Renewable Diesel: The Cleaner Alternative to Electric Vehicles?

As the world strives towards a more sustainable future, the transportation sector has become a critical area of focus in the fight against climate change. Two solutions that have garnered significant attention are renewable diesel (RD) and electric vehicles (EVs). Both solutions have the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector, but which one is better suited for decarbonization in the short-term and long-term? This blog post will explore this debate and the potential impact on policies, regulations, and incentives across Canada.

Carbon Impact of Renewable Diesel and Electric Vehicles

To compare the carbon impact of RD and EVs, we have created the following table based on data from sources such as the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

OptionEmission Factor (g CO2eq/MJ)Total Lifecycle Emissions (g CO2eq/km)Potential Impact on Food PricesEnergy SourcePotential for Carbon Credits
Traditional Gasoline Engine95235N/ACrude OilN/A
Diesel Engine with Renewable Diesel (RD)5085Low (Canola) – Medium (Waste or Non-Food Crops)Canola, Waste or Non-Food CropsPotential for Compliance Credits
Electric Vehicle (EV)50 (avg power grid emission factor)50N/AElectricityPotential for Compliance Credits
Biofuels made from Waste or Non-Food Crops4070LowWaste or Non-Food CropsPotential for Compliance Credits
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle50-60 (depending on hydrogen production method)80-90Low (Electrolysis) – Medium (Steam Methane Reforming)Electrolysis, Steam Methane ReformingPotential for Compliance Credits
Natural Gas Vehicle5575N/ANatural GasPotential for Compliance Credits
For sources see bottom of blog post.

The above table shows that both RD and EVs have the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions compared to traditional diesel engines. While EVs have lower vehicle emissions, the grid emissions factor has a significant impact on the overall carbon intensity of EVs. In contrast, RD has a lower carbon intensity than EVs when considering the grid emissions factor, but it does come with the potential impact on food prices if the feedstock used to produce renewable diesel is canola, which is also used for canola oil.

Carbon Credits, Policy, and Regulations

Both RD and EVs have the potential to participate in the carbon credit market, either through voluntary or compliance credits. In Canada, for example, the federal government has set a target to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and has implemented various incentives for clean energy and transportation solutions. Policymakers must weigh the benefits of using existing vehicles and infrastructure with RD against the need for a complete replacement of vehicle fleets and charging infrastructure for EVs.

While EVs have the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions in the long-term, they require a significant investment in a new charging infrastructure and improvements to the grid. On the other hand, RD can be used in existing diesel engines and has the potential to make an immediate impact on reducing carbon emissions. However, the use of canola as a feedstock for RD has the potential to impact food prices and raises questions about the sustainability of the solution in the long-term.

Other Energy Sources for Transportation

While RD and EVs are two of the most promising solutions for reducing carbon emissions in the transportation sector, there are other options to consider. For example, the use of biofuels made from waste or non-food crops, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and natural gas vehicles are all being explored as potential solutions.


The debate over which solution is better suited for decarbonizing the transportation sector, RD or EVs, is ongoing. Policymakers must weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each solution, considering factors such as cost, investment in infrastructure, and sustainability. By incorporating carbon credits, adjusting existing policies and regulations, and considering the potential impact on food prices, policymakers can make informed decisions that support the transition to a more sustainable future. Ultimately, a combination of solutions may be needed to reach our goals, but only by establishing a direct and frank discussion among all key stakeholders we can a fair and sustainable ecosystem.

“Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try another. But by all means, try something.”

— Frankling D. Roosevelt

Table data:

  • Renewable diesel carbon intensity: European Renewable Energy Council, “Renewable Diesel: Overview and Key Characteristics,” (2021)
  • Average power grid emissions factor: US Environmental Protection Agency, “Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID),” (2021)
  • Average fuel intensity in the US: US Energy Information Administration, “Petroleum & Other Liquids,” (2021)
  • Canola oil impact on food prices: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “The State of Food and Agriculture 2020,” (2020)
  • Energy Information Administration (EIA) – For data on the energy intensity of different transportation options, including traditional gasoline and diesel engines, electric vehicles, biofuels, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and natural gas vehicles.
  • International Energy Agency (IEA) – For information on the carbon intensity of various energy sources and the potential for renewable energy to contribute to decarbonization efforts.
  • Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) – For data on the life cycle emissions of different transportation options, including the well-to-wheels emissions of electric vehicles and the carbon intensity of renewable diesel.
  • Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) – For information on the environmental impact of biofuels, including the sustainability of different feedstocks and the potential for biofuels to contribute to food insecurity.
  • Department of Energy (DOE) – For data on the deployment of charging infrastructure and the development of hydrogen fueling stations.
  • Natural Gas Vehicles for America (NGVA) – For data on the emissions benefits of natural gas vehicles and the development of natural gas fueling infrastructure.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – For information on existing regulations and incentives related to transportation emissions, including the Renewable Fuel Standard and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

It is important to note that the values in the table are based on current data and may change as technology improves and new information becomes available. Policymakers should consider the latest available data when making decisions related to transportation decarbonization.

Cover Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash