Thursday, 30 July 2015

UPS gives backing to renewable diesel fuel

Delivery giant UPS, which has been in the vanguard of alternative fuels (last year it rolled out a fleet of 1,000 propane-powered delivery vehicles in Oklahoma and Louisiana), today has given its backing to Neste’s renewable diesel.

Finnish company Neste, which claims to be the world's leading producer of premium quality renewable fuels, will supply NEXBTL renewable diesel to UPS, the global logistics specialist. Neste claims this will boost UPS’s shift to alternative fuels.

UPS, which has its own unique design of ubiquitous brown vehicles, will use Neste's NEXBTL renewable diesel in its fleet operating in the US starting mid-2015, the company notes.

The companies’ mutual intention is to expand their cooperation globally. Neste says its global renewable diesel reach is “well aligned” with UPS's world-wide business.

UPS is planning to use up to 46 million gallon equivalents of renewable fuels over the next three years, making UPS one of the largest users of renewable diesel in the world.

"Advanced alternative fuels like renewable diesel are an important part of our strategy to reduce the carbon emissions impact of our fleet," claims Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president, global engineering and sustainability.

"We have used more than three million gallons of renewable diesel to date with positive results. Renewable diesel has a huge impact, significantly reducing lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 90 per cent versus conventional petroleum diesel. Renewable diesel also performs well in cold weather, does not have any blending limitations and can be easily 'dropped in' to our fuel supply chain without modifications to our existing diesel trucks and equipment," he adds.

Neste says its low-carbon, low-emission NEXBTL renewable diesel is produced from 100 per cent renewable and sustainable raw materials,

The company claims NEXBTL provides significant reduction in GHG emissions. Additionally, NEXBTL's significantly lower tailpipe emissions make it “an ideal solution to improve urban air quality”, hence its potential use in city buses. 

Neste adds that its low-carbon renewable fuel meets US national, California and other diesel specifications for use in diesel engines “while realizing the benefits of better performance, and lower emissions”.

The fuel is sold to fleets, refining companies and fuel distributors around the world and is based on the company's proprietary technology.

Interestingly, Neste’s fuel has attracted attention in other quarters. Two months back, in May, some 200,000 spectators watched as 151 cars rolled off for the traditional 24-hour race at the Nürburgring in Germany.

In addition to GT cars racing for the overall win, the event ran had several other classes, including the "AT" class for alternative fuels. This year, six cars started in the AT class. Of these, four were diesel-powered (pictured above) using Neste’s NEXBTL-based R33 fuel. Neste's research and cooperation partner Tuning Akademie team won the AT class. 

"Drivers expect not only lower emissions, but also high quality and good performance when they choose biofuels," says Kaisa Hietala, Neste’s executive vice president, renewable products.

"The 24-Hour Race at the Nürburgring circuit is one of the toughest in the motorsport world and an excellent opportunity to show NEXBTL renewable diesel can meet these expectations and even exceed them," he added.

Synthetic diesel fuel is ultra-clean and virtually sulphur-free. It can be produced by various routes from natural gas, coal or various forms of biomass – and with varying cost levels.

Perhaps the most expensive route is through the highly complex Fischer-Tropsch process. To construct such a plant is do so on a scale akin to building a large oil refinery; added to which as much as 40 per cent of the potential energy in the feedstock can be used up in the process.

NEXBTL, a biomass-derived synthetic (or paraffinic) diesel fuel produced without gasification, has been pioneered by Neste. Its R33 diesel for example is a blend containing 26 per cent NEXBTL renewable diesel, an HVO-type fuel produced by Neste Oil, 7 per cent conventional biodiesel (FAME) produced from used cooking oil, and 67 per cent fossil diesel. HVO is hydrotreated vegetable oil

Last year, trials in Coburg, Bavaria using R33 diesel in a demonstration project involving 280 vehicles – including buses, cars, and trucks – had as its aim the commercialization of the fuel.

Neste’s renewable products are generated at refineries Porvoo in Finland (where pilot production began in 2007), Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Singapore. Diverse crude oil-based oil products are produced also in Naantali (also in Finland where in April this year fire caused a shut-down of the refinery) and Porvoo. In addition, Neste is co-owner of a base oil plant in Bahrain.

Feedstock used in HVO production can include pure soy, rapeseed or palm oil. Neste suggests that using these feedstocks the GHG benefits are limited, though they are greater for waste animal fat, fatty acid distillates and used cooking oil.  From a cost and energy efficiency perspective, the HVO process consumes a smaller percentage of the feedstock’s inherent energy content. 

                                                   Volvo gives approval

Although Neste titles its fuel as NEXBTL, vehicle OEMs often refer to them as HVO fuels. This includes Volvo Trucks which last month gave approval of the diesel fuel for use in all its Euro 5 engines. Volvo is now in the process of preparing certifications for Euro 6.

According to Volvo, HVO acts as regular diesel and reduces CO2 emissions “between 30 and 90 per cent”, depending on raw material. Volvo’s announcement comes after extensive field testing of the renewable diesel.

In 2013, Volvo Trucks (pictured below) started field tests with Renova, DHL Freight and OKQ8 to study how 100 per cent HVO might affect diesel engine performance as well as the behaviour of components. The six field test trucks were equipped with Euro 5 engines and together covered some one million kilometres in commercial service over a two-year period.        


"The field tests showed that HVO works well in our engines and can be used under the same conditions as regular diesel. It is also possible to freely mix diesel and HVO," claims Tobias Bergman, product manager for alternative fuels and hybrids at Volvo Trucks.

The positive results from the field test have led to Volvo Trucks giving its approval to the use of HVO in all its Euro 5 engines with unchanged service intervals.

In September this year, there will be global certification (WVTA) of HVO in Volvo D5 and D8 engines for Euro 6. In parallel, work is underway to certify other engine variants, including Volvo’s D11, D13 and D16 power units.

"The fuel is suitable for all customers who want to reduce their CO2 emissions and we see no restrictions regarding the type of transport or business. Combining HVO with the low emissions of our Euro 6 engines will allow the environmental impacts of the trucks to be minimised," claims Bergman.

Volvo describes HVO as being produced from renewable raw materials such as vegetable and animal fats. These can include rapeseed oil or abattoir waste, for example. The fuel can be distributed using existing diesel depots and the same tanks and pumps as regular diesel.

"We believe in HVO's potential and see an increasing interest from customers and transport buyers. The major challenge is the availability of raw materials and refineries. We therefore hope that our investment in fuel will contribute to increased demand and that the HVO can be used in many other parts of the world in future," says Lars Mårtensson, director of environment and innovation at Volvo Trucks.

Other OEMs, such as Daimler AG and Scania have made similar announcements regarding synthetic diesel fuels. But all these pronouncements have come against the backdrop of recent falls in the price of crude oil.

This has tended draw attention away from alternative fuels but the recent disclosure by Neste and operator UPS, as well as Volvo’s announcement, has shifted the focus back onto synthetic fuels which might suggest some at least are taking the long view, even though it might be five to 10 years before the US becomes oil independent.

Certainly, such fuels are likely to remain a focal point among environmentalists as well as city authorities closely involved with vehicle emission issues, for example in regions such as California, where its use could be of interest to bus operators, even though the US could be oil independent in the next five to 10 years.

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