Renewable Diesel: Trucker's Fuel of Tomorrow?

Renewable Diesel: Trucker’s Fuel of Tomorrow?

In recent trucking news, Penske has made a significant move by adopting renewable diesel as the fuel of choice for its entire racing team fleet. This decision might leave you wondering about the buzz surrounding renewable diesel. Is it just another biofuel with limitations, or could it truly be the future of trucking? Let’s delve into this promising development and see why it is making waves in the world of commercial trucking.

What is Renewable Diesel?

Renewable diesel might sound like a distant cousin of biodiesel, but it’s an entirely different beast. While both fuels share common feedstocks like soybean oil, waste cooking oils, and greases, renewable diesel takes a different path in its production. Unlike biodiesel, which is a blend of raw materials, renewable diesel undergoes a meticulous refining process. In essence, it’s more akin to traditional diesel fuel, which is derived from crude oil.

Scott Fenwick, the technical director of the Clean Fuels Alliance, explains that renewable diesel is “refined by an entirely different processing technology that gives it performance characteristics that are virtually identical to conventional diesel fuel.” This distinction is crucial because it means renewable diesel delivers performance without the drawbacks commonly associated with biodiesel.

Why Choose Renewable Diesel for Your Truck?

Renewable diesel offers several compelling reasons for trucking fleets to make the switch. One of the most significant advantages is its positive impact on the environment. This clean-burning alternative can significantly reduce tailpipe emissions, making it an attractive option for both new and older trucks.

For pre-2010 diesel engines lacking modern exhaust aftertreatment systems, it provides substantial benefits. It slashes particulate matter emissions and contributes to a reduction in greenhouse gas and CO2 emissions. In these older engines, the choice of fuel can make a world of difference.

However, even in 2010 to 2027 engines with advanced aftertreatment systems, renewable diesel shines. It offers a holistic approach to emissions reduction, focusing on the entire life cycle of the fuel. Bill Combs, vice president of sustainability development and strategy for Penske Transportation Solutions, explains that the manufacturing process of renewable diesel itself generates fewer emissions compared to conventional diesel and biodiesel.

Renewable Diesel’s Environmental Benefits

The environmental benefits of renewable diesel extend beyond reducing tailpipe emissions. Its “well-to-wheel” approach takes into account factors such as sustainable feedstock cultivation and fuel transportation. With these considerations, renewable diesel can achieve remarkable emissions reductions, reaching up to 75%. This impressive reduction comes from a fuel that, in many aspects, outperforms traditional diesel.

Johan Agebrand, director of product marketing at Volvo Trucks North America, points out that renewable diesel may face issues with clouding, particularly in cold weather. However, this can be easily managed with heated fuel filters and tanks, ensuring smooth operations in all conditions.

Maintenance Considerations

While renewable diesel offers numerous advantages, it’s essential to be aware of potential maintenance considerations, especially in older diesel engines built before 2000. These engines typically use natural rubber O-rings and gaskets, which can be affected by the lack of certain compounds, known as “aromatics,” present in conventional diesel. The absence of aromatics improves emissions but can cause natural rubber components to swell when the engine heats up, potentially leading to leaks.

To address this issue, running a 50/50 blend of petroleum diesel and renewable diesel can be a viable solution. In contrast, trucks built after 2015 use synthetic materials for gaskets and O-rings that are not prone to swelling, ensuring compatibility with renewable diesel.

Cost vs. Environmental Benefits

One hurdle preventing wider adoption of renewable diesel is its current cost. It’s more expensive than conventional or biodiesel blends, which has limited its use primarily to West Coast states like California, where regulations and incentives favor its adoption.

However, the future looks promising. As more refineries across the country convert to produce renewable diesel, supply and availability will increase, ultimately driving prices down. Neste, a renewable diesel producer, projects that the U.S. market for renewable diesel will reach 18 million tons by 2030. The growth potential is significant, and the U.S. is already the largest global market for this fuel.

Taking Control of Your Fuel Choice

If you’re considering making the shift to renewable diesel and you’re not on the West Coast, there are steps you can take to increase its availability. Reach out to your local and state lawmakers, urging them to support subsidies that make renewable diesel more accessible. By advocating for this cleaner-burning alternative, you can play a role in shaping the future of trucking fuels.

In conclusion, it is emerging as a promising option for commercial trucking fleets. Its environmental benefits, including reduced emissions and a holistic approach to sustainability, make it an attractive choice. While it may come with minor maintenance considerations, its performance and potential for cost reduction in the future make it a fuel worth considering. As the trucking industry continues to evolve, renewable diesel could play a significant role in reducing its environmental footprint while keeping trucks on the road in a sustainable manner.

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