The city of San Diego says that its fleet will be the largest in the nation to adopt renewable diesel.

The city can fuel up its 1,125 diesel vehicles, including street sweepers, refuse packers, and firetrucks, on renewable diesel. Doing so will release 80-percent fewer emissions than traditional diesel, according to state officials. That appeals to a city pursuing its ambitious goal of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions in half by 2035 under its Climate Action Plan, which was adopted in December.

San Diego was initially looking into converting vehicles over from diesel to compressed natural gas, but discovered renewable diesel to be cheaper and much cleaner in reducing emissions.

“This small change will make a major part of our fleet greener overnight, creating more environmentally friendly vehicles that are cheaper to maintain,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in a statement.

The mayor’s comment on converting fleet vehicles overnight to renewable diesel refers to the fact that the vehicles don’t have to be upfitted with new fueling systems, as they do with compressed natural gas.

Made from vegetable oil, animal fats, and agricultural waste, it’s not to be confused with biodiesel blended with traditional diesel. Renewable diesel follows the same standards as traditional petroleum-based diesel and can be transported and stored using the same infrastructure.

The city expects the changeover not to cost very much, if anything. The price of the fuel is subsidized under California’s low carbon fuel standard the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, which has helped popularize it with fleets in the state. In the past year, cities such as Oakland, Walnut Creek, San Francisco, Long Beach and Carlsbad made the renewable diesel switch for their vehicle fleets.

UPS agreed last year to buy 46 million gallons of renewable diesel from the Finnish company Neste, the largest producer of the alternative fuel.

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The production capacity for renewable diesel has been on the rise globally, from 1.2 billion gallons a year in 2015 to a projected 1.9 billion gallons by 2018, according to a Lux Research report.

“Renewable diesel is the fastest growing biofuel by capacity expansion,” said Victor Oh, head of bio-based materials and chemicals intelligence for the Boston-based Lux. “It’s the one that’s really driving what we would consider the novel fuels of the next-generation biofuels. Renewable diesel is really the hot one.”

Oh said that one of the only drawbacks has been whether producers can secure a reliable supply of raw materials from which to make enough of the fuel, and to do so consistently as demand grows.

“The biggest issues is being able to have a strong supply of whatever foodstock they’re using, whether that’s vegetable oils or waste oils,” Oh said. “And we’ve seen that (issue) in some cases being a limiting factor, in terms of being able to get a good supply for renewable diesel projection.”

San Diego Tribune