Member Spotlight


Eugene Water and Electric Board

An interview with Gary Lentsch of the Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB)

Q: In a few sentences, how would you explain what renewable diesel is?

A: Short Answer:
Unlike bio-diesel which is made with a transesterification process, renewable diesel is made just like petroleum-based diesel through a hydrogenation process. But unlike petroleum fuel, renewable diesel is a product of natural fats or vegetable oils, making an easy, clean fuel option for diesel vehicles.

A little longer answer - but really needed to explain what renewable diesel really is:
To really understand what renewable diesel is, you have to go back and understand how conventional fossil fuels (petroleum based) are being made. Crude oil is nothing more than hydrocarbons, organic compounds (plants and animals) and small amounts of metal from a million or so years ago. We take that sludgy goop (crude oil) out of the ground and pump it into a refinery. Through a process of hydrogenation (heat and pressure) we create fossil based fuels such a diesel, aviation fuel, gasoline and propane.

When we started making bio-diesel we used what we call a transesterification process. Although this process does comes with its own set issues, however it serves the purpose by reducing the use of fossil fuels.
Imagine pulling something away from something and the result is that you end up with something more than you started with – the same thing happens when we make bio-diesel. When we retract the vegetable oils and/or the animal fats catalytically, we allow oxygen to get into the molecules of the product (bio-diesel). It’s this oxygen that’s creating problems with bio-diesel products such as:

  • Higher cloud points (sometimes just under freezing temperatures)
  • Separation of the bio-diesel product while it is being stored in our fuel tanks
  • Microbial and algae growth in the fuel tanks of bio-diesel (both the vehicle and the storage tanks)
  • With the use of bio-diesel fuels we are seeing an increase in NOx emissions.

Now let’s take those same ingredients that we made bio-diesel out of (what we call “Tallow”, the plants and animals that are not a million years old) and grind them up and push them into a refinery (somewhat altered – but you get the point). Through the process of hydro-treating (heat and pressure) we created the same great fuels such a diesel, aviation fuel, gasoline and propane. We call these fuels “Renewable” fuels (such as renewable diesel, renewable aviation fuel, renewable naphtha (gasoline) and renewable propane). Although, the properties are just like conventional fossil fuels as they contain no oxygen.

With the renewable diesel fuels today we are seeing:

  • A higher Cetane # 75-85 (40-55 in petroleum diesel fuels / 50-60 in bio-diesel)
  • Higher energy densities (MJ/kg)
  • Lower sulfur content (below conventional ULSD diesel and bio-diesel)
  • Reduced NOx emissions (up to 30% below conventional diesel and bio-diesel)
  • Lower cloud points -10°C (-5°C in conventional diesel / 20°C in bio-diesel)
  • As far as the rest of the properties – renewable diesel meets (or exceeds) all the ASTM D975 specification for diesel fuel. Because of this, we can run higher blends such as R99 and not void any of the manufactures warranties.

Essentially renewable diesel is diesel fuel, just greener.

Q: What has your experience been with renewable diesel? How long have you used it, and for what types of vehicles/equipment?<

A: We’ve been very pleased with renewable diesel from day one (September 2015). Because renewable diesel possesses the properties that are similar to petroleum diesel, it can be used in any blend ratio (such as R20, R50 or R99). Because we’ve been using higher ratios of bio-diesels fuels before, we opted to use R99 (99% renewable diesel, 1% petroleum diesel) right at the start.
Renewable diesel is a drop in fuel so it can be added to any storage tank or vehicle fuel tank. Because it meets the ASTM D975 industry specifications for diesel fuel, it can be used on any vehicle that uses diesel fuel. Because it meets the ASTM D975 specifications it’s also covered under the manufactures warranties. We use it in every diesel engine that we have at the utility (including stationary engines as backup generators).

What made us decide to try renewable diesel?

A: For the past several years, we’ve been using higher blends of alternative fuels such as ethanol and bio-diesel as a way to meet EWEB’s fossil fuel and carbon emission reduction goals. When we adopted our sustainability goals, I admit that they seemed lofty and possibly unattainable.
In 2011, EWEB operations greenhouse gas emission reduction goals were developed to set a target for reductions within our own operations. The goals are:

  • By 2020 achieve greenhouse gas levels 25% below 2009 levels
  • By 2030, reduce fossil fuel use by 50% (compared to 2009 levels)
While we were making progress by replacing older vehicles with more fuel-efficient hybrid and/or electric cars, using more ethanol blended fuels such as E15 and E85 in our lighter duty-vehicles. When it came to our diesel fleet, we blending higher levels of bio-diesel, however price and cold-weather performance were limiting factors.
So we stepped out on a limb to try something different – Renewable Diesel or R99. The fact that UPS, the City of San Francisco and other agencies had made commitments to switch over to this new product caught our attention. The more that we researched about renewable diesel, only made us wanting to get our hands on it so we could try it out in some-type of pilot program.

Q: What types if outcomes have you seen as a result of the switch?

A: Since we utilize telematics in every vehicle and every piece of construction equipment in the fleet, we have relied on the diagnostic information and alerts to keep our fleet running in a way that is cost effective and minimize downtime. Before when we were using bio-diesel, we would get two to three alerts a week telling us that we have a unit that’s needing re-generation (the diesel particulate filter built up with soot). Normally we waited a few days to take action, hoping that the vehicle would get on a roadway long enough to let the engine programming run the re-gen itself. After a few weeks of being on renewable diesel, the alerts went away. In the four (4) months that we’ve been on renewable diesel, the shop has not performed any type manual re-gen.

