What Is Renewable Diesel Fuel?

Renewable diesel—A biomass-derived transportation fuel appropriate for use in diesel engines, renewable diesel is a biomass-derived transportation fuel. It complies with the ASTM D975 petroleum specification in the United States and EN 590 in Europe. It’s a commercial gasoline that’s made in America and imported from Asia. In the United States, five factories manufacture renewable diesel with a combined capacity of about 590 million gallons per year. With 2 billion gallons of capacity under development and expansion at three existing plants, production is likely to increase in the foreseeable future. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) does not track renewable diesel production, but the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does, with RFS RIN data indicating that the US consumed over 960 million gallons of renewable diesel in 2020. Due to the economic benefits of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, nearly all domestically generated and imported renewable diesel is used in California.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF)—In comparison to conventional fuels, SAF is a fuel obtained from renewable resources that allows for a reduction in net life cycle carbon dioxide emissions. SAF is the recommended and now widely used word for non-petroleum synthetic jet fuel components manufactured to ASTM D7566 specifications. SAF meets ASTM D1655, allowing it to be used in current aircraft and infrastructure when combined with normal jet fuel. SAF is a limited-edition commercial product that has been in use at Los Angeles International Airport since 2016 and will be at San Francisco International Airport in late 2020. Imports from an international producer began in late 2020, with one domestic SAF production facility operating in Los Angeles and numerous others under construction or planned. The EIA does not track SAF production, but the EPA does, with RFS RIN data indicating that the US consumed 4.6 million gallons in 2020.

The ASTM D7566 standard has certified seven SAF âpathways,â or fuel classifications, at this time. Before they can be certified as ASTM D1655 comparable and utilized in an airplane, all of the neat SAF quantities must be blended with normal aviation turbine fuel. The following are the seven approved paths (as listed in the D7566 Annexes):

  • Fischer-Tropsch (FT) hydroprocessed synthetic paraffinic kerosene (SPK) fuel made from solid biomass (e.g., wood residues) (FT-SPK); maximum blend level 50%
  • Hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) fuel generated from spent cooking oil, animal fats, algae, and vegetable oils (e.g., camelina) (HEFA-SPK); maximum blend level 50%
  • Previously known as direct-sugar-to-hydrocarbon fuel (HFS-SIP), synthetic isoparaffin fuel from hydroprocessed fermented sugars (SIP) has a maximum blend level of 10%.
  • FT-SPK with aromatics fuel (FT-SPK/A); maximum blend level 50%; solid biomass resources (e.g., wood residues)
  • ATJ-SPK is an alcohol-to-jet SPK fuel made from isobutanol or ethanol, with a maximum blend level of 50%.
  • Jet fuel generated from fats, oils, and greases (CHJ) catalytic hydrothermolysis (or hydrothermal liquefaction); maximum blend level 50%.
  • At a maximum blend percentage of 10%, HEFA with hydrocarbons (HC-HEFA) is made from esters and fatty acids.

Renewable gasoline—A biomass-derived transportation fuel appropriate for use in spark-ignition engines, renewable gasoline is also known as biogasoline or “green” gasoline. In the United States, it complies with ASTM D4814, and in Europe, it complies with EN 228.

What is renewable diesel?

Green diesel, also known as renewable diesel, is a biofuel that is chemically identical to petroleum diesel fuel. Renewable diesel complies with ASTM D975 for petroleum diesel and can be utilized in existing petroleum pipelines, storage tanks, and diesel engines. It may be made from cellulosic biomass materials such agricultural leftovers, wood and sawdust, and switchgrass, and it meets the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Program’s advanced biofuel requirements.

Hydrotreating, gasification, and pyrolysis are some of the thermochemical processes used to make renewable diesel. Learn more about the manufacturing of renewable diesel.

Because renewable diesel is chemically identical to petroleum diesel, it can be used in its purest form (known as R100) or blended with petroleum diesel in the same way as biodiesel is combined. R20 is a 20 percent renewable diesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel blend, whereas R5 is a 5 percent renewable diesel and 95 percent petroleum diesel blend.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the United States publishes data on renewable diesel fuel imports. RFS RIN (renewable identification number) data from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can be used as a proxy for consumption. According to RIN data for 2019, total renewable diesel consumption in the United States was around 900 million gallons. At present moment, the EIA does not publish data on renewable diesel fuel production.

Because of the economic benefits of using renewable diesel produced in the United States and imported renewable diesel under California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, the state consumes practically all of it.

Is renewable diesel the same as regular diesel?

  • Renewable diesel doesn’t contain oxygen because it’s hydrogenated, so users won’t have to deal with the problems that biodiesel has with freezing temperatures and storage.
  • Renewable diesel can be utilized in engines that are built to run on conventional diesel fuel without the need for mixing because it has the same chemical structure as petroleum diesel.

Fleet Experience with Renewable Diesel

Renewable diesel has several advantages: it is made from renewable resources, it burns cleanly, and it functions similarly to standard diesel. Fleets switching to the fuel won’t have to worry about performance difficulties, and they won’t have to change their equipment or fuelling infrastructure.

Fleets that have switched to renewable fuel, according to Schaeffer, have done so as part of a low-cost approach to satisfy environmental targets. “Without losing power, performance, or driving range, renewable diesel fuel can help fleets cut carbon emissions and petroleum use while also improving air quality.”

One of these fleets was the city of Oakland, California. When renewable diesel became commercially available in northern California, the community jumped at the chance.

“At first, renewable diesel appeared to be a ‘too good to be true’ cost-neutral solution to our problems.

“However, renewable diesel allows you to change your complete diesel-powered fleet to alternative fuel overnight,” said Richard Battersby, CAFM, CPFP, the city’s manager of equipment services. “It was an easy decision to make when the product became available through a local provider at a very competitive price.”

Since the fall of 2015, the City of Oakland has used renewable diesel in all of its diesel-powered equipment, including Fire Department apparatus and off-road equipment. To yet, there has been no discernible difference between the petroleum diesel and the biodiesel, and there have been no driver complaints.

“We estimate to save roughly 250,000 gallons of petroleum diesel each year and more than 1,500 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, and we have yet to encounter any downsides,” Battersby added. “The most common reaction I’ve seen is astonishment that there is a cleaner-burning direct diesel fuel substitute that is made from renewable sources, doesn’t require any additional fuel costs, and doesn’t require any equipment or infrastructure adjustments.”

For many of the same reasons — and with similar results – the Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB), Oregon’s oldest public utility, has incorporated renewable diesel. The fleet had been depending on increased biodiesel ratios to cut greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use. However, there were drawbacks in terms of pricing and cold-weather performance.

The fleet was interested when UPS and the City of San Francisco both adopted renewable fuel. The fleet decided it was time to give it a shot after more research.

“Switching to renewable diesel has revealed almost no performance glitches – it’s almost too good to be true,” stated Gary Lentsch, CAFM, EWEB fleet manager.

Every diesel engine on EWEB’s roster now runs on renewable diesel. Renewable diesel may be used in any vehicle that consumes diesel fuel and is covered by manufacturer warranties because it meets the ASTM D975 industry criteria for diesel fuel.

Renewable fuel has shown to lower emissions for the fleet, according to diagnostic indications from telematics systems, according to Lentsch. “When we used biodiesel, we’d get two to three alerts a week that a unit’s diesel particulate filter had loaded up with soot and needed to be re-generated,” he said. “The alarms went disappeared after a few weeks of using renewable diesel.”

EWEB predicts that by using renewable diesel and ethanol-blended fuels this year, it will be able to lower its CO2 footprint by more than 30% and fossil fuel use by more than 65 percent compared to 2009. “A gallon of diesel fuel discharges more than 30 pounds of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.” “A gallon of renewable diesel emits less than ten,” remarked Lentsch.

Fleets may expect similar environmental results, according to Pat O’Keefe, CEO of Nexgen Fuel and vice president of Golden Gate Petroleum, a California-based distributor of renewable fuel. “Renewable diesel cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 13 to 90 percent, and CO2 life­cycle emissions by 60 to 90 percent,” he said. “Renewable diesel has a cetane value of 75 to 90, compared to 48 to 52 for petroleum diesel, indicating that renewable diesel burns more thoroughly — and thus cleaner — than petroleum diesel.”

What About Renewable Diesel Costs?

Renewable diesel is simple to install, has obvious environmental benefits, and has no negative impact on vehicle performance. What about the costs, though?

The state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCSF), which offsets some of the cost, makes renewable diesel cost competitive with petroleum diesel and biodiesel in California. “California, where a tax and regulatory framework favors low carbon liquid fuels, is the largest market for renewable diesel fuel, according to Schaeffer. “In California, retail prices for renewable diesel have been similar to those for standard ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD).”

EWEB has been tracking alternative fuel pricing in Oregon for the past five years, according to Lentsch. Renewable diesel is currently competitive with biodiesel. “We’re seeing R99 approximately 15 cents a gallon higher than petroleum-based diesel — equivalent to B-20,” he said. “Renewable diesel is still a niche product. I expect the cost to level off as we see more competition among our fuel suppliers.”

Where is Renewable Diesel Available?

Renewable diesel may be cost competitive in some areas, but will it be available in all? Although renewable diesel is technically available in all states, none encourages or incentivizes use as California does.

“Because of California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, renewable diesel is currently sold primarily in the state of California,” O’Keefe noted.

Due to distribution issues, Neste, the oil refiner that produces the renewable fuel sold by O’Keefe’s company, indicated that expanding to additional locations is tough.

Non-coastal states have greater delivery expenses, according to Kalpala. Because of these rising costs and a lack of incentives, fuel could become prohibitively expensive.

As part of its goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the New York City fleet is contemplating renewable diesel.

“The city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services’ chief fleet officer, Keith Kerman, said, “Increased use of biodiesel and development of renewable diesel choices are essential components of our strategy.” “We’re excited about the recent increase in the usage of renewable diesel in California public fleets, and we’ve started talking to renewable diesel providers.”

While the current availability of renewable diesel is limited, Schaeffer believes that demand will drive increased supply. “Interest in the fuel from fleets across the country could help drive additional product availability to satisfy rising demand,” he said.

Propel retail fuel stations in California selling Neste’s renewable diesel, known as Diesel HPR, are reporting great success, according to Kalpala.

What is renewable diesel made out of?

Renewable diesel is a hydrocarbon diesel fuel made from fats, vegetable oils, and waste cooking oils that has been hydroprocessed. Renewable diesel fuel, in its most basic definition, is a direct replacement for diesel fuel that is refined from reduced carbon and renewable source materials.

Is renewable diesel bad?

Both the Marathon Refinery in Martinez and the Phillips 66 Refinery in Rodeo recently announced plans to transition from fossil fuel to “sustainable diesel” production. Renewable diesels, which are made from feedstocks such as cooking oil and vegetable oils, are being promoted by refineries as a more environmentally friendly alternative to oil.

Indeed, it is claimed that greenhouse gas emissions will be cut in half, which could be a good thing. That half, however, still represents significant greenhouse gas emissions at a time when we need to be moving toward an emissions-free future, as evidenced by electrification initiatives and the switch from diesel to electric trucks.

Renewable diesel proponents also claim that switching to renewable fuel will lower other hazardous emissions in addition to greenhouse gases. However, it would not eradicate harmful pollutants, nor would it address Particulate Matter 2.5, which has been connected to Covid-19 mortality.

Mixtures of fats, cooking oils, and vegetable oils would be used as renewable diesel feedstock. Despite the fact that other plants across the world have produced renewable diesel from cooking oils, the flood of restaurant closures in the wake of Covid’s financial woes is already depleting that resource.

Although the refineries are not currently planning to use palm oil, which has been linked to environmental harm, the concentrate on soybean oil poses several problems. Although the refineries claim that the soybean oil will be produced from existing agricultural production, it is questionable whether there will be enough to support large manufacturing. If more soybean oil is needed, this could have negative environmental consequences, such as monoculture and forest razing in areas already damaged by deforestation, such as the Amazon.

