The Role of Renewable Diesel in Decarbonizing Heavy Transport

As more world leaders and other decision-makers focus on decarbonization efforts, many recognize the importance of finding greener solutions in the heavy transport industry. Many of them are interested in renewable diesel. Fats, greases and oils are the most common ingredients in these products. People can process them to be chemically identical to petroleum-based diesel.


Why Does Renewable Diesel Make Sense for Heavy Transport?

Many fleet owners and other leaders in the heavy transportation industry feel the pressure to make greener changes and become more serious about investing in options that will bring lasting benefits. One reason is that the public increasingly expects corporate decision-makers to make such choices. Customers who don’t see evidence of that may begin doing business with other providers they perceive as more eco-friendly.

Additionally, in April 2024, the Biden administration set the first national zero-emissions goal for the freight sector. Reaching that milestone will take time and require creative options suggested by committed experts. However, it’s easy to imagine how renewable energy could play a significant role in getting the necessary results.

Renewable diesel also allows people to use agricultural waste products rather than discard them. That solution supports sustainable strategies.

Another issue is that heavy-duty vehicles only represent 3.6% of the worldwide automotive industry’s value, but their emissions have climbed by more than 30% since 2000. Relatedly, they cause more than 60% of the total on-road particulate matter and in excess of 20% of the overall black carbon emissions. These statistics cause experts to caution that people must make positive changes now.

Research also suggests renewable diesel has up to 80% fewer emissions over its life cycle than conventional varieties. Fleet professionals can also look forward to advantages associated with conveniences. For example, this is an oxygen-free fuel that performs well in cold weather and does not have the storage challenges of its counterparts.


Challenges and Progress Associated With Renewable Diesel

Renewable diesel is not a new concept. People have been developing possibilities for decades, but it’s still not a mainstream fuel. Evidence also indicates renewable diesel based on used cooking oil may be less sustainable than it seems due to its potential role in palm forest deforestation.

One positive of renewable diesel is that people can mix it with conventional types, meaning the complete switch happens gradually rather than immediately. Even so, frequent difficulties arise with getting people to try new fuel types. That’s especially true once they’ve established volume-based discounts with conventional diesel suppliers. Planet-conscious decisions don’t always fit neatly into budgets and could take time to implement. 

If legislators act to set and enforce emissions-related curbs for the heavy transport industry, worries about punitive outcomes could convince decision-makers to look for greener business models featuring renewable diesel.

Despite these challenges, an April 2024 study revealed the United States used almost 3 billion gallons of renewable diesel in 2023. Dedicated campaigns to educate heavy transport professionals about adoption benefits could drive interest, too. For example, this fuel does not require vehicle modifications or gas station changes.

As it becomes more popular, new obstacles regarding renewable diesel’s scalability may emerge. A similar phenomenon has occurred as more drivers get interested in electric vehicles but sometimes find their local charging infrastructure insufficient to meet current or expected demands. Even so, the potential for future difficulties is not a valid reason for ignoring how renewable diesel may fit into the world’s heavy transport decarbonization aims.


How Are Heavy Transport Leaders Using Renewable Diesel?

Decision-makers overseeing heavy transport fleets will be more enthusiastic about renewable diesel if they see real-world examples of peers using it. Fortunately, there are plenty of case studies to evaluate.


Partnership Expands Renewable Diesel Access in Washington State

If using renewable diesel is significantly more expensive or inconvenient for heavy trucks’ typical routes, most people will stick with whatever’s easier and cheaper to use, regardless of the adverse environmental consequences. Fleet managers will be much more open to renewable diesel if it’s easily obtainable. A partnership between Neste and Coleman Oil will result in key fueling stations across Washington State receiving renewable diesel.

In addition to offering significant emissions reductions over conventional diesel, the fuel associated with this collaboration offers cleaner combustion because the blend does not have certain ingredients. Additionally, the fuel performs well in frigid conditions, which the state often has in the winter.


Shipping Company Uses Renewable Diesel to Reduce Emissions

In November 2022, decision-makers at FedEx announced that renewable diesel fit into a strategy to reduce wheel-to-well emissions across part of its linehaul truck network. Drivers of specific company-owned trucks in The Netherlands received instructions to fill the trucks with that fuel before departing a particular hub.

Executives believe this approach will reduce emissions by up to 90% per liter. They’re also excited that renewable diesel allows them to minimize fossil fuel dependence before feasible solutions exist that allow them to eliminate such sources. This change also aligns with the company’s goal to transition to a fully electric fleet by 2040, emphasizing the earlier point that renewable diesel is one of many decarbonization strategies to pursue.


Irish Convenience Store Brand Embraces Renewable Diesel

There are more than 400 Circle K convenience stores operating in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Recent news also proved how a country’s small size need not prevent it from offering renewable diesel to heavy truck drivers. Eight Circle K locations now offer hydrotreated vegetable oil, and this gradual rollout is part of the brand’s ongoing commitment to providing the fuel on all national road routes.

Additionally, Circle K’s in-house logistics fleet makes more than 1,000 deliveries weekly and runs entirely on renewable fuel. That change reduced fuel delivery emissions by more than 90% and aligned with emissions-reduction plans introduced by the Irish government. Once fleet managers hear that Circle K’s executives trust its performance enough to use it internally, they should feel confident enough to try it, too.


Is It Time to Transition to Renewable Diesel?

Renewable diesel is an important aspect of heavy-transport decarbonization, but not the only option to consider. Decision-makers thinking of adopting it should consider how easily they can source the fuel and whether availability supports their typical needs. Additionally, people should think about gradually transitioning their fleets so the changeover is more manageable until it becomes more widespread.


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