Thinking Clean, High-performance Liquid Fuel? Think Low Carbon Liquids – Advanced Fuel Solutions

Thinking Clean, High-performance Liquid Fuel? Think Low Carbon Liquids

Consider the many environmental, performance, and health benefits of low carbon liquids before you strike out of the new energy landscape.

By Paul Nazzaro for Energy Marketers of America

The diesel-fuel environment continues to evolve quickly as conventional ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel has been proven to be cleaner than higher-sulfur products of the past. Despite these findings, federal, state, and local policymakers are pushing to eradicate diesel fuel in favor of electrification, hydrogen, and products that are simply continuing to mature. No surprise, there has been growing interest in biodiesel and renewable diesel as an alternative to electrification, as well as a solution for immediate carbon reductions. Biodiesel for nearly three decades continues to lead the way nationally with efforts to move to higher and higher blends. Renewable diesel is also growing in popularity as a preferred option to significantly decrease carbon, but its prevailing economics and availability outside low carbon fuel standard regions make it challenging but not impossible for near-term market penetration. With major political and societal focuses on lowering the carbon intensity of energy and transport, biodiesel and renewable diesel are both rational, available choices to keep liquid fuels performing for years to come.

Diesel engines have become increasingly more sophisticated with high-pressure common-rail (HPCR) fuel-injection platforms and after-treatment systems leading the way. Those who think coal dust and generic diesel are “good enough” for the future are stuck in a business-as-usual state of mind. Clean diesel is not “coming soon” to a pump or dealer near you, and it is not an article buried in the back of Popular Mechanics. Clean diesel is here today, and the adoption of these low-carbon liquids should be a reasonable approach, both economically and reliability-wise, to meeting the government’s established goals of liberation from fossil fuels.

You need not look that far to be inundated with communications talking about fuels getting cleaner. Engine manufacturers are adhering to government oversight to ensure the future is centered on “more miles, cleaner miles.” To be certain liquid fuels maintain prominence in transportation and space heating well into the future, they must be low or zero carbon—whether that’s biodiesel, renewable diesel, or a blended combination of the two.

The ULSD hydrotreating process is more severe, which creates operational challenges for the resulting fuel. Further downstream, some discerning liquid-fuel purchasers are considering adopting the ISO 4406 cleanliness code to measure contaminants in their fuel. This protocol, once solely relied upon by hydraulic and lubrication systems managers, is now of interest with diesel fuel operators who want only the highest quality fuel available.

The future is looking bright as more technological advancements are being made from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to fuel-consumption points. What can one do today to meet the emerging clean-fuel standards?

The answer, of course, is to power up with biodiesel and renewable diesel. Both can be seamless and immediate, as there is no need to make costly new vehicle or infrastructure investments. The vast majority of OEMs support the use of B20 biodiesel blends in their diesel vehicles and equipment. OEMs are actively evaluating with fleet customers, who have demonstrated a growing interest in low-carbon fuels, and higher blends of biodiesel while also looking at blends of biodiesel and renewable diesel. The existing biodiesel fueling infrastructure is adequate, as blends are available at more than 2,360 major truck stops, retailers, and distributors nationwide, creating a cost structure comparable to or less than that of petroleum diesel fuel.

Whereas both biodiesel and renewable diesel are produced from the same feedstocks with clearly different processing strategies there are substantial public health benefits from using either in place of petroleum distillate in transportation and space heating. Recognizing that biodiesel blends, with petroleum diesel in any percentage, are a quantum leap in carbon reduction, a discerning buyer of clean, liquid fuels simply loves the many additional advantages offered by biodiesel including high cetane, exceptional lubricity, virtually zero sulfur, and zero aromatics, which reduces toxicity. It burns cleaner and has a higher flash point, making it safe to store and handle, which begets the questions, “Why wouldn’t fleets wish to advance their transition to biodiesel yesterday?” And, “why aren’t more heating oil suppliers touting clean burning Bioheat® fuel as their industry continues to evolve throughout the twenty-two heating oil dependent states that themselves fight to preserve and grow their respective market share?”

The human health benefits of biodiesel are largely driven by the significant reductions in particulate matter (PM), and the use of biodiesel provides an immediate and direct reduction in harmful criteria pollution. These benefits are especially important in environmental justice (EJ) or overburdened communities, which tend to be surrounded by high diesel use activities (ports, logistics, high-traffic roadways). The particulates created by biodiesel burn off faster and at a lower temperature in a particulate trap, equating to less PM trap regenerations and lower long-term maintenance costs.

Of course, with change comes challenges and resistance. As a three-decade contributor to promoting low carbon liquids I wish I had a dollar for every excuse I’ve heard as to why biodiesel blending should be passed over for the status quo. These excuses include perceived higher costs, challenged winter operability, product-supply disruptions, handling challenges, lack of hedging mechanisms, increased microbial contamination, and simply that the fuel missed its chance for adoption. Actually, these “excuses” are misconceptions. To gauge the value of biodiesel or renewable diesel in the petroleum diesel mindset of whether they are the lowest-cost option from one day to the next completely misses the point and is totally unrealistic. They are commodities, and they ebb and flow based on global connectivity, which is why sophisticated suppliers have learned how to manage these peaks and valleys with intelligent risk-management programs—and biodiesel is no different, so … next! Cold flow, stability, microbial contamination, all managed by an intelligent blend of legitimate, well-tested performance chemistries and a defined housekeeping program—next! Renewable diesel is the true pathway and will make biodiesel obsolete. Not so fast. Both are excellent options, both have their advantages, therefore,  there is room and need for both.

Biodiesel has the bragging rights for the most effective, efficient, lowest-cost option to carbon reduction and greenhouse gas reductions. Why wait? Can you say, “time value of carbon?” Take advantage of a well-known fact. Carbon reductions now have significantly more value than carbon reductions in the future. Regardless of who and where you are in the liquid fuels supply chain—buyer, seller, or consumer—you would be best served to adopt biodiesel distribution opportunities to gain its notable performance benefits today.

Biodiesel and renewable diesel are liquid fuel substitutes that will keep current distillate carnivores well-nourished during these challenging times while everyone is waiting on the “perfect” fuel to be dropped into their storage tanks. There is no perfect fuel. All of them—diesel, renewable diesel, biodiesel, electric, hydrogen, and any you may be considering that I’ve not mentioned—will have both strengths and weaknesses. You can bank on that. From a liquid fuel supplier’s standpoint biodiesel provides an opportunity to reduce and eliminate carbon output so that you can continue to be a viable liquid fuels supplier while the energy landscape unfolds? Because it will.

There is nothing static about energy policy and if you plan on staying in the liquid fuels distribution world you need to commit to transitioning your business to more low carbon liquids both in on/off-road diesel as well home heating. These two fuels offer a tremendous opportunity for legacy businesses to remain relevant, remaining relevant starts with “if not low carbon liquids, then what”. For more information about biodiesel, renewable diesel, and Bioheat® fuel visit and

Author: Paul Nazzaro

President, Nazzaro Group, LLC

Supply Chain Liaison, Clean Fuels