The impact of the new refineries on jobs is also a source of concern. Marathon has already laid off the majority of its employees in the area. Despite promises of new jobs throughout the transition and upon the completion of the proposed renewable diesel refinery, Marathon and Rodeo Renewed anticipate a reduction in overall employment. Many workers will be unemployed in the meantime.

Both refineries are now pursuing permits to begin the shift, with the goal of refining solely renewable diesel by 2023 to 2025. The new refining process would last until 2033 at the earliest. The refineries’ plans after that are uncertain.

When production reaches its end, a strategy must be in place to decommission the refinery and perform thorough site remediation to protect community health and local ecosystems.

Overall, it has to be shown whether renewable diesel offers a feasible path to economic and energy production that does not harm frontline communities, workers, and others. As we work to move to totally renewable energy sources, renewable diesel may be a viable option. If it happens, we must ensure that we are planning for a future in which communities and workers are supported, land is remediated and made available for public use, and extractive economies are phased out.

Marathon Refinery in Martinez, via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of James Daisa.

Is renewable diesel carbon free?

Renewable diesel turns out to be the actual deal, much to my amazement. It’s a genuine hydrocarbon, similar to diesel but made from biomass, with a lower carbon impact and improved performance.

Is renewable diesel sustainable?

In the public sector, more and more fleet managers are being pushed to cut carbon emissions by seeking alternatives to traditional fossil fuels. This might imply switching to all-electric fleet vehicles for some government agencies. Even law enforcement fleets are replacing their old gasoline-powered cruisers with modern hybrid cruisers, which outperform traditional gasoline-powered cruisers in vital areas such as acceleration and breaking.

There is no analogous alternative for entities who rely on diesel engines for their greater torque and fuel economy over gasoline engines. The current constraints of electric trucks, such as range and recharging, make a complete switch away from diesel engines impossible. Alternatives to fossil fuels are having a significant impact in this area. The newest alternative to conventional (fossil) diesel is renewable diesel (RD). But what is renewable diesel, and how does it differ from conventional diesel or even biodiesel? In this blog, we’ll go over the benefits and drawbacks of renewable diesel to help fleet managers make a more informed decision.

What is Renewable Diesel?

RD is a fossil-free alternative to traditional fossil-based diesel fuels. Because RD is made from agricultural waste products like vegetable oils and animal fats, it is a completely renewable and long-term energy source. RD has certain substantial advantages over both conventional diesel and biodiesel due to the method of hydrotreating (RD) rather than transesterification (biodiesel).

The Pros

It’s simple. Because it’s processed identically and chemically identical to conventional diesel and biodiesel, RD is considered a drop-in replacement for both. This means that RD may be manufactured in standard diesel facilities, utilized in standard diesel engines, and transported and distributed using standard diesel infrastructure. As a result, a complete fleet can be transformed in a matter of hours.

It’s more sanitary. RD burns substantially cleaner than normal diesel since it is made from lower carbon ingredients like waste agricultural oils and fats and is manufactured using a hydrotreating process. In fact, when compared to fossil-based diesels, RD can provide up to 80% reduced lifespan emissions. The carbon intensity of RD is also 50-80% lower than that of regular diesel.

It’s a renewable resource. RD is made from 100 percent renewable and sustainable resources, reducing our need on finite fossil fuel supplies and foreign oil.

It’s long-lasting. When biodiesel is processed (transesterified), oxygen is injected into the fuel, which can introduce bacteria that can clog fuel lines and filters. Biodiesel’s abundant oxygen causes it to function badly in cold temperatures. There is no oxygen added into renewable diesel during the hydrotreating process, making it a considerably more effective alternative fuel for cold locations.

The Cons

It’s not cheap. Renewable fuel now costs more to manufacture than regular diesel, which could lead to higher prices at the pump. States that are working hard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, on the other hand, are enacting cost-cutting measures to compensate for the increased production costs. As a result, fleet managers can buy RD for less than the cost of ordinary diesel.

