Renewable Diesel Fuel Shines, Production Surges

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Biodiesel pump. Image by Flickr user Horatio_Nailknot

Biodiesel pump. Image by Flickr user Horatio_Nailknot

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Alternative fuels have recently suffered at the hands of the current Renewable Fuel Standard, a set of guidelines that dictate various aspects of alt fuels.

Combined with droughts and political factors, the industry has had it tough recently--but renewable diesel is on track to change the industry's fortunes, with a surge in recent production.

Renewable diesel differs from regular biodiesel in its composition.

Molecularly, says Pike Research, it's nearly identical to regular diesel, and as such results in no performance or longevity compromises, nor necessary changes to infrastructure.

Importantly, thanks to its similarity with regular diesel, it also side-steps many of the regulations which have relegated biodiesel to its current niche position.

And its popularity is increasing--production currently exceeds 1 billion gallons per year.

The 'renewable' aspect of renewable diesel comes from its production sources, or 'feedstocks'. Rather than cracking from crude oil, renewable diesel originates from fats, oils and greases, or FOGs.

FOGs are waste byproducts of restaurants and animal processing, requiring collection of substances like chicken fat, pork lard and beef tallow from the food processing industry.

The fuel can also be made from used cooking grease and oils, but this is more difficult to collect on the scales necessary for large-scale fuel production.

The manufacturing of facilities to produce renewable diesel is also significantly more cost-effective than that of some other biofuels. A renewable diesel facility costs between $2-$4 per gallon to make, only 20-40 percent that of a cellulosic facility, for example. Lower production costs equal lower fuel costs--and economies of scale is also better than for many other biofuels.

As sales of diesel cars increase, the renewable diesel industry may find itself in even greater demand in the current years--though the most demand will still originate from the haulage and aviation industries.

Provided feedstock availability remains suitable, renewable diesel may prove to be one of the success stories of the alternative fuels industry.


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Comments (7)
  1. Wait - What's the difference between Renewable Diesel and BioDiesel again? BioDiesel is also made from waste vegetable oils and animal fats....

  2. "Renewable diesel differs from regular biodiesel in its composition."

    It reads like they are saying biodiesel IS regular diesel. In the next paragraph it compares renewable diesel to regular diesel, leaving out the bio part.

    Even so, not all cars will be able to accept biodiesel. Trucks like the big Ford/Chevy V8 diesels should have no problem. It is all the clean diesels put out by VW or Mercedes. All VW diesels that I know of can only accept 2% biodiesel, B02.

  3. Biodiesel is generally produced by transesterification and renewable diesel is produced by hydrocracking. Same feedstock, different method of production and different properties. Renewable diesel is almost identical to petroleum diesel.

  4. I think Pike Research is just creating confusion here by labelling what is basically a new biodiesel product as "renewable diesel" because it has properties that are identical to crude based diesel, but it's still biodiesel and all biodiesel variants are renewable of course.

  5. One of the biggest key point of "biodiesel" is that its emission is lower due to the fact that it is "cleaner" than traditional diesel refined from oil.

    Is that a correction assumption that the "renewable" diesel mentioned in this article is also "cleaner" than regular diesel?

  6. @Xiaolong Li The California Air Resources Board has done extensive testing of both biodiesel and renewable diesel and have found both have lower criteria emissions than petrodiesel, but biodiesel in higher concentrations can increase NOx emissions, which increases smog. Here is their test data: There is still quite a bit of wrangling going on about the GHG emissions balance of both of these fuels with variations of feedstock and transport affecting the ultimate value that CA may assign, which may or may not be better than petrodiesel.

  7. Some bad news for owners of new diesels in particular states:

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