What are the different types of diesel fuel?
- 19 January 2018
Once deemed too sluggish for your everyday passenger car, diesel fuel now powers high-speed, sophisticated vehicles that merge efficiency with dynamic driving capability. Diesel’s come a long way since its humble origins and has advanced into different type for different purposes, and not all of them are derived from petroleum.
These are the different types to keep your eye out for.
Petroleum diesel, or fossil diesel, is the most common type of fuel, used in freight trucks, trains, buses and farm and construction vehicles. Many new passenger vehicles are powered by petroleum diesel too. Its components are derived from the fractional distillation of crude oil at temperatures between 200 – 350 degrees Celsius at atmospheric pressure. The result sees a mixture of carbon chains, containing approximately 8 – 20 carbon atoms per molecule.
The desire to find long-term low-carbon fuel alternatives has seen the development of synthetic diesel. It can be produced from any carbonaceous material which is not limited to biomass, biogas, natural gas and coal. Once the natural substance is gasified and purified, it undergoes the Fischer-Tropsch process which is essentially a series of chemical reactions that transforms a combination of carbon monoxide and hydrogen into a hybrid substance called hydrocarbons. This type of diesel has been commended for its near-zero sulphur content, reducing overall emissions.
Biodiesel is an alternative renewable fuel source to petroleum-derived diesel that is made from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled restaurant grease. As of 2016, soybean oil was the main ingredient of approximately 55% of the total feedstock used to make biodiesel in the US, followed by canola and corn oil. In its purest form, biodiesel is referred to as B100, yet can be appropriately blended with petroleum diesel depending on the temperature the fuel will be used in. Many fuel equipment manufacturers have expressed their concerns with biodiesel as it can corrode fuel injection components, increase blockages and cause pump seizures.
Hydrogenated oils and fats
While similar to synthetic diesel, this category of diesel involves converting the triglycerides (a chemical compound known as ester which is derived from glycerol and fatty acids) found in vegetable oils and animal fats into alkanes with a process that refines and hydrates the substance.
Dimethyl ether (DME)
DME has the potential to be a renewable fuel. It’s a clean-burning, non-toxic fuel that boasts a high cetane value and discreet combustion. Its low-cost system coupled with low soot and reduced NOx emissions could offer a great alternative when meeting Australia’s carbon reduction goals.
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