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Alternative Fuels

Nowhere, perhaps, is the decarbonization journey undergoing more of a seismic shift than in the development and refinement of alternative fuel sources. While users have traditionally been relegated to few options other than diesel, biodiesel and natural gas, progress is being made on several fronts to expand those choices dramatically. 

For years, SMS Equipment has been closely monitoring developments in the field of alternative fuels, recognizing it as the “new normal” it is sure to become. To that end, we’ve assembled a highly-skilled, well-informed team to help our customers understand what will — and won’t — meet their needs today and moving forward. Many innovative solutions will require time to mature, develop a supporting infrastructure, gain widespread acceptance, etc. The current, readily available options, however, can prove an ideal starting point for any forward-thinking company seeking to address the issue of decarbonization. 

The road less travelled is soon to get very crowded. Let SMS Equipment help you consider the alternatives.

The established alternative
Biodiesel, manufactured from soybeans, canola, vegetable oils or animal fats, is the most common and best-known alternative diesel fuel. When used as a diesel fuel substitute, biodiesel can offer considerable greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions benefits and reduce engine part wear.

The next-generation alternative
Renewable diesel
Renewable diesel, or HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil), offers significant improvements over traditional biodiesel. The “greenest” diesel on the market, it is odorless and colorless and delivers impressive performance benefits. Created by hydroprocessing vegetable oils, fats and waste cooking oil, along with other biomass feedstock like garbage, wood and agricultural waste, renewable diesel must meet the same ASTM standards as its petroleum-based counterpart. It can be used as a diesel substitute (up to 100%, with no blend-wall limitations) with no modifications to the vehicle fuel system or fuel station equipment. It is also stable in long-term storage and does not block fuel filters. Other benefits include: enhanced vehicle performance, a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, improved mileage, reduced maintenance demands and superior performance in cold weather. 

The fuel of the future
One of the most abundant resources on the planet, hydrogen burns with zero carbon emissions, and can be produced from green energy. Although the market for hydrogen as a transportation fuel is in its infancy, government and industry are working toward clean, economical, and safe hydrogen production and distribution. The prospect for hydrogen use as an alt fuel is promising, both because internal combustion engines can be modified to run on hydrogen and because the main waste product of a hydrogen-fueled engine is water vapor, not carbon dioxide. Also, unlike gasoline, hydrogen burns well in “fuel-lean conditions,” those in which there is far more oxygen than fuel which improves fuel efficiency while greatly reducing nitrogen oxide emissions. 

Alternative Fuels FAQ

Alternative or clean fuels are fuels that produce much lower greenhouse gas emissions than traditional petroleum-based fuels based on life-cycle analysis. Life cycle analysis is used to assess the environmental impacts of all stages of a product's life, including raw material extraction, processing, manufacturing, distribution, use, and disposal or recycling. When comparing fuels, a life cycle analysis may focus on particular portions of a fuel's life cycle, such as from extraction-to-use, also referred to as well-to-wheels, to determine the merits or problems associated with each fuel.

Here in Canada, the motivation is compliance with the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, which enshrines in legislation the Government of Canada’s commitment to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and provides a framework of accountability and transparency to deliver on it. Its main points include establishing a legally binding process to set five-year national emissions-reduction targets as well as develop credible, science-based emissions-reduction plans to achieve each target. In addition, it establishes the 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target as Canada’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement emissions reductions of 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The Act also establishes a requirement to set national emissions reduction targets for 2035, 2040, and 2045, ten years in advance. Each target will require credible, science-based emissions reduction plans to achieve it. 

There are a number of varied alternative fuels including:
  • Cellulosic ethanol
  • Biodiesel
  • Renewable diesel
  • Sustainable aviation fuel
  • Renewable natural gas
  • Renewable propane
  • Hydrogen

Biodiesel is a diesel fuel substitute used in diesel engines made from renewable materials such as: vegetable oil, waste cooking oil, animal fats, fish oil, algae oil, and potentially from cellulosic feedstock.

Point of Interest: Biodiesel is already finding its place as a blend used in conventional diesel-powered vehicles and can typically be blended in concentrations up to 20%. The US EPA suggests that biodiesel emits up to 11% lower carbon monoxide levels and as much as 10% lower particulate matter than conventional petroleum-based diesel.

