Carlsbad switches fleet to renewable diesel
Carlsbad recently became the first city in San Diego County to switch its fleet of diesel-powered vehicles to a 100 percent renewable fuel made entirely of waste vegetable oil and animal fats.
Renewable diesel, sometimes called “green diesel,” delivers about the same performance as petroleum diesel at nearly the same cost, and yet it reduces emissions by up to 70 percent, said Steve Hodges, a management analyst with the city’s public works department.
The new fuel differs from biodiesel, which has been around for more than a century and is usually blended with petroleum diesel.
Carlsbad made the switch about a month ago, after Hodges read an article in a trade magazine describing how San Francisco and Oakland had recently transitioned their diesel fleets to renewable diesel. He decided to investigate and found many advantages.
“We’re always looking for innovative ideas,” said Hodges. “The more research we did, the better it seemed.”
The results so far have been good, Hodges said. There have been no complaints from the drivers, and some say their vehicles perform better. The city’s 70 diesel-powered vehicles are all refueled at the fleet operations yard on Impala Drive, near the city’s Public Safety Training Center, police headquarters, and Fire Station No. 5.
“I haven’t noticed a difference in performance ... but if it’s good for the environment, that’s a bonus, for sure,” said firefighter Brad Dantzer, who drives the Fire Department’s ladder truck. The big vehicle is used frequently and gets about 2.5 miles to the gallon. It has a 45-gallon tank that needs to be topped off daily to be ready for emergencies.
Carlsbad buys its renewable diesel from Propel Fuels, a company founded in 2004 with headquarters in Redwood City near San Francisco.
“This is the latest and greatest thing,” said Chris LaPlante, marketing director for Propel. “It’s just kind of taking off.”
The fuel is produced in Singapore by the Neste Oil company using primarily fish oil and animal tallow, or fats, left over from food production, LaPlante said. The Propel brand is called Diesel HPR, for diesel high performance renewable.
The price per gallon changes daily and was $2.13 on Wednesday, Hodges said. The cost is about five cents more per gallon than petroleum diesel, which comes out to an increase of about $1,500 for the 30,000 gallons used annually by city vehicles.
Most of the higher cost is the result of a delivery charge that is expected to decrease over time as the product becomes more readily available and consumption increases, he said.
California’s policies for clean air and low emissions support the use of renewable fuels, and the new diesel has been endorsed by the state’s Air Resources Board.
Nationally, the use of renewable diesel is encouraged by federal policies such as The Renewable Fuel Standard created by the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005. The original federal program required renewable fuel to be blended with gasoline, but it has been updated several times, most recently in 2015, to include biodiesel and advanced bio-based diesel fuels.
United Parcel Service, the world’s largest package delivery company, announced a year ago it would buy as much as 46 million gallons of renewable diesel from Neste for use in its fleet of trucks. The agreement was expected to displace 12 percent of petroleum-based fuels in UPS delivery trucks by 2017, according a report in the New York Times.
United Airlines began using bio-based jet fuels last year on flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Washington Post reported last year. United, which blends the renewable jet fuel with petroleum diesel, buys its bio-fuel under a three-year contract for 15 million gallons from a Los Angeles refinery operated by AltAir Fuels.
The cities of Oakland, San Francisco and Long Beach began using renewable diesel for their municipal fleets last year.
Renewable diesel is available to the general public at a few locations in San Diego County, including the Propel brand at stations in Kearny Mesa and Chula Vista.
Singapore has one of the first large-scale production facilities in the world, LaPlante said. Neste, which is based in Finland, also has a production plant in Finland.
“We’re just starting to make small batches in the United States,” he said.