It’s a contentious issue. Some of the present feedstocks utilized in the production of RD are hazardous to the environment. When palm oil is used as a feedstock to create RD, it has resulted in deforestation and the degradation of natural habitats in order to make way for palm crops.

The Bottom Line

Alternatives to conventional diesel, such as renewable diesel, look to be viable. It is an intriguing choice since it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and carbon intensity while also eliminating reliance on fossil fuels. Currently, the increased expense of producing RD correlates to a higher cost at the pump, which for certain fleets may be unaffordable. However, as more communities seek cleaner and more sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels, subsidies and related laws may reduce the price at the pump, making RD a clear contender for sustainable fueling.

How good is renewable diesel?

If there is a distinction between renewable diesel and regular biodiesel, what is it?

Lower emissions, cleaner, and more efficiently burning biodiesel, with superior cold and storage qualities than standard biodiesel. Even while many motorists should be aware of the distinctions between Neste’s renewable diesel and traditional biodiesel, they aren’t.

Traditional biodiesel (also known as Fatty Acid Methyl Ester or FAME) and high-quality renewable diesel (also known as Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil or HVO) are frequently mistaken. Despite the fact that both are derived from organic biomasses, they are distinct products. Differences can be discovered in their manufacturing processes, cleanliness, and quality, for example.

HVO-type, premium-quality Neste Waste and leftovers are used to make renewable diesel. Impurities are removed from the raw materials throughout the manufacturing process, after which they are hydrotreated at a high temperature. The result is a colorless, odorless, uniform-quality fuel with the same chemical composition as fossil diesel. It’s also known as a “second-generation biofuel” or “advanced biofuel.”

On the other hand, traditional, first-generation FAME-type biodiesel is made by esterifying vegetable oils or fats. The esterification process prevents the use of impure or low-quality raw materials, such as waste and leftovers. Traditional biodiesel quality differs in other ways as well, depending on the raw materials used.

Despite the fact that both bio-based fuels contribute to the replacement of fossil fuels with renewables and thus to the reduction of global climate emissions, only renewable diesel may be utilized in high concentrations and even as a standalone product in all diesel engines. Thanks to a new EN 15940 standard, using renewable diesel in high percentages has recently become considerably easier in Europe. Because the diesel fuel quality criteria in the United States differ from those in Europe, the product has already been utilized in high concentrations there.

Both traditional fossil diesel and renewable diesel are hydrocarbons in terms of chemical composition. Traditional biodiesel is an esther, which could cause issues with some engines. This is why traditional biodiesel is still restricted to a maximum concentration of 7% in Europe (based on the EN 590 diesel standard) and up to 20% in other areas of the world, depending on the country and state. Higher concentrations can create issues like damage to the rubber and plastic parts in the fuel system or carbon build-up in the engine. Traditional biodiesel can absorb water, which can lead to microbial development in the fuel tank while it’s being stored.

Impurities may also be present as a result of the raw materials utilized or the manufacturing process. After all, modern car technology and powerful engines have far greater criteria for gasoline purity.

The user of Neste Renewable Diesel does not have to worry about microbiological development produced by pollutants clogging the car’s fuel filters. Its use does not increase the frequency of vehicle maintenance or the requirement for oil changes, as certain standard biodiesels may do. Its use does not necessitate any modifications to the vehicle’s fuel systems, regardless of the vehicle’s age or make. To put it another way, renewable diesel may be used straight away.

Neste Renewable Diesel is designed to withstand extreme cold, including arctic temperatures. It has the same qualities as high-quality fossil diesels. Even in the worst winter weather, the motorist does not have to worry about their automobile breaking down on the road.

The higher the cetane number, 75-95, the cleaner the fuel burns and the more power the car engine produces. It also makes starting the car engine in cold weather easier and reduces fuel consumption, especially when traveling in a city.

