Biodiesel vs renewable diesel

Biodiesel vs Renewable Diesel: What is the difference?

Renewable diesel, or HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil), is sometimes confused with biodiesel or FAME (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester). The main differences between the two are found in their chemical compositions, performances in cold weather and storage qualities.

For example, Neste MY Renewable Diesel™ is produced through a hydrotreatment process. The result is an HVO diesel that has a similar chemical composition to fossil diesel. This chemical resemblance enables renewable diesel to be used in all diesel engines in up to a 100% concentration, or to be blended in any ratio with fossil diesel.

Biodiesel contains oxygen, making it different from both fossil diesel and renewable diesel and renewable diesel and therefore it can not act as a 100% substitute. Nearly all OEMs limit biodiesel content to 20% with some only allowing 5%.

Biodiesel vs renewable diesel

Renewable diesel and biodiesel are often confused, but they are not the same. Renewable diesel is a pure hydrocarbon diesel fuel chemically very similar to fossil diesel, and is also known as Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) fuel, whereas biodiesel is a Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (FAME) product which is not a hydrocarbon.

Although both fuels are produced from renewable raw materials, they are chemically different. Renewable diesel – a second generation biofuel – is far more versatile. Advanced production technologies ensure that renewable diesel is a drop-in solution that can be used in a pure form, with no blending required.

Biodiesel’s composition makes it less compatible with existing diesel engines at full concentration, and most OEMs recommend that biodiesel be blended with renewable diesel or fossil diesel at concentrations of 20% or less.

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Impact in reducing GHG emissions? Significant – up to 75%* fewer GHG emissions None Modest – up to 15% fewer GHG emissions
Made from renewable sources? Yes, from 100% sustainably sourced waste raw materials No Yes, but primarily sourced from virgin sources, not waste
Performance in cold weather? Excellent Excellent Depends on biodiesel/diesel blend ratio
Cetane Number – Higher value indicates greater combustion efficiency, quicker cold starts and lower emissions 70+ 45-55 50
Fuel Stability High Average Low
OEM Approval Yes Yes Yes

Neste’s proprietary technology

Neste MY Renewable Diesel is made using a unique combination of hydrotreating and isomerization that enables a wide variety of low quality waste and residues to be turned into high-quality fuels and other renewable products. Regardless of which raw materials are used, the quality of the final HVO product is always the same. This is a big difference compared to biodiesel which is produced through an esterification process. This does not offer the same guarantee in quality as properties of FAME depend largely on what raw materials are used and can vary between producers. 

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High cetane number

A cetane number indicates ignition properties. It also signifies how well an engine starts in cold weather and it contributes to cleaner and more efficient combustion. The higher the cetane number, the quicker the engine starts. Neste MY Renewable Diesel has a cetane number above 70, whereas neat biodiesel typically has a cetane number between 50 and 60, and the cetane number of the allowed biodiesel blends are even lower, closer to that of fossil diesel.


Cold temperatures 

Neste MY Renewable Diesel’s cloud point, which indicates when fuel starts to be affected by cold temperatures, is as low as  -4°F (-20°C) for Winter grade and 10°F (-12°C) for the summer grade. Neste MY Renewable Diesel is made for cold conditions. This is not the case for biodiesel, as it can greatly be affected by cooler temperatures, depending on which raw materials were used.

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No limit for storage time

Neste MY Renewable Diesel is very stable and can be stored for extended periods of time, without any risk that its properties change. Unlike biodiesel, Neste’s renewable diesel also does not attract water. This means that with the right handling and storage, there is very little risk of quality deterioration or microbial growth.

Biodiesel vs renewable diesel – one clear winner 

While biodiesel and renewable diesel are derived from renewable sources and have lower emissions than traditional diesel fuel, there are some key differences between biodiesel and renewable diesel. Biodiesel has a higher oxygen content and can have a higher level of impurities, which can affect its performance in cold weather. Because biodiesel is also generally blended with fossil diesel in the United States (B5 or B20), its actual potential for reducing GHG emissions is lessened. In contrast, Neste MY Renewable Diesel reduces GHG emissions by up to 75%. It’s chemically identical to conventional diesel and can be used neat or blended at any ratio. Neste MY is the first TOP TIERTM certified renewable diesel fuel, and can be used in any diesel engine without modification. Ultimately, the choice between biodiesel and renewable diesel will depend on the specific needs of the user and the fleet they operate.

See why our customers are choosing renewable diesel 

Neste MY Renewable Diesel: Product Factsheet

Download the Neste MY Product factsheet and share it with your colleagues. 


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*The European standard for diesel (EN590) limits the proportion of biodiesel (FAME EN14214) to max. 7%. In fact, engine and vehicle manufacturers widely support the development of HVO fuels as a way to increase diesel fuel’s renewable content to reduce emissions without the concerns associated with FAMEs.

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