California, the world’s seventh-largest economy, de facto air quality rulemaking body inciting automakers to make electric cars just for it is smiling on a fuel called Diesel HPR.
More than a pilot project, last month’s launch of 18 stations for the diesel alternative is being propped by a few laws including California’s Low Carbon Fuel standard described by Allen Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Diesel Technology Forum, as diesel’s “next big thing.”
The stations are run by Sacramento-based Propel Fuels. So far all are in northern California and they are proffering what is touted as a cleaner burning, higher-power-generating fuel.
Not to be confused with biodiesel which Propel also sells, Diesel HPR is the first highly concentrated North American offering of a Finnish-originated product called NExBTL.
The non-petroleum-derived fuel works in all modern diesel engines, works better in fact, and is cost competitive within the span of higher-priced biodiesel and lower-priced regular ultra low sulfur diesel.
Can Diesel Be Green?
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center says renewable diesel like Diesel HPR offers similar or better vehicle performance compared to conventional diesel.
Better still, California Air Resources Board studies show that renewable diesel can reach up to 70 percent greenhouse gas reduction compared to petroleum diesel.
Additionally, the use of Diesel HPR provides a significant reduction in tailpipe emissions, NOx emissions and particulates (PM).
In appearance like water, not derived from fossil fuels, the highly processed imported fuel is sulfur-free, aromatics-free and virtually odorless.
Why California Is Smiling On Renewable Diesel HPR Fuel
Those whose predilections are for automotive electrification may sneer, but California which also grants more Zero Emission Vehicle credits to the Toyota Mirai FCV than Tesla Model S is an equal opportunity offender and has no problem with burning fuel if it is deemed “clean.”
That was shown at Propel’s opening ceremony in which California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols extolled the benefits for a fuel helping meet mandates in the third-largest petroleum market and its 1.2 million diesel vehicles on the road.
These diesels are not going away, particularly commercial vehicles not to mention Volkswagen TDIs, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and all other passenger diesels, so something has to be done about them. Traditionally, “aftertreatment” technology like urea injection, particulate traps, and catalytic converters along with ultra-low-sulfur diesel has helped new diesel vehicles meet the same standards as gas counterparts, but Diesel HPR gives them an edge over and above, California says.
Mandates pushing renewable diesel into the limelight are AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), and Carbon Cap-and-Trade.
AB 32 requires California to reduce its GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 — a reduction of approximately 15 percent below emissions expected under a “business as usual” scenario.
California’s Cap-and-Trade Program is another outcome of AB32. This sets a statewide limit on sources responsible for 85 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, and establishes a price signal needed to drive long-term investment in cleaner fuels and more efficient use of energy.
Further Governor Jerry Brown announced an Executive Order to reduce petroleum use in California 50 percent by 2030.
Combined, the synergies have established a niche for Propel and its renewable diesel alternative, says the Diesel Technology Forum’s Schaeffer.
“Diesel HPR has a high probability of being the first second-generation renewable diesel fuel to be used at any significant scale in the US.,” Schaeffer said. “That is thanks to California’s regs mandating a low carbon fuel standard not because the market demanded it because of price or performance … at least for now” he said though other states could in time stiffen laws and enable proliferation beyond the Golden State.
“Like all these alt fuels it’s niche markets for now but we’re moving beyond the proof of concept to the manufacturing and production phase so in that sense they’re promising,” Schaeffer said.
Isn’t This Just Biodiesel?
Finland’s Neste Corporation’s NExTL is normally blended in very small percentages into petroleum diesel but its U.S. partner Propel decided to sell it 98 percent pure with two percent conventional diesel to satisfy rules in place.
NExBTL is made through an advanced hydrotreating technology and Propel is quick to say this is not the same as biodiesel even though biological oil feedstocks are involved in its manufacture.
The distinction comes by the fact that biodiesel is made through an entirely different process called transesterification.
In the NExBTL production process, hydrogen is used to remove oxygen and split renewable oil molecules into separate chains creating hydrocarbons that are nearly identical to conventional diesel fuel.
Diesel HPR meets the ASTM D975 petroleum diesel specification for use in all diesel engines, so no warranty voiding worries, and it has 40-percent higher cetane than conventional diesel for smoother combustion, along with no issues associated with extreme cold.
Renewable diesel is defined as “a renewable, biodegradable, non-ester combustible liquid derived from biomass resources that meets ASTM specification D975,” says Propel.
As the vendor, Propel is not eligible for this credit.
Enough For Mass Proliferation?
Neste Corporation located in Espoo, Finland has operations in 14 countries and makes NExBTL in Finland, the Netherlands, and Singapore. It says it is the world’s largest manufacturer of renewable oil, but Propel and Neste are not alone. Other sources would include REG, Green Diamond and AltAir Fuels but unique for Neste and Propel is Diesel HPR is the first time renewable diesel has been sold at such a high 98 percent to North American consumers.
In 2014 Neste reportedly produced over 420 million gallons of NEXBTL fuel. According to Biodiesel Magazine, that’s a two-year supply for all 650,000 diesel passenger cars in Finland.
“We can be really proud that we have succeeded in increasing our use of waste and residue-based feedstocks in the production of renewable NExBTL fuels to such a significant extent,” says Kaisa Hietala, executive vice president of Neste Oil’s renewable products business area. “Thanks to this, Neste Oil has in just a few years become the world’s largest circular economy enterprise in the biofuels sector. The production of fuels from waste-based feedstock is resource-efficient, and our aim is to have the capability to use 100 percent waste and residues by 2017. We are constantly searching for new waste-based raw materials of increasingly poorer quality, and use the majority of our €40 million R&D expenditure for raw material research.”
Beyond this, oils made from such things as fish and animal fats, used cooking oil, residues from vegetable oil refining like palm fatty acid distillate (PFAD) and technical corn oil and crude palm oil allows it to produce lots of renewable oil.
In total Neste can make renewable diesel from 10 different waste products and produce enough to power 2.8 million cars per year.