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June 01, 2016   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

Vegetable Oil May Hold the Future for the Internal Combustion Engine

Energy officials from leading industrialized economies should take another look at diesel technology and the role emerging engine technologies and advanced biofuels play in meeting climate commitments.


This week, the energy ministers from 25 industrial countries will be sharing ideas about how to realize the climate commitments made during the recent Paris Climate Summit. That agreement will see each country adopt rules and regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions according to country-specific targets. The “Clean Energy Ministerial” held this week in San Francisco will allow energy ministers to share ideas and best practices regarding efforts to save energy and fuel and cut emissions to meet climate pledges.

While high-profile energy officials are meeting in San Francisco to share ideas, just outside the city an equally important event is taking place. Next generation fuel producers are meeting to talk about scaling-up production of fuels that come with an impressive greenhouse gas reduction potential.  The “Below50 campaign” as the meeting is known, is dedicated to push bio-based fuels that result in a 50 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions. 

Diesel Technology Shows the Way for Emerging Advanced Biofuels

Here, diesel technology has been and will continue to be a leader.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies both biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel as “advanced biofuels” capable of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by at least 50 percent. Ethanol, the largest biofuel produced and consumed in the U.S., does not enjoy this designation. Just last month, a biodiesel plant in Hawaii was awarded as the first renewable fuel production facility of all kinds to be certified as sustainable.

Both biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel produced in the U.S. are derived from waste agricultural products, primarily oils derived from beans like soy and canola and animal fats. Unlike other biofuels, biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel do not need dedicated feedstocks and this boosts their sustainability credentials.  As long as we produce soy beans and raise animals, we will continue to be able to produce biodiesel and renewable diesel. 

And we will be consuming more of these fuels in the coming years. The federal Renewable Fuel Standard that requires the production of biofuels, has seen a doubling of biodiesel produced since 2012. By 2017, EPA proposes two billion gallons of biodiesel produced, up from about one billion gallons in 2012. In California, the largest market for renewable diesel fuel, the California Energy Commission reports that renewable diesel consumption has expanded from two million gallons to over 135 million gallons in 2013. By 2020, the California Energy Commission predicts 400 million gallons of renewable diesel fuel consumed.

Will the Future Diesel Engine Run on Petroleum?

It takes a diesel engine to realize the climate benefits of these fuels. New and newer diesel engines that power most passenger vehicles, heavy-duty commercial vehicles and larger off-road equipment can operate on higher blends of high quality biodiesel. One of the great benefits of the diesel platform is its demonstrated capability for continuous improvement. As fuel producers continue to invest in quality improvements in the fuel, the diesel engine of tomorrow may operate on higher blends of these advanced biofuels. In fact, several heavy-duty engine manufacturers recently approved new engine to operate on 100 percent renewable diesel fuel.

Energy officials from leading industrialized economies should take another look at diesel technology and the role emerging engine technologies and advanced biofuels play in meeting climate commitments. Here in the U.S., the transportation sector represents about 25 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Advanced biofuels that include biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel are capable of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least fifty percent and will be an important component in efforts to achieve climate commitments and help cool a warming planet.



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Ezra Finkin
Director, Policy
efinkin@dieselforum.org
301-668-7230

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