Where is HVO gaining a foothold in the US?

Peterson Power Systems has supported the California Public Utilities Commission’s efforts to promote using HVO and other renewable fuels.

The use of hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) to fuel power generation is gaining a foothold on the West Coast in the US, where customers of Peterson Power Systems have used more than 8 million gallons of the diesel alternative to generate power since 2022.

Peterson Power Systems is the local Cat dealer for electric power in Northern California, Oregon and Southwest Washington, where Cat rental power solutions using HVO fuel have been predominantly used by utilities to supply energy around the clock during public safety power shutoffs and after wildfires damaged grid transmission lines in Northern California.

“Power generation from internal combustion engines remains the industry standard for mitigating the potentially disastrous effects of outages while providing a solid base for enabling the increased use of microgrids comprised of solar and storage,” said John Krummen, executive vice president for Peterson Power Systems, based in San Leandro, California. “We’re actively facilitating the use of renewable fuels like HVO to transition established power generation technologies to a lower-carbon future.”

HVO as drop-in replacement for diesel

HVO’s compatibility with today’s engines is due to the refining process used to make it, which is similar to that which is applied to crude oil. As such, HVO is a hydrocarbon-like diesel fuel and is chemically so similar to diesel that it is considered a drop-in replacement, meaning a vehicle or piece of equipment with a diesel engine can run on either petroleum diesel or HVO without any modification.

“There are no molecules in the HVO that you don’t find in diesel fuel, so it is chemically very similar, except that it’s missing some of the nasty stuff that doesn’t burn cleanly,” said Markku Honkanen, head of technical services for renewable fuel maker Neste, based in Espoo, Finland.

Like diesel, HVO meets ASTM D975 specifications. It also complies with EN 15940 specifications for paraffinic diesel fuels and Fuel Quality Directive 2009/30/EC.

Honkanen added that HVO use does not require a particular emissions certification. “There are some benefits in the combustion so that if you have an old engine without any aftertreatment systems at all — say some nonroad application where they are not yet needed — you get some benefit on the tailpipe emissions,” he said. “If you have a modern engine with the catalyst and the SCR and the DPF and all the bells and whistles, you see the same tailpipe emission [as diesel] pretty much, although you’d stress the aftertreatment system less.”

Advocating use of HVO for temporary and portable power

Peterson Power Systems has pioneered the advocacy and use of HVO for temporary and portable generation applications to its customers on the Pacific coast. During the 2019 wildfire season, Peterson Power Systems supplied HVO to customers making contingency plans for public safety power shutoffs, when utilities temporarily turn off power to specific localities to reduce the risk of fires caused by the transmission and distribution infrastructure.

Additionally, Peterson Power Systems has supported the California Public Utilities Commission’s efforts to promote using HVO and other renewable fuels.

“Companies facing the energy transition are looking for flexible approaches available now that enable them to make an immediate impact on their sustainability goals,” said Tom Caldwell, vice president and general manager for Caterpillar Electric Power’s Rental Power division. “Cat diesel generator sets have accommodated the use of HVO for more than a decade, and Peterson Power Systems has proven how our global Cat dealer network has the customer expertise and relationships with local suppliers to support the adoption of renewable fuels.”

HVO meeting the latest version of EN 15940 specifications can be used as a drop-in replacement for diesel fuel in Cat diesel engines. This standard specifies the quality and properties of advanced diesel that is either synthetic or produced from renewable raw materials through hydrotreatment. HVO can be sourced from vegetable oils, fats, or used cooking oils, which are then processed by hydrotreating to remove oxygen from the hydrocarbon chain.

While HVO does not reduce carbon dioxide emissions at the tailpipe, switching to biofuels will reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions when compared with diesel.

But is it readily available everywhere?

“HVO availability and pricing can differ drastically from market to market,” says Greg Lamberg, director of transitional energy technologies & regulatory policy for Peterson Power Systems. “While readily available in California, we are just starting to see HVO become available in Oregon and Washington. We understand that HVO is starting to become available in the Southeast and the Midwest.

“We typically suggest that users - either end customers or dealers - contact their local fuel suppliers to inquire about cost and availability.”

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