Clean Fuels: The Shipping and Transportation Solution to Carbon Emissions Is Already Here

Balancing our nation’s energy needs with our sustainability goals is a complex challenge. As many larger companies set aggressive carbon emissions goals, the cargo and shipping industry will have to adapt. But transitioning large, heavy machinery like trains and sea-faring shipping vessels to electricity could take decades. Clean, renewable fuel solutions like biodiesel, renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel, are already here.

“Cleaner fuel isn’t just a dream for a sustainable future, it’s here right now,” said Donnell Rehagen, CEO of Clean Fuels Alliance America, the national trade association representing the biodiesel, renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel. “Our fuels are domestically made from an increasingly diverse mix of renewable resources, offering consumers and industries cleaner fuel options that help reduce their carbon emissions immediately.”

The advantages of clean fuels are myriad. Clean fuels are highly adaptive, providing sustainable fuel solutions across commercial ground, rail, marine and air transport as well as consumer home heating needs. Clean fuels offer better performance, plus immediate cost savings, lower emissions, positive economic impact and improved air quality when used as a replacement for petroleum-based oils. Best of all, you don’t have to change your equipment to use them.

Why Clean Fuels Now

Over the last 30 years, the biodiesel industry, led by Clean Fuels Alliance America (formerly the National Biodiesel Board), has proven that low-carbon liquid fuels work at powering major industries. Today, clean fuels including biodiesel, renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel, drive $23.3 billion in economic output.

Biodiesel, derived from renewable sources such as excess vegetable oil and animal fat, is a drop-in fuel that slashes emissions, often in heavy-duty vehicles that don’t have a realistic option to convert to electric. Like other clean fuels such as renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel, biodiesel is domestically produced, powering local and national economies.

Renewable Fuel for Ocean-Going Vessels

Marine use of clean fuels has been gaining interest both in the shipping industry and among policymakers. Because seaborne trade makes up an outsized portion of global trade, with an estimated 80% of the world’s goods transported by sea1 , the importance of cutting carbon out of shipping is critical. Clean fuels can help. Realizing this, Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) and John Garamendi (D-CA) introduced new legislation aiming to increase the use of renewable biofuels used by sea vessels. By designating renewable fuel used in ocean-going vessels as an “additional renewable fuel” (similar to jet fuel) under the Renewable Fuel Standard, the Renewable Fuel for Ocean-Going Vessels Act will enable companies to preserve Renewable Identification Number credits (RINs) in the program.

“International shipping companies and cruise lines are increasingly seeking low-carbon biodiesel and renewable diesel to meet climate goals and consumer demand,” said Kurt Kovarik, Vice President of Federal Affairs for Clean Fuels. “This commonsense legislation will remove a regulatory roadblock and enable biodiesel and renewable diesel producers to meet the low-carbon fuel needs of shipping companies at a competitive price. It will allow refiners and blenders to keep RINs for fuel used in ocean-going vessels that are currently being sacrificed.”

Rehagen agreed, adding, “It’s not just policymakers who are concerned with fuel sustainability and security. Big companies like Walmart, Amazon, PepsiCo and Microsoft are setting aggressive sustainability goals that incorporating biodiesel will help them reach. This is encouraging shipping fleets to turn to low-carbon fuels so they can continue doing business with these leading companies.”

Renewable Fuel for Locomotives

Clean fuels aren’t just revolutionizing sea trade, they’re also transforming rail transport as railroads accelerate their use of renewable fuels. Based upon current trends, where the estimated number of gallons of biodiesel and renewable diesel consumed by rail doubled in 2023 as compared to 2021, railroads will likely displace more than 20% of their petroleum fuel usage with biomass-based diesel fuel before the end of this decade. Rail manufacturers are taking notice of this trend. Progress Rail has approved the use of B20 (a 20% biodiesel blend fuel) in their locomotives while Wabtec recently approved the use of B11 and is working toward B20 approval as soon as 2024. 

The Solution of Tomorrow Is Impacting Today

The Renewable Fuel for Ocean-Going Vessels Act is part of a multi-valence solution of policy, research and innovation that acknowledges the importance of reducing carbon emissions while keeping the economy moving. Every 100 million gallons of clean fuel production supports 3,200 jobs and $1.09 billion in economic opportunity for farm workers, producers and distributors. 

As clean fuels power our economy, it saves consumers and industries at the pump. The U.S. biodiesel and renewable diesel industry generates nearly 5 billion gallons of better, cleaner fuels each year, driving down the overall price of traditional diesel by 4% in 2021 according to a WAEES study.

The clean fuel revolution is already making an environmental impact, paving the way for more industries to make the switch to renewable fuels. Compared with petroleum diesel, using biodiesel and renewable diesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than 70% on average. 

Experts agree that the sustainable solutions for the present and the future will rely on clean fuels that are available now even as we transition other portions of the shipping, heating, and transportation industries to alternative energies. 

“In a more connected mobile world, America urgently needs an energy mix that includes low-carbon fuels like biodiesel that are affordable, renewable and scalable now,” said Rehagen. “Cutting emissions isn’t just good business practices, it’s the right thing to do.” 

Visit to learn more about using clean fuels that help your business cut costs, increase performance and meet your sustainability goals now instead of in the future.

Originally shared by Clean Fuels Alliance America. Edited for purpose and clarity.

Scroll to Top