Biodiesel pump. Image by Flickr user Horatio_NailknotEnlarge Photo
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.