Renewable diesel vs. biodiesel

July 20, 2021
Dustin Haaland, CHS director of trading and renewable fuels, discusses the difference between biodiesel and renewable diesel and how they fit in a more climate-conscious world.

With the current emphasis on renewable fuels and carbon reduction, there’s a lot of discussion about renewable diesel and biodiesel and how these biofuels might help achieve those needs. Let’s get back to basics on what renewable diesel and biodiesel have in common and how they are different.

“Renewable diesel and biodiesel are both high-quality fuels,” says Dustin Haaland, director of trading and renewable fuels for CHS. “Both can be produced using the same feedstocks, including vegetable oils like soy oil and canola, animal fats, used cooking oil and distillers corn oil.”

Biodiesel is produced through a process called transesterification, while renewable diesel is produced through a hydrotreating process, which is similar to how petroleum refineries create traditional diesel fuel, says Haaland.

“The main difference between the two fuels is that renewable diesel can generally be distributed with existing energy infrastructure – pipelines and terminals – while biodiesel generally requires separate storage and handling due to its cold-weather properties,” he says. “Both fuels are eligible for the renewable fuels standard as well as low-carbon fuel standard programs.”

Both traditional petroleum diesel and renewable diesel meet diesel specifications set by the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM), Haaland notes. Renewable diesel also has some favorable attributes, such as being naturally high in cetane, a compound that improves the ignition quality of fuel. However, “renewable diesel is currently expensive,” says Haaland, “and its use is driven by the renewable fuel standard and low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) programs, as well as tax credits.”