New law to increase use of cleaner-burning biodiesel in home heating oil

The General Assembly has approved and the governor has signed legislation sponsored by Rep. Deborah Ruggiero and Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski to phase in significantly higher percentages of cleaner-burning biodiesel in home heating oil sold in the state.

Biodiesel is a fuel made from vegetable oils such as used cooking oil and soy byproducts. It must meet standards and is blended with petroleum heating oil to burn cleaner and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It requires no alteration to existing heating equipment.

Rhode Island already requires heating oil to be sold as a mix that contains 5 percent biodiesel. That requirement was phased in between 2014 and 2017 under legislation that Senator Sosnowski sponsored and Representative Ruggiero cosponsored in 2013.

The new law will phase in higher percentages of biodiesel or renewable hydrocarbon diesel blended into home heating oil. It requires home heating oil to be 10% biodiesel or renewable hydrocarbon diesel in 2023, 20% in 2025 and 50% in 2030. Renewable hydrocarbon diesel is made from the same vegetable oils as biodiesel, but through a different process that requires higher pressures and temperatures. Some large refineries are being converted to make renewable hydrocarbon diesel.

“Every gallon of biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% when compared to a gallon of petroleum heating oil. A blend of 15% biodiesel burns cleaner and has more greenhouse gas reductions than natural gas,” said Representative Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown). “Local leaders in the heating oil industry helped develop this bill, because they understand that in order to stay in business today, they need to modernize and eliminate their carbon intensity by doing what’s right for healthy outcomes for all of us. When people build homes they can go with gas or electric, but with biodiesel blends, home heating oil burns more efficiently and cleaner.”

Said Senator Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), “Biodiesel reduces the emissions of soot and toxins released into the air. The Environmental Protection Agency’s research indicates that biodiesel emits 11% less carbon monoxide and 10% less particulate matter than diesel. A study done by the departments of Energy and Agriculture found that use of biodiesel reduces net carbon dioxide emissions by 78%. Unlike petroleum, which contains sulfur and carcinogens, biodiesel is nontoxic and biodegradable.”

According to the Oil Heat Institute of Rhode Island, in 2017, the existing 5-percent requirement resulted in the use of 12 million gallons of biodiesel being blended into heating oil in the state, diverting cooking oil and other byproducts from landfills and reducing our reliance on petroleum products by 12 million gallons. About one-third of Rhode Island homes rely on oil heat.

Switching to higher concentrations of biodiesel in home heating oil will help Rhode Island achieve the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, established through the Act on Climate passed earlier this year. Those goals are to reach emissions that are 10 percent below 1990 levels this year, 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2040 and net-zero by 2050. Approximately 35% of Rhode Island’s greenhouse gas emissions are from heating.

Enacting the bill helps keep Rhode Island in step with neighboring states. Connecticut’s lawmakers passed similar legislation last month, and Massachusetts has an incentive that currently results in much of its home heating oil supply being sold at a 10-percent blend.