Traditional biofuels have a cetane number of 50-60, and their cold resistance and shelf life are significantly reduced. Even at mild temperatures of +5 °C (41 °F), they have been shown to have difficulty with frigid temperatures.

Although both renewable diesel and traditional biodiesel emit fewer greenhouse gases than fossil fuel, renewable diesel is a better alternative in this regard.

Carbon emissions from traffic are most efficiently minimized and global climate targets are best met when renewable fuel is utilized at 100% concentration. Neste’s renewable diesel, for example, reduced global warming-causing greenhouse gas emissions by 6.4 million metric tons in 2015. This equates to the removal of 2.3 million passenger automobiles from the road permanently.

Particle, hydrocarbon, and nitrogen oxide emissions are all reduced when Neste Renewable Diesel is used. These tailpipe emissions have an impact on local air quality in particular. As a result, renewable diesel is a good alternative for urban applications such as buses, garbage transportation, emergency response vehicles, and other similar vehicles.

Overall, renewable diesel and traditional biodiesel are very different; in fact, they are two distinct products. Because renewable diesel is a cleaner, higher-quality fuel that holds up better to cold and storage than regular biodiesel, the benefits to the vehicle, the motorist, and, ultimately, the environment are highest when 100 percent renewable diesel is utilized.

Is renewable diesel a drop in fuel?

Renewable diesel (RD) is a fuel that is becoming more popular as an alternative for today’s heavy-duty diesel engines. It has the same chemical make-up as conventional (fossil) diesel fuel, but it is made entirely of renewable resources and includes no fossil carbon. Furthermore, RD is a “drop-in” diesel replacement.

Is renewable diesel more expensive?

Biodiesel is something we hear a lot about. To refresh your memory, biodiesel is a renewable fuel derived from lipids such as vegetable oils (such as soybean) and animal fats. A chemical reaction occurs when these lipids and alcohol come into contact. With minor handling changes, the fuel is largely compatible with petroleum diesel and is typically blended in the 2% (B2) to 20% (B20) range. In 2018, 1.8 billion gallons of biodiesel were produced.

Renewable diesel isn’t discussed nearly as often. The feedstocks are comparable, while renewable diesel is more likely to come from trash. Fischer-Tropsch and Hydrogenation are the two main production techniques that are similar to petroleum fuel generation. Renewable diesel is a petroleum diesel substitute that can be blended with both petroleum diesel and biodiesel. It is thought to be “cleaner” than either product, both in terms of operation and carbon emissions (especially compared to petroleum biodiesel).

Renewable diesel is more expensive than biodiesel and petroleum diesel. In terms of supply, four commercial renewable diesel plants with a total capacity of 356 million gallons were operational in 2018, with another 688 million gallons of capacity set to be operational in the near future. The biggest suppliers of the fuel in the United States are Renewable Energy Group and Neste. It can be used at 100% (R100) or in any blend lower than that.

Renewable diesel has tended to be a niche product in locations where environmental performance (regulated by government regulation) is a high priority, such as California and the Pacific Northwest, due to price constraints.

Who makes renewable diesel?

Renewable diesel can be created from a variety of sources, the most common of which is a low-value waste product. Waste vegetable oil, waste from animal rendering, and other biologically generated oils are the most prevalent feedstocks now employed. Hydrogenation is used in bio-oil processing to convert low-value waste oils into high-value diesel and jet fuel.

With their REG Ultra Clean Diesel product, Renewable Energy Group and Diamond Green Diesel (Diamond Green is in a joint venture with Valero) are the main producers of renewable diesel in the United States. Neste is the world’s largest manufacturer of renewable diesel, with its “Neste My” product being one of the two most popular low-CO2 bio-oil derived renewable diesel fuels. A number of newer Renewable Diesel projects are being built in the United States, including in the Pacific Northwest.

Other refiners of renewable diesel use a Fischer-Tropsch process with wood waste, sorted higher grade municipal garbage, and other high btu value carbon based waste products (on a much lesser scale of production).

Many people believe that this technique will be the future of all diesel and jet fuel refining, transforming waste into fungible low-carbon fuel.