How Renewable Diesel Is Made
Renewable diesel is a type of biofuel
Renewable diesel is a type of biofuel that is chemically similar to petroleum diesel and can be used in any diesel engine. It can be produced from various feedstocks, such as vegetable oils, animal fats, waste cooking oil, and algae. Renewable diesel can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality compared to petroleum diesel⁵.
The most common way to produce renewable diesel is by hydroprocessing, which involves reacting the feedstock with hydrogen under high temperature and pressure in the presence of a catalyst. This process removes oxygen, sulfur, nitrogen, and other impurities from the feedstock and converts it into hydrocarbons that are similar to those in petroleum diesel⁴⁵. Hydroprocessing is also used in petroleum refineries to upgrade crude oil into various fuels, such as renewable diesel.
Other ways to produce renewable diesel include pyrolysis, which involves heating the feedstock in the absence of oxygen to produce a liquid bio-oil that can be further upgraded into renewable diesel; gasificationmar, which involves converting the feedstock into a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen (syngas) that can be synthesized into renewable diesel; and biochemical and thermochemical technologies, which involve using enzymes, microorganisms, or catalysts to convert the feedstock into renewable diesel⁴.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), U.S. production capacity for renewable diesel could increase significantly through 2024, based on several announced and developing projects. This growth is driven by higher state and federal targets for renewable fuel, favorable tax credits, and the conversion of existing petroleum refineries into renewable diesel refineries². As of the end of 2020, U.S. renewable diesel production capacity totaled nearly 0.6 billion gallons per year (gal/y), or 38,000 barrels per day (b/d). Several projects currently under construction could increase this capacity by 2.4 billion gal/y; proposed and announced projects would add another 1.8 billion gal/y by 2024. If all projects come online as intended, U.S. renewable diesel production would total 5.1 billion gal/y (330,000 b/d) by the end of 2024².
Globally, over 1.45 billion gallons of renewable diesel are produced annually and are forecasted to grow up to 3.34 billion gallons in 2024. Neste, a Finland based petroleum refining company, is currently dominating the production of renewable diesel¹. Other major producers include Diamond Green Diesel in the U.S., ENI in Italy, Total in France, and Preem in Sweden¹.