Neste Targets Hard-To-Electrify Vehicles for Renewable Diesel

The company foresees strong growth for the sustainable “drop-in” fuel as a near-term solution in medium- and heavy-duty road vehicles.

Neste plans to significantly expand its renewable-diesel production capacity in 2023, and also grow its network of fueling stations and distributors. (Tomi Parkkonen/Neste)

Commercial vehicles run under a wide range of operating conditions and duty cycles – not all are well-suited for battery-electric propulsion, particularly in the near term. For those hard-to-electrify vehicles, renewable diesel is a viable option to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions “practically overnight,” according to Matt Leuck, technical manager for Renewable Road Transportation in North America for Neste, which claims to be the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel and jet fuel.

Matt Leuck, technical manager for Renewable Road Transportation in North America, Neste. (Neste)

Preparing to participate in the “Low/Zero Carbon Fuels” technical session during the SAE Government/Industry Digital Summit  on February 2-3, Leuck said that Neste sees strong, sustained growth for renewable diesel in medium- and heavy-duty road vehicles, as well as in other segments such as mobile machines used at mines and construction sites. “In fact, demand growth has the potential to increase fivefold in the decades ahead,” he shared with SAE International. “This growth is driven by two key things: end-users are setting ambitious climate goals, and governments are adopting policies that incentivize the use of low-emission renewable fuels.”

For example, Neste was one of the first companies to introduce renewable diesel into Oregon after the state adopted its Clean Fuels Program. A partnership with Portland-based fuel distributor Carson was extended in December 2020 to a multi-year contract, providing Neste MY Renewable Diesel for Carson’s government and commercial customer base across the Pacific Northwest. To help address such increased demand, Neste plans to bring online “significant” new renewable-diesel production capacity in 2023, expand its network of fueling stations and sign on new distributors, said Leuck, who answered additional questions from editor Ryan Gehm ahead of the SAE event.

Renewable diesel raw materials. (Olli-Pekka Orpo/Neste)
Smoke testing NEXBTL renewable diesel (left) vs. fossil diesel. (Neste)
NEXBTL renewable-diesel plant in Porvoo, Finland. (Ismo Henttonen/Neste)

What do you say to fleet managers who are hearing electrification is the way forward?

Renewable diesel and electrification are important solutions, and each must play a role. Renewable diesel is a ‘today’ solution, while electrification is a great long-term goal. Right now, fleet operators can transform their vehicles from fossil fuel to fossil-free practically overnight and with no extra costs simply by choosing to fill up with renewable diesel. Our planet and communities cannot afford to wait 10, 20 or 30 years for electrification and other zero-emission solutions to mature and become competitive.

Are there any impediments to running renewable diesel in existing trucks?

No, because renewable diesel is a pure hydrocarbon fuel that meets the ASTM D975 diesel fuel standard, it is a ‘drop in’ replacement for fossil diesel. It can be run neat at 100% and is not subject to the blend limits that other biofuels are bound by. It’s also fully compatible with all existing infrastructure, so there’s no need to change pumps, lines, tanks, storage, transportation logistics, etcetera. It’s fully fungible with fossil diesel, so a user doesn’t even need to drain their current tank to make the switch. Importantly, this becomes a competitive advantage for the oil and gas industry, because they can use their downstream infrastructure to make, move and store renewable fuels with little to no modifications.

What are the main sources for renewable diesel?

The renewable diesel Neste sells in the U.S. is made from sustainably sourced raw materials with approved pathways under California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard and the EPA. Namely, these are waste and residue materials, such as used cooking oil, beef tallow, fish fat and distillers corn oil.

Is the supply chain established to grow the market?

Yes, a number of renewable diesel production projects are on the horizon, and Neste believes there is more than enough feedstock available to meet growing demand. For our part, Neste has been continuing to invest in our supply chain. Our acquisition of Mahoney Environmental in the U.S., for example, provides us a competitive edge in the used cooking-oil market, with room to grow.

Any differences in energy or efficiency in burning renewable diesel vs. fossil diesel?

Renewable diesel has a slightly lower energy content per volume, but higher energy content by mass. Most fleet owners report fuel consumption on par with fossil-based diesel.

Are there potential feedstocks in the R&D phase that could make an impact in the coming years?

Neste is researching and developing a new generation of feedstock that could further enhance the already great benefits of our renewable fuels – like algae, municipal solid waste, forestry waste, and even converting power to liquids.