More and more fleet managers in the public sector are being asked reduce carbon emissions by finding alternatives to traditional fossil fuels. For some government entities, this may mean transitioning to fully electric fleet vehicles. Even law enforcement fleets, where speed and acceleration are key requirements, are replacing their traditional gasoline-powered cruisers with new hybrid cruisers — and these hybrids are even outperforming traditional gasoline-powered cruisers in critical areas like acceleration and breaking.
However, for entities that rely on diesel engines for their superior torque and fuel economy over gasoline engines, there is not really a comparable solution. Current limitations with electric trucks like range and recharging make fully transitioning away from diesel engines unfeasible. That’s where alternatives to fossil fuels are making a real impact. Renewable diesel (RD) is the newest alternative to conventional (fossil) diesel. But what exactly is renewable diesel, and how is it a better choice than regular diesel or even biodiesel? In this blog, we discuss renewable diesel and its pros and cons to help fleet managers make a better-informed decision.
What is Renewable Diesel?
In lay terms, RD is a fossil-free alternative to regular fossil-based diesel fuels. RD is derived from agricultural waste products like vegetable oils and animal fats making it a fully renewable and sustainable energy. Though it can be considered a biodiesel, the process of hydrotreating (RD) over transesterification (biodiesel) gives RD some significant advantages over both regular diesel and biodiesel.
It’s easy. RD is considered a drop-in replacement for conventional diesel and biodiesel, because it’s processed similarly and chemically identical to conventional diesel. This means RD may be produced in regular diesel facilities, used in regular diesel engines, and transported and dispensed in the same regular diesel network. Therefore, an entire fleet can basically be converted overnight.
It’s cleaner. Because RD is produced from lower carbon materials like waste agricultural oils and fats and because it is created through the process of hydrotreating, it burns much cleaner than conventional diesel. In fact, RD can yield up to 80% lower lifecycle emissions over fossil-based diesels. RD’s carbon intensity is also 50-80% lower than conventional diesel.
It’s renewable. RD is derived from 100% renewable and sustainable resources, which helps to eliminate our dependence on diminishing fossil fuel supplies and our dependence on foreign oil.
It’s durable. During the processing (transesterification) of biodiesel, oxygen is introduced into the fuel, which can introduce cultures that may gum up fuel lines and filters. The excess oxygen in Biodiesel also causes it to perform poorly in cold environments. With the hydrotreating process, there is zero oxygen introduced into renewable diesel, making it a much more effective replacement fuel for cold environments.
It’s expensive. Currently, renewable diesel costs more to produce than conventional diesel, which may ultimately translate to the pump. However, states that are aggressively seeking to lower greenhouse gas emissions are providing cost offsetting legislation to offset the higher production cost. This allows fleet managers to purchase RD for sometimes less than the price of conventional diesel.
It’s controversial. Some of the current feedstocks used to make RD create environmental concerns. In cases where palm oil feedstock is used to make RD, it has led to various land concerns including deforestation and destruction of natural habitats in order to make room for palm crops.
The Bottom Line
Renewable diesel appears to be a viable alternative to conventional diesel. The reduction of greenhouse gases and carbon intensity along with the elimination of dependence on fossil fuels makes it an appealing alternative. Currently, the higher cost to produce RD translates to a higher cost at the pump, which may be prohibitive for some fleets. But as more and more municipalities look for cleaner and more sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels, subsidies and associated legislation could lower the price at the pump, making RD a clear frontrunner for sustainable fueling.