As the world focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, renewable fuels become an attractive option for many industries, including government fleets.
Renewable fuels, such as biodiesel, ethanol, and hydrogen, offer a lower carbon footprint and can aid governments in meeting their sustainability goals.
Whether you’re new to the fleet industry or seasoned and want to brush up on your facts, here are 10 things to know about renewable fuel for government fleets, including the benefits and challenges.
The Low-Down on Renewable Fuel
Do you know what renewable fuel is made of or what it is used for? We’ve got you covered on these answers and more…
No. 1 — What Renewable Fuel Is Made From
The main renewable energy sources are solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass, and geothermal power. Biomass is renewable organic material that comes from plants and animals and can be made into fuel, or biofuel, for our fleets.
Biofuel is derived from living matter or renewable sources. The living matter can be plant materials such as corn, sugarcane, soybeans, wood, algae, and more.
No. 2 — Renewable Fuel’s History
Renewable fuels have been around for a long time, dating back to the 19th century when vegetable oil was used as fuel for diesel engines.
However, it was not until the oil crisis in the 1970s that renewable fuel gained significant attention. The high cost and limited availability of petroleum fuels drove the development of alternative energy sources, including renewable fuels.
In the following decades, research and development into renewable fuel technologies continued, and the implementation of policies to encourage the use of renewable fuels, such as tax credits and renewable fuel standards, helped to further advance the industry.
No. 3 — Gasoline & Diesel Alternative
Fossil fuels, like coal, oil, and natural gas, are finite resources that are being depleted over time.
These are the main culprits behind global climate change, responsible for more than 75% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and almost 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions, according to the United Nations.
Renewable fuels can be an alternative to fossil fuels for vehicles because they can be produced from renewable resources, such as plant material or organic waste, which are constantly replenished.
No. 4 — Most Common Renewable Fuel for Fleets
According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) the most common renewable fuels for vehicles include:
- Ethanol: A type of alcohol made from corn or other crops blended with gasoline to produce a cleaner fuel.
- Biodiesel: Biodiesel is a type of renewable fuel that can be produced from sources such as vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled cooking grease and utilized in diesel vehicles. It’s produced by a process called transesterification, which converts organic fats and oils into fatty acid alkyl esters by reacting them with alcohols and catalysts.
- Biogas: Produced from the decomposition of organic waste, such as sewage, agricultural waste, or landfills, that can be used to fuel natural gas vehicles.
- Hydrogen: Produced from water using renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power and can be used to power fuel cell vehicles.
- Renewable diesel: Different from biodiesel, it’s produced from renewable sources such as vegetable oils, animal fats, and other types of biomass using hydroprocessing. It is like traditional diesel fuel in its chemical composition and can be used in diesel engines without any modifications.
No. 5 — Next Generation of Biofuel
The next generation of biofuel will be beyond corn. “Drop-in” fuels like renewable gasoline have the potential to be produced from biomass sources through a variety of biological, thermal, and chemical processes.
Researchers are currently exploring new ways to produce drop-in fuels.
Some of these methods include:
- Traditional hydrotreating.
- Biological sugar upgrading.
- Catalytic conversion of sugars.
- Hydrothermal processing.
Because these methods are still being explored, they are not available to be used for commercial fuel.
No. 6 — How Governments Can Use it to Reduce Emissions
Renewable fuel is a key component of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change, as it produces lower emissions than fossil fuels.
When renewable fuels are produced, burned, and used in vehicles or power plants, they emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but the amount emitted is offset by the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed during the growth of the plants used to produce the fuel.
According to the DOE, ethanol has the potential to cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 86% and readily biodegrade without harm to the environment.
No. 7 — Renewable Fuel Challenges
There are still challenges associated with the production and use of renewable fuel, including issues related to the availability of raw materials, the cost of production, and the need for infrastructure to support distribution and use.
To fuel your fleets successfully with renewable fuel, storage, availability, and compatibility are required. But with research, time, and effort, most fleets have the ability to switch to renewable fuels to fuel their fleet.
No. 8 — Economic Opportunities
Renewable fuel can help reduce dependence on foreign oil, promote energy security, and create new economic opportunities.
Some of the economic opportunities include:
- Job creation
- Local investment
- Reduced Energy Costs
- Export Opportunities
No. 9 — Renewable Fuel Demand
The demand for renewable fuel can be broken down into the common types of biofuel:
Biodiesel: About 1.9 billion gallons of biodiesel were consumed in 2020 nearly all in blends up to B20, according to EIA.
Renewable diesel: About 815 million gallons of renewable diesel were produced in the United States in 2021, while consumption amounted to approximately 1,163 million gallons, which comprised 392 million gallons of imports. Most U.S. renewable diesel fuel imports are utilized in California, according to EIA.
Ethanol: The United States produces a total of 15.4 billion gallons produced in 2022, a slight decrease from the peak production of 16.1 billion gallons recorded in 2018. Iowa holds the largest ethanol production capacity, with a capacity of approximately 4.76 billion gallons per year, according to Statista.
No. 10 — The Future of Renewable Fuel
According to International Energy Agency (IEA), the global demand for biofuels is projected to increase by 41 billion liters or 28% between 2021 and 2026.
The recovery to pre-Covid-19 levels accounts for a fifth of this increase, while government policies are the primary driver of the remaining expansion.
However, other factors, such as overall transport fuel demand, costs, and specific policy design, also play a role in determining which fuels grow fastest and where growth occurs.
IEA predicts renewable diesel demand to almost triple due to growing U.S. and Europe policies. But there is still uncertainty regarding the factors that influence biofuel demand.
For instance, some governments may relax or delay biofuel blending mandates in response to high feedstock prices, which could decrease demand.
Despite this, major policy discussions in the US, Europe, India, and China could result in more than doubling biofuel demand growth.
Overall, government fleets transitioning to renewable fuel might be a necessary step toward a sustainable future for the government fleet.
While there may be challenges and costs associated with transitioning to a sustainable fuel, the benefits in terms of environmental impact and energy security make it a worthwhile investment in the long run.