Renewable diesel is identical to diesel fuel. This similarity means there are no precautions to consider when using renewable diesel. - Photo: Getty Images

Renewable diesel is identical to diesel fuel. This similarity means there are no precautions to consider when using renewable diesel. 

Photo: Getty Images

Renewable diesel is gaining popularity, mostly with west coast fleets, as a cleaner-burning alternative to diesel and biodiesel fuels.

At its most basic definition, renewable diesel fuel is a direct substitute for diesel fuel that is refined from lower carbon and renewable source materials. But, with any newer fuel source comes a few myths and misconceptions.

Myth #1: Renewable Diesel is the Same as Biodiesel, with the Same Problems.

Renewable diesel, much like biodiesel, is sourced from waste agricultural and meat processing products, particularly vegetable oils and animal and fish fats.

“Although renewable diesel and biodiesel are created from the same feedstocks, the two fuels use completely different production methods to reach their respective results,” according to Matt Leuck, technical manager, North America for Neste US.

Biodiesel (from B-5 to B-20) is a non-hydrocarbon fuel with variability in source materials. “This source variability can lead to variation in different batches of the final product. In addition, biodiesel is produced by transesterification which uses methanol or ethanol, and catalysts, to turn the feedstock into methyl esters and glycerol. While it functions similarly to diesel, none of the molecules in biodiesel are found in conventional or renewable diesel,” Leuck added.

Renewable diesel is identical to diesel fuel.

“This similarity means there are no precautions to consider when using renewable diesel. In fact, 5% of the U.S. diesel supply already has renewable diesel in it where the product is available without a need for pump labeling,” said Michael Lokey, executive officer for Sunshine Biofuels.

Renewable diesel can be made from several different biomass-to-liquid processes, with hydrotreatment being the most common. In this procedure animal fat or vegetable oil is processed with hydrogen and catalysts to remove oxygen and other elements which results in pure hydrocarbons, according to Leuck.

“The resulting fuel is all of the good parts of conventional petroleum diesel without any of the impurities and a much smaller effect on the environment, leaving a fuel that has low odor, nearly zero sulfur and is cleaner-burning,” according to Leuck of Neste US.

One item to clarify – renewable diesel is not the same as viscous renewable diesel.

“Viscous renewable diesel is actually raw vegetable oil and sometimes this material is confused with hydrocarbon renewable diesel made by hydroprocessing. The use of raw vegetable oil in a diesel engine can cause engine damage,” said Robert McCormick, senior research fellow for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Myth #2: The Cost is Too High

Cost is always a top concern for fleet managers. Mark Fitz, president of Star Oilco, noted that “renewable diesel is not biodiesel and it is not ‘cheap.’ It is a premium fuel that does cost more than petroleum diesel. California and Oregon’s Low Carbon Fuel Standards are driving its adoption in those states.”

In terms of infrastructure costs related to other “green” fuels, they are non-existent with renewable diesel fuel.

Myth #3: It’s Not Widely Available

One common concern is related to the availability of the alternative fuel. While it’s true that it’s not yet available everywhere, availability is growing. Currently, the west coast is leading the charge. 

“Commercial fleets like renewable diesel because it’s an actionable way to reduce their carbon footprint and there’s less maintenance. Municipalities value it because of its sustainability. The volume and demand are there,” according to Leuck of Neste US.

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Neste, for example, delivered its 1 billionth gallon of Neste MY Renewable Diesel fuel into the U.S in May 2018. “That would not be possible without a number of operators, particularly in California, believing in the value of renewable diesel,” according to Leuck of Neste US.

Myth #4: The Downtime is Too Long

Renewable diesel can have other benefits related to truck fleet maintenance and because diesel trucks can use renewable diesel without modification, there isn’t downtime related to changing out truck parts.

“Tanks, lines, fittings, and other components used with conventional diesel are completely compatible. Renewable diesel can also be found at the same stations used to fill up with regular diesel, so there is no need to install a new fueling station or modify existing equipment either,” according to Leuck of Neste US. “Renewable diesel fuel is a clean-burning diesel that keeps fuel filters, particulate filters, and fuel injection systems cleaner and vehicles running efficiently. Fleet owners across California are seeing reduced maintenance costs and better reliability from trucks being fueled with renewable diesel.”

Do you have any questions, myths you need help clarifying, or just want to share your renewable diesel experience? E-mail me and let’s chat!

Lauren Fletcher

About the author
Lauren Fletcher

Lauren Fletcher

Executive Editor - Fleet, Trucking & Transportation

Lauren Fletcher is Executive Editor for the Fleet, Trucking & Transportation Group. She has covered the truck fleet industry since 2006. Her bright personality helps lead the team's content strategy and focuses on growth, education, and motivation.

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