Renewable diesel, is also known as HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil), or HDRD (hydrogenation derived renewable diesel) and is certified to EN15940. Handling of renewable diesel is the same as conventional diesel and because renewable diesel is a drop-in fuel, it meets ASTM D975 specification for petroleum diesel, and can be seamlessly blended, transported, and even co-processed with petroleum diesel.

Point of Interest: Commonly produced from vegetable oil, waste cooking oil, animal fats, fish oil, inedible corn oil, and algae oil, it improves greenhouse gas emissions by up to 75 percent while providing an energy density approximately 96% that of standard diesel. 

No, they are not. Renewable diesel, previously known as green diesel, is a hydrocarbon produced most often by hydrotreating but also via gasification, pyrolysis, and other biochemical and thermochemical technologies. It meets ASTM D975 specification for petroleum diesel. Biodiesel, as mentioned, is a diesel fuel substitute made from renewable materials. It meets ASTM D6751 and is approved for blending with petroleum diesel.

Yes. While Biodiesel, if blended above 5%, may require modifications to vehicle fuel systems and fuel station equipment, renewable diesel requires neither. In addition, renewable diesel can be either fully substituted for diesel or blended in any amount (biodiesel  is not recommended for blending above 5%); and it is stable in long-term storage, will not absorb significant amounts of moisture and does not cause blocks in fuel filters — all shortcomings of biodiesel.

While not as beneficial in achieving Net-Zero goals, biodiesel, which emits up to 11% lower carbon monoxide and 10% lower particulate matter than conventional diesel, is still a great first step in reducing one’s carbon footprint. Biodiesel is also already widely available and is currently being blended into conventional diesel in most regions. Because it also offers better lubrication properties than Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel, it can increase engine life and can reduce carcinogen levels during combustion by as much as 85% versus petroleum-based diesel.

Hydrogen (H2) is an alternative fuel that can be produced from varied domestic resources. Although the market for hydrogen as a transportation fuel is in its infancy, government and industry are working toward clean, economical, and safe hydrogen production and distribution for widespread use in fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). 

Point of Interest: Light-duty FCEVs are already available in limited quantities to the consumer market in localized regions both here and abroad. The market is also developing for buses, material handling equipment (such as forklifts), ground support equipment, medium- and heavy-duty trucks, and marine vessels. 

It is ethanol (ethyl alcohol) produced from cellulose (the stringy fiber of a plant) rather than from the plant's seeds or fruit. It can be produced from grasses, wood, algae, or other plants. Cellulosic ethanol contains more net energy and emits significantly fewer greenhouse gases than ethanol made from corn. Ethanol is a fuel that is being blended with gasoline today. A popular use case for this type of fuel is in high-performance vehicles.

Point of Interest: Cellulosic ethanol contains more net energy and emits significantly fewer greenhouse gases than ethanol made from corn. And, once the infrastructure for it is in place, cellulosic ethanol will work for any flex-fuel vehicle capable of running on E85.

SAF is a fuel derived from renewable resources that enables a reduction in net life cycle carbon dioxide emissions compared to conventional fuels. When SAF is blended with conventional jet fuel, it meets ASTM D1655, which allows it to be used in existing aircraft and infrastructure. 

Point of interest: A range of different biomasses and feedstock types can be used to make the fuel and, because some commercial airlines have already successfully used it, a certain level of future use/demand is ensured.

RNG is a pipeline-quality gas that is fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas and thus can be used in natural gas vehicles. RNG is essentially biogas (the gaseous product of the decomposition of organic matter) that has been processed to purity standards. Like conventional natural gas, RNG can be used as a transportation fuel in the form of compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG). 

Point of interest: In addition to the obvious benefit of reducing methane (greenhouse gas) emissions, the use of RNG can provide benefits in terms of fuel security, economic revenues or savings, and improvements in local air quality where the gasses are captured. i.e burning it does not improve air quality, capturing the gas from the biomass does.

Renewable propane is a fuel that can be made from a variety of feedstocks, including soybean oil, used cooking oil and animal tallow. The most common form of renewable propane today is a byproduct from the same process that creates renewable diesel from soybean oil. 

Point of Interest: The sources that go into producing renewable propane are not only materials most consider to be waste but can include plant matter such as corn. By 2050, renewable propane could meet half the world’s demand for propane, according to the World LP Gas Association.

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