Renewable Diesel vs. Biodiesel: What’s the Difference?
The transportation industry is moving toward new solutions to going green and reducing fossil fuel consumption. As a result, you’ve likely heard about biodiesel and renewable diesel as sustainable fuel solutions for your heavy-duty fleets.
While you may hear people refer to these fuel types interchangeably, renewable diesel and biodiesel are incredibly different. Understanding their differences will help you keep your fleet healthy and find the best solution for your needs. Read on to learn about their characteristics and the differences between the two.
Biodiesel vs. Diesel
Before we dive into the differences between biodiesel and renewable diesel, it’s helpful to know what diesel is and how it compares to biodiesel. Diesel is a distillate fuel oil distilled from crude oil and biomass. It fuels diesel engines, like those within trucks, boats, trains and military vehicles. You can also find diesel engines in generators that power industrial facilities, hospitals, remote construction sites or rural homes and communities.
So, what is biodiesel, and how does it differ from diesel? The differences boil down to their raw materials.
Biodiesel, also known as fatty acid methyl ester (FAME), is made from waste animal fats, used cooking oils and feedstock products like rapeseed oil. The raw materials undergo a process called esterification, breaking down the fats and introducing methanol to create biodiesel.
Biodiesel uses a blend of diesel and biofuel rather than pure diesel fuel. As with an ethanol and gasoline blend, the goal of blending diesel and biofuel is to reduce global gas emissions.
The Characteristics of Biodiesel
The general characteristics of biodiesel include the following:
- It has not undergone a purification process, so it may contain impurities.
- You cannot store it with fossil fuels.
- You cannot transfer it through natural gas pipelines.
- It has a higher freezing point than pure diesel, so it may become waxy in colder climates.
- It meets ASTM D6751 biodiesel fuel specifications.
What Is Renewable Diesel?
Renewable diesel — also known as hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), advanced biofuels or renewable hydrocarbon biofuels — is not made from fossil fuels. Like biodiesel, it comprises feedstocks, cooking oils, waste animal fats and even microalgae.
The organic biomasses go through a hydrotreating process similar to how petroleum-based diesel is created, making it chemically identical to petroleum diesel. Renewable diesel is also pure diesel, unlike biodiesel — a blend of diesel and biofuel.
The Characteristics of Renewable Diesel
The following are some of the characteristics of renewable diesel:
- Before renewable biodiesel undergoes refinement, all impurities are removed.
- You can store it with fossil fuels.
- You can transfer it through natural gas pipelines.
- It has a lower freezing point than biodiesel, making it better for use in colder climates.
- It meets ASTM D975 diesel fuel specifications.
Renewable Diesel vs. Biodiesel
The primary differences between biodiesel and renewable diesel lie in their processing, quality and handling.
Esterification and hydrotreating create chemically different products. Hydrotreating treats feedstock with hydrogen under extreme temperatures to produce renewable diesel. Manufacturers can also create renewable diesel through other biochemical and thermochemical processes like gasification and pyrolysis.
Another difference lies in the fuel’s quality. While both FAME biodiesel and HVO renewable diesel use waste products, high-quality HVO removes impurities from the oils before hydrotreating them. Once hydrotreated, the result is renewable diesel — a colorless, odorless, high-quality fuel that is chemically identical to natural gas.
The handling processes are also different. Because biodiesel is chemically different from natural gas, you need different methods to store and transfer it. On the other hand, its chemical composition makes it possible to move renewable diesel through existing crude pipelines.
Which Should You Choose?
Are you wondering which fuel is right for your vehicle? The best fuel type for you will depend mainly on your vehicle, where you’re driving it and what is the most cost-effective solution for your circumstances.
For example, renewable diesel is excellent for drivers who frequent extremely cold or arctic conditions. The fuel won’t turn waxy and clog engine parts in colder temperatures thanks to its higher cloud point and lack of impurities. HVOs also have higher cetane numbers, so the fuel burns a bit cleaner for more energy, meaning you can go farther for less.
Which Is Better for the Environment?
Both biodiesel and renewable diesel are eco-friendlier alternatives to natural gas. Renewable diesel reduces hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions, keeping local air clean. Biodiesel reduces tailpipe emissions that contain particulate matter, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.
As regulations and public opinion shift toward going green, you will likely see greater use of both these fuels. As you do, you may wonder if one is better for the environment than the other. The answer might depend on where and what you’re driving.
For example, urban buses, trucks and emergency response vehicles need high-performing fuel and biodiesel and renewable diesel both tick that box. However, renewable diesel is an excellent way to reduce your emissions while still getting the power you need for your vehicle. Urban fleets may find that renewable diesel is a better option for a clean-burning fuel.
Renewable Diesel vs. Biodiesel Cost
Biodiesel might be the better alternative if you are looking for a more affordable fuel that still offers good performance for your diesel engine. Since HVOs tend to be better quality, biodiesel is generally cheaper than renewable diesel.
Biodiesel is also easier to find in most locations, as most HVO sources are along the West Coast. Midwestern fleets might find it challenging to locate and afford premium renewable diesel, making biodiesel a more cost-effective fuel alternative.
Renewable Diesel Services From Foster Fuels’ Mission Critical Division
Renewable diesel is compatible with most diesel engines and infrastructures. It’s a clean-burning fuel that does not contaminate or clog engine parts. The result is a versatile fuel that provides a high-performing, greener solution to traditional gasoline.
Foster Fuels’ Mission Critical division provides your renewable diesel service needs to eliminate costly downtime and keep the environment clean wherever you are in the U.S. We are the emergency response division of Foster Fuels, a trusted, leading provider of residential and commercial fuel solutions for more than a century. We’re proud to supply our nation’s transportation industry with emergency fuel and quality services.