After a six-month trial using renewable diesel in heavy trucks this past summer, the New York City Dept. of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) is planning a long-term purchasing contract for much more of the fuel as the city moves to phase out petroleum-based diesel in its fleet vehicles.
Renewable diesel—often confused with biodiesel—is made from organic waste materials such as animal fats and vegetable oils, similar to biodiesel. But renewable diesel is refined differently and delivers the chemical equivalent of traditional crude oil-based diesel, so it can be used in blends or as a complete replacement fuel in any diesel engine without modifications.
While biodiesel contains oxygen and can potentially have contaminants and problems when used in cold temperatures, renewable diesel avoids those issues and burns much cleaner than regular diesel. DCAS estimated it can reduce CO2 emissions from diesel engines by 65% using renewable diesel and noted its fleet burns up to 17 million gallons of diesel a year that could be switched out for the more sustainable fuel.
DCAS has long used biodiesel in blends of 5-20% at all NYC agencies and for all diesel-powered equipment. DCAS Deputy Commissioner and NYC Chief Fleet Officer Keith Kerman has told Fleet Owner on several occasions there have been no cold-weather problems with biodiesel even at 20% blends used during the winter.
NYC's move to expand renewable diesel comes in the wake of California's deadliest wildfires in history, which have rekindled the climate change debate; on one side of that argument, some do not believe mankind has any effect on Earth's climate. New York City fleet officials have a different view.
"The climate crisis is real and it's urgent," said Lisette Camilo, Commissioner of DCAS. "Renewable diesel is 99% petroleum-free and helps keep fossil fuels in the ground and emissions out of our air."
"Every time we choose to reinforce our reliance on fossil fuels for transportation, we choose to pollute our air and accelerate the current climate crisis," contended Mark Chambers, director of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio's Office of Sustainability.
DCAS used a million gal. of renewable diesel as it tested out the fuel. It powered garbage trucks, Parks Dept. equipment, Dept. of Correction buses, police emergency service vehicles, and other heavy and specialized fleet units, according to the city. NYC's fleet includes 13,000 diesel trucks and off-road equipment, many of which will be transitioning to renewable diesel going forward.
NYC now operates 1,700 on-road electric vehicles and nearly 6,000 hybrid, solar-powered, and natural gas-powered fleet units. All told among its light-duty vehicles purchased this year, DCAS recently announced it had achieved staggering average fuel economy of 100 mpg, more than twice the light-duty fleet's average three years ago.
Phasing out petroleum-based diesel is part of Mayor de Blasio's "80 x 50" initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New York City by at least 80% by 2050. The mayor's NYC Clean Fleet initiative announced in 2015 calls for the city to cut municipal vehicle emissions in half by 2025 and 80% by 2035.