The Difference Between Renewable Diesel, Biodiesel & Regular Diesel

HVO DieselDiesel fuel powers much of the world’s transport and heavy machinery, playing a crucial role in various industries. However, rising environmental concerns have spurred the development of more sustainable alternatives like renewable diesel and biodiesel. While many businesses are taking steps to lower their carbon footprint, many diesel users aren’t aware of the differences between these newer environmentally friendly fuels and regular diesel.

What is Regular Diesel?

Regular diesel, also known as petroleum diesel, is a traditional type of fossil fuel derived from crude oil through a series of refining processes. It is commonly used in engines designed for high torque and efficiency. Regular diesel contains hydrocarbons and includes small amounts of sulfur, nitrogen, and oxygen impurities.

Regular diesel comes in multiple varieties for different uses and requirements such as:

What is Biodiesel?

Biodiesel is a renewable fuel intended for use in diesel engines and can be used alone or blended with petroleum diesel. It is made from a variety of natural oils and fats such as soybean oil, canola oil, and recycled cooking grease. The process involves transesterification where fats or oils react with an alcohol in the presence of a catalyst to form fatty acid methyl esters that can be used as fuel.

It is considered a more sustainable fuel source compared to regular diesel due to the materials used in production and its cleaner emissions. However, because of biodiesel’s different chemical composition, it doesn’t perform as well as regular diesel so it can’t be considered a full replacement. Engine manufacturers also may not cover the use of all biodiesel/diesel blends in their warranties due to the increased engine maintenance that may be required.

Biodiesel can be blended with regular diesel in many different concentrations. Some of the most common types of biodiesel include:

  • B2 (2% Biodiesel, 98% Petroleum Diesel)
  • B5 (5% Biodiesel, 95% Petroleum Diesel)
  • B20 (20% Biodiesel, 80% Petroleum Diesel)
  • B100 (100% Biodiesel)

What is Renewable or HVO Diesel?

Renewable DieselRenewable diesel, also called HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) diesel or green diesel, is another sustainable alternative that is made from renewable sources such as vegetable oils, animal fats, waste oils, and plant residues. It is produced through a process called hydrotreating where triglycerides and fatty acids are treated with hydrogen in the presence of a catalyst at high temperatures and pressures. This removes oxygen as water and converts the material into hydrocarbons that form the finished product.

Unlike biodiesel, renewable diesel closely mimics the chemical structure and performance characteristics of regular diesel, but without the impurities and high emissions. Because of this, it can be used as a full drop-in replacement for regular diesel without any engine modifications. It also burns cleaner than biodiesel and won’t cause issues that are common with biodiesel, including engine clogging, fuel filter plugging, and storage tank corrosion.

Typically HVO diesel is available in these two main varieties, though availability may vary depending on your location:

  • R99 Diesel (99% HVO Diesel, 1% Petroleum Diesel)
  • R100 Diesel (100% HVO Diesel)

Environmental Impact & Performance of Renewable Diesel vs. Biodiesel vs. Regular Diesel

All three types of diesel have different environmental impacts and performance properties.

Renewable Diesel Biodiesel Regular Diesel
Emissions Emits significantly lower levels of greenhouse gases with minimal pollutants Emits reduced levels of greenhouse gases but can still emit nitrogen oxides Emits high levels of greenhouse gases and pollutants
Materials Renewable (mostly from waste sources) Renewable (mostly from virgin sources) Non-Renewable
Cold Weather Performance Excellent Variable depending on biodiesel/diesel blend ratio Excellent
Cetane Number
(Combustion Efficiency)
70+ (High) 50 (Moderate) 45-55 (Moderate)
Fuel Stability High Low Average
Effect On Engine Warranties None Can affect warranties if approved blends are not used None
OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) Approved Yes Yes Yes

While traditional petroleum-based diesel remains prevalent due to its energy density and infrastructure, renewable diesel and biodiesel offer promising alternatives, with renewable diesel offering the most significant reduction in emissions.

Hart Fueling is a supplier of both regular diesel and renewable diesel to accommodate businesses with varying needs across many different industries. Contact our team today to learn more about our full range of fuel delivery services.

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