Research Project Information

Research Project Summary Information

Biofuel Heating Demonstration - NYC Apartment Buildings(ST8910-1)

Cornell University


Biofuel is derived from new or recycled vegetable oils or animal fats, and is a cleaner, renewable energy alternative to traditional heating oil. Biofuel has an inherent ultra-low sulfur content and also contains approximately 10 to 12 percent oxygen. Both attributes lead to cleaner combustion in residential and commercial, oil-fired heating systems. New York State is a major user of fuel oil for residential and small commercial heating applications. 2.2 million or about 30% of residences rely on heating oil and they consume about one billion gallons per year. The commercial sector consumed about a half million gallons of #2 heating oil in 2009. ASTM recently certified B5 blends as safe and virtually no different than regular #2 heating oil. At the time of the project there were concerns of general operability of systems, the cleansing effect of biodiesel, and cold weather handling. NYS provides a tax credit for the use of biodiesel that amounts to $0.01 per % per gallon- a B20 blend would received a credit of $0.20 per gallon.

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Project Description

At the time of the award there was very little known about biodiesel performance and little experience with blends above B5. The Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) partnered with the Apartment House Institute of New York City Technical College to help identify potential demonstration sites. CCE also partnered with BNL for their technical expertise. The project was undertaken to evaluate the general operability of biodiesel fired heating systems and to identify any barriers. Three NYC apartment buildings were identified (111 W. 11 Street, 175 Rivington Street, 224 E. 7 Street) to test the B20 blends. Also a partnership was formed with the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater, and Broadcasting to evaluate the benefits of biodiesel with on-set diesel generators.


The project was one of the first demonstrations of B20 biofuel in apartment buildings in the United States. It ultimately showed minimal technical barriers exist with B20 fuels. Biodiesel has much lower sulfur content than standard heating oil and if properly produced is an ultra low sulfur heating fuel. The lack of sulfur substantially reduces PM2.5 and SO2 emissions. Biodiesel is a renewable energy source and helps to reduce fossil fuel imports and use. There is a degree of carbon reduction due to the renewable nature of the fuel.

Project Results

No serious technical barriers were realized. Cold weather is not an issue with blends <20% and does not start to become a concern until blends >30%. To address the scouring affect of biodiesel it is recommended to clean the tank or gradually ramp up the bio percentage. Some non-technical barriers exist. Many of the buildings are on dual fuel service and natural gas is cheaper than oil. When the tax rebate was in limbo for part of the project period building owners were reluctant to pay the additional cost. Records had to be maintained of all Bx purchases and tax forms had to be submitted which presented an administrative burden. The demonstration of the biodiesel on film sets was among several factors that led Mayor Bloomberg to institute a regulation (March, 2009) requiring the use of ultra low-sulfur diesel in all diesel applications by film, video, and television productions in NYC. Project outreach included presentation at trade shows, building energy conferences and energy efficiency meetings. In addition, committee meetings and hearings of the City Council of New York, in particular the Environmental Committee, routinely invited Project staff to testify and comment upon the impacts of initiatives that the City and agencies were considering to increase the use of biofuel-blended heating oil in residential and related heating applications.


Cornell University
341 Pine Tree Rd
Ithaca, NY 14850

Principle Investigator

John Nettleton

Universities Involved

Cornell University


Project Type:

Product Demonstration

Technologies Types:

Building Systems
Heating, Ventilation, & Air Conditioning

NYSERDA Contact Information

Nathan Russell


R&D - Buildings Research

Contract Details

Start Date: 1/11/2010
Project Status: Active
Contract Number: ST8910-1

Last Updated: 5/3/2012 1