Renewable diesel burns cleaner than regular diesel, releasing less carbon, as shown in this photo. Photo courtesy of Eugene Water & Electric Board

Renewable diesel burns cleaner than regular diesel, releasing less carbon, as shown in this photo. Photo courtesy of Eugene Water & Electric Board

When it comes to choosing a cleaner alternative to diesel, the path to your goals can be littered with a number of different myths. For those that are considering a switch to renewable diesel, such misinformation could hinder a change that can reduce fleet costs, improve your company’s carbon footprint, and lengthen the life of your trucks. But before moving ahead you must dispel the myths, rumors, and gossip concerning renewable diesel.

Myth #1 — Making a Change to Renewable Diesel is Too Expensive

While there can be a small price difference when compared to traditional diesel, the difference amounts to pennies instead of dollars. In terms of infrastructure costs related to other “green” fuels, they are nonexistent. Tanks, lines, fittings, and other components used with conventional diesel are completely compatible with renewable diesel. Many times renewable diesel can be found at the same stations you use to fill up with regular diesel, so there is no need to install a new fueling station at your yard.

You don’t have to worry about making changes to your equipment either. Renewable diesel meets all ASTM D975 fuel standards and has been approved for use in engines manufactured by Cummins, Mack, and Volvo without any modifications.   

Myth #2 — Isn’t Renewable Diesel Just Biofuel?

Although renewable diesel and biofuel are created from the same feedstocks, the two fuels use completely different production methods to reach their end results. Renewable diesel uses a number of different biomass-to-liquid processes, with hydrotreatment being the most common. In this procedure animal fat or vegetable oil is processed with hydrogen to remove oxygen and other elements which results in pure hydrocarbons. The resulting fuel is all of the good parts of conventional diesel without any of the impurities, leaving you with a fuel that has very low odors, nearly zero sulfur, and cleaner combustion.

Biodiesel, on the other hand, 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, nothing in biodiesel is found in conventional or renewable diesel.

Renewable diesel can be used in high-level blends (including 100%) in existing heavy-duty diesel engines without requiring any modification. Also, because renewable diesel is hydrogenated, it doesn’t contain ­oxygen. This means fleets are not faced with the same challenges that are seen when using biodiesel in terms of freezing temperatures and water issues in storage.

Myth #3 — No One is Using Renewable Diesel

A number of operators, especially in California, have begun to make the switch to renewable diesel. Sacramento County, Calif., began using renewable diesel in August 2016 in many of its heavy-duty vehicles, including more than 400 municipal public works trucks and specialty vehicles. The county estimated that it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions up to 80% by making the change. The City and County of San Francisco switched to renewable diesel in 2015, reducing its fleet diesel greenhouse gas emissions by 50%.

Myth #4 – Renewable Diesel Exhaust Produces More Harmful Emissions than Diesel

Renewable diesel fuel actually lowers engine-out exhaust emissions. The high cetane content of the fuel promotes more efficient and consistent combustion, and the fact that the fuel is nearly pure, and not oxygenated, leads it to produce less NOx, less CO, less CO2, fewer hydrocarbons, and fewer particulates. Renewable diesel’s lower level of aromatics will also lead to less exhaust odor, which can be bothersome to operators, maintenance personnel, and members of the community. Biodiesel, because of its oxygenated nature, can actually increase emissions of those same pollutants.

Myth #5 – Using Renewable Diesel Sacrifices Power and Performance

As mentioned previously, more and more engine manufacturers are approving the use of renewable diesel fuel in their engines. These engine companies take such approvals very seriously as they must be mindful of any performance impacts that their end-users might experience, along with maintenance and warranty issues that might have to be dealt with. For example, based on extensive testing in both trucks and engines, Mack concluded that renewable diesel delivers similar performance to conventional diesel, while also reducing emissions of both greenhouse gases and particulate matter. When Mack made this approval announcement, it was also noted that renewable diesel fuel can help fleets reduce maintenance costs.