Q: How about the experiences of other fleets in Oregon and Washington – what have you heard from them?

Collaboration and networking with other Fleet Professionals is so valuable when it comes to making a change like this. We rolled out our program the same day as the City of Portland.
Other agencies in Oregon and Washington are taking notice and following our lead as well, including Lane County Public Works, Clark County PUD, and Springfield Utility Board. There all seeing this new fuel as a win-win combination to reduce our fossil fuel footprint and reduce emissions.

Q: How does renewable diesel compare when it comes to costs? Has it been more or less expensive than biodiesel/regular diesel or is it cost neutral? Why?

A: We’ve been tracking the different prices of alternative fuel for over 5 years and last year we’ve seen some of the biggest spreads because petroleum fuel prices have been so low. I’m sure that the cost may vary from location to location (just as petroleum fuel does), although we not seeing much difference in cost as we compare the cost of R99 to B20 (around 15¢ a gallon above petroleum based diesel fuel). Renewable diesel is still an emerging market, so we’ve spent a lot of time talking to other fleets and educating our fuel suppliers what renewable diesel product really is. As we see more competition between our fuel supplies, I’m anticipating the cost to level out.

Q: Did you have to modify vehicles or equipment to use renewable diesel? How about fueling infrastructure?

A: This is the best part, renewable diesel requires no modifications to the vehicle or the fueling infrastructure. Renewable diesel is a 100% drop-in fuel so you can add it your existing fuel tank.

Q: Have you encountered any performance issues – or benefits?

A: We have uncovered absolutely no performance hiccups be switching to renewable diesel – almost too good to be true.

Q: What are the benefits of using renewable diesel?

A: EWEB quickly realized the benefits of switching to renewable diesel. Using a regular gallon of diesel fuel emits more than 30 pounds of greenhouse gases into the air. Using a gallon of renewable diesel emits less than 10!
Because of renewable diesel and ethanol blended fuels we’ve been able to (by the end of 2015):

  • Reduced our CO2 footprint by 24.2% (compared to our 2009 levels) – we are now tracking full life cycles emissions (CO2) of the fuels we use (using lower carbon fuels).
  • Reduced our fossil fuel by 41.4% (compared to our 2009 levels) – this was done by using less fuel and using alternative fuels such as ethanol, bio-diesel and renewable diesel.
We’re anticipating that this year (2016) we will be reducing our CO2 footprint by over 38% and our fossil fuel reduction by over 60%. We will flat-out exceeded our goals, all with-out having to modify or buy a special alternative vehicle other than our flex-fuel (E85) vehicles to meet our EPAct requirements.

Q: Are there any drawbacks to using renewable diesel? Any challenges you’ve faced? If so, how did you overcome them?

A: I think the biggest challenge of using renewable diesel is getting the product. There’s only a few companies in the world that’s making renewable diesel and they make up most of the volume. Because some of these plants are overseas, it needs to be imported to a main terminal, then barged or shipped by rail or truck to our local fuel providers. I’m not sure that we have the infrastructure in many areas to do so yet. On the west coast most of the product is brought into the bay area. For us in the northwest, it is barged into Portland, Oregon and distributed to us by our local fuel providers.
Another challenge, is how we pay for it. Many of us have contracts to purchase fuel, but there no state contract or OPIS rack price to gauge the price of renewable diesel to meet some of our purchasing requirements. Since we’ve been purchasing various type alternative fuels before we created our own alternatives fuels contract years ago, so it wasn’t to mush of an issue for us. California probably is leading the county in renewable diesel and has been establishing practices to create pricing structures so fleets can purchase the fuel.

Q: If you could tell a fleet manager one thing about renewable diesel, what would it be?

A: As a fleet professional, be prepared for some resistance – both from your users and from your suppliers.

  • Over the years our users have become a little resistant to change when it comes to alternative fuels – so do your homework and understand what renewable diesel really is – If you can explain to the users that this is the real deal and its essentially diesel – just greener, you won’t have any problems.
  • From our supplies (mainly the bio-diesel industry) – over the years we’ve gone to these folks and asked them to build an infrastructure to supply us with alternative fuels such as bio-diesel. Some of these folks literally spend millions on bio-diesel plants and now may be shifting a different direction because we found a fuel that is putting us on a path to cleaner, more efficient energy choices.
  • Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

    A: 1) When we talk about renewable diesel to many fleet professionals, you get a lot of strange looks – like what are you talking about. We’ve used the word “renewable” so much that most of them think that it’s just another form of bio-diesel. Renewable diesel is not bio-diesel. So what is it? To really understand it, you need to be able to explain it.
    2) In the picture below, the renewable diesel is on the left, regular petroleum diesel is on the right – oh, the black smoke that you see, its carbon (that 30 lbs. per gallon) – that carbon is what’s plugging our diesel particulate filters. Renewable diesel simply burns cleaner and better.

    Q: Where do you get it?

    A: Our fuel comes from the Portland, OR fuel terminal by a company called Vitol Inc, contact Tim Kjosness @ 916-865-8010 (our distributor is The Jerry Brown Company, Eugene, OR, contact Teresa Weed @541-953-1736)

    The renewable diesel fuel in brought into the bay area by Neste. (thinking Golden Gate Petroleum) – then barged to Portland.

    Gary Lentsch, CAFM
    Eugene Water and Electric Board
    Fleet Services Phone/Fax 541-953-7470

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