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Renewable Diesel vs. Biodiesel: What’s Your Experience?

We all love to raise our sails and harness the wind to push our boats along the water. Not only is it the coolest thing ever, but it’s also an economical and environmentally friendly way to travel. But the reality is that, somewhere along the way, we usually need to fire up the diesel engine. Plus, many of us also have an engine-driven dinghy. So in keeping with the idea of “cool” and “environmentally friendly,” what is your preferred fuel type?

We recently received an email from Jan Grygier presenting a scenario of using renewable diesel versus biodiesel. Jan, a 2010 Baja Ha-Ha vet, sails out of Richmond Yacht Club aboard both his Catalina 42 Neener3 and his Santana 22 Albacore.

Jan refers to an article from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), which says that most of the renewable diesel has historically been consumed on the West Coast.

The point of the article is to inform us that “US production capacity for renewable diesel could more than double from current levels by the end of 2025, based on several announcements for projects that are either under construction or could start development soon.” The question now is, how will that be advantageous over biodiesel?

energy chart
The EIA wrote: “An average of 520,000 b/d of distillate fuel oil was consumed on the West Coast in 2021.”
© 2023 U.S. Energy Information Administration

Jan says he gets renewable diesel from the 7-11 gas station on Cutting Blvd., close to the RYC, and he says it’s also available at Pittsburg Marina. He says that one advantage of renewable diesel over biodiesel is that it can be used in diesel engines up to 100%, whereas biodiesel cannot. “When I took a diesel mechanics class at a boat show some years back the advice was NEVER put biodiesel in an old diesel engine, as it dissolves gunk and then deposits it right where you least want it (he shared a horror story from Sweden),” Jan wrote.

The EIA writes, “Renewable diesel is a fuel that is chemically equivalent to petroleum diesel and nearly identical in its performance characteristics. The same is not true of biodiesel, which is chemically different from petroleum diesel. Renewable diesel’s chemical equivalence to petroleum diesel gives it a couple of advantages over biodiesel. One advantage is that producers can distribute renewable diesel in petroleum diesel pipelines. A second advantage is that traditional diesel engines can consume any blend level of renewable diesel, including pure renewable diesel, with no significant side effects. In contrast, biodiesel can only be blended into petroleum diesel between 2% and 20% of the diesel fuel by volume.”

In his email, Jan expressed interest in other sailors’ experiences with renewable and/or biodiesel fuels. And we’re now curious too. What is your experience with either of these fuel products? Are they easily purchased? Have you had to make alterations to your engine systems to accommodate either? Leave your response in the comments below or email us at [email protected].

If you (like this writer) know very little about renewable diesel and biodiesel, take the time to familiarize yourself with what the EIA wrote, and then perhaps do a little more research. We’d love to hear your opinions. You can read the full article here.


  1. Peter Bennett 1 year ago

    I have a Mercedes diesel and they say to never use biodiesel. I am going to check with the dealer and see what they say about renewable diesel and hopefully I can use it. All my boat engines I have been advised to never use biodiesel. Will do some research on this.

  2. Rick Drain 1 year ago

    I used a type of biodiesel in my boat’s engine for years. If I understand correctly it was based on vegetable oil with some sort of Chemical Engineering to make it “diesel-y-er”. It worked wonderfully, with the added benefit that the engine exhaust smelled like french fries.
    I got the fuel from a company in Richmond, CA that, again if I understood correctly, had produced it as a bio-remediation agent that could dilute refinery dock oil spills into something easier to handle. Did they have oil-eating microbes that couldn’t handle a diet of tar or heavy crude? Again, memory has grown fuzzy. This was in the 1990s.

    I’m not a chemist, but I’ll note that diesel fuel itself is a chemical that wasn’t found pure in nature and was processed (usually from portions of crude oil) to become what it is. I’m very curious what the base chemical for the renewable diesel is, and how it’s processed. I am surprised and honestly skeptical about the implication that vegetable oil(s) as a feedstock cannot be processed into an acceptable diesel substitute, a.k.a. biodiesel.

    I look forward to the community’s comments.

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