate new information about the impacts of pollutants to the environment in subsequent permits.
Biodiesel facilities typically require individual industrial National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)/State Disposal System (SDS) permits that include industrial stormwater requirements. The NPDES/SDS permit is often developed while the EAW is being developed because the review process helps to inform the permit process. As existing biodiesel facilities change, their water permits might require modifications or changes. If the changes to the permits involve effluent-limit changes or other major modifications, they are required to go on public notice. It is important to note that if environmental review is required for a biodiesel facility, no permits can be issued until the review process is complete.
More information on monitoring requirements, effluent limits and permit requirements is available at:
Minnesota is a delegated authority to issue NPDES permits on behalf of the EPA. Here is a link to general information from EPA regarding the NPDES program:
The U.S.EPA has a primer for NPDES permits called “Water Permitting 101.”
New biodiesel facilities require air permits before construction and operation. Typically, new biodiesel projects will involve modeling and air emission risk analysis (AERA) as part of the air permit process. The type of modeling and analysis to be used for an individual project can depend on a variety of factors including the proposed facilities fuel source, proximity to people and businesses, the type of equipment to be used, and the type of feedstock.
Existing biodiesel facilities may require modifications and updates to air permits. Major permit modifications are required to be placed on public notice. If an air permit for a project is currently on public notice, it can be found on the Public Notices Web page.
Public participation is an important part of the environmental review and permitting processes. Involvement by citizens can occur in many ways. For new projects, citizens can review and comment on EAWs and draft permits, or speak to the MPCA Citizens’ Board if a project is presented to the Board. Citizens may provide information, comments, or ask important questions regarding individual projects or policy concerns. Citizens can also contact the MPCA with questions about proposed and existing facilities. Public comment opportunities for existing facilities may occur for permit modifications or with expansions. For some of these projects, public meetings might be held to answer questions or to provide project information. Public notice periods for permits or EAWs are typically 30 days.
How to comment
- Environmental Review. If you are interested in commenting on a specific environmental review project for which the MPCA is the responsible governmental unit, you should submit those comments in writing to the MPCA project manager listed in the EAW or EIS when it is placed on public notice. To find who the environmental review project manager is for an MPCA EAW or EIS, contact Mary Osborn, 651-757-2101.
- NPDES/SDS Permits. Biodiesel plants are typically required to have an NPDES/SDS permit for discharge. The MPCA places these permits on public notice for 30 days when a new facility is proposed or an existing facility makes changes to an individual permit. Permit changes that would require public notice include modifications to discharge volume, discharge type, discharge location, and other major changes.
- U.S. EPA information on citizen involvement and public comment
- Air Permits. EPA has prepared a document that addresses Clean Air Act Title V air permits, which includes information and guidance that can be useful for citizens who want to comment on any MPCA action. In particular, Chapter 5 addresses how to write an effective comment letter. The Proof is in the Permit, How to Make Sure a Facility in Your Community Gets an Effective Title V Air Pollution Permit
The MPCA’s files are open to the public (subject to the restrictions of Minnesota statutes and decisions of the Office of the Attorney General). Persons wishing to review files are asked to schedule an appointment with the file manager. For review of Biodiesel air quality files contact Kelli Stiles at 651-757-2755; for Biodiesel environmental review or water quality files contact Mary Dezurik at 651-757-2307 or Lenny Richards at 651-757-2667.
For additional information or guidance visit the Information Request Web page.
How to get involved with the MPCA Citizens’ Board
The MPCA Citizens' Board considers and makes decisions on varied and complex pollution problems that affect Minnesota. These decisions are intended to protect the state’s water, air and land resources in order to provide for the maximum enjoyment and use of these resources by Minnesotans. The Board’s regular monthly meetings are on the fourth Tuesday of each month at the MPCA’s St. Paul office. Board meetings are public and interested parties may sign up to address the Board on specific decision items. For more information about the Board or for upcoming agendas, contact Vicki Schindeldecker at 651-757-2025 or visit the Citizens' Board Agenda Web page.