Fleet manager feedback: Oakland remains happy with renewable diesel

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Updated Dec 10, 2015
Oakland Battersby
City of Oakland’s Equipment Services Division Manager Richard Battersby (far left) reflected on his city’s decision to switch to renewable diesel.
The City of Oakland switched all 250 of its diesel vehicles and maintenance-related engines to renewable diesel. HWT found out how the new fuel has fared thus far.The City of Oakland switched all 250 of its diesel vehicles and maintenance-related engines to renewable diesel. HWT found out how the new fuel has fared thus far.

Recently, the City of Oakland, Ca. became the first major city in the U.S. to convert its entire diesel fleet to renewable diesel.

Hardworkingtrucks.com recently interviewed Oakland’s Equipment Services Division Manager Richard Battersby who led the charge to go green.

Battersby, Government Fleet magazine’s Public Sector Fleet manager of the Year for 2013, read HWT’s recent story about Cummins ongoing tests with renewable diesel and said his city opted for the non-food chain fuel after carefully consulting the California Air Resources Board as well as other civic leaders. He also pointed out UPS’ decision to use renewable diesel.

“When UPS commits to something they have studied it inside and out,” Battersby said. “If it doesn’t make sense or has risk, they will not use the technology. Mike Britt (UPS maintenance director) runs a tight ship.”

It’s been about two months since the Northern California city began filling up all of its 250 diesel vehicles and machines with Neste’s NEXBTL renewable diesel. Neste, which credits Oakland for being the first major city in the U.S. to switch completely from petroleum-based diesel to renewable diesel, reports that their alternative fuel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 60 to 85 percent. That’s an impressive reduction, especially considering that Oakland’s fleet annually consumes roughly 230,000 gallons of diesel fuel. Other ways that Oakland’s fleet has gone green includes the use of all-electric and CNG vehicles.

HWT: What made you decide to go with renewable diesel instead of another alternative fuel, such as CNG?

Battersby: Renewable diesel is a drop-in fuel that completely blends with existing diesel and is approved for use as a diesel fuel by the Air Resources Board (CARB) and the (California) State Water Resources Control Board. It easily replaces standard petroleum diesel fuel with no expensive equipment modifications and no expensive infrastructure changes required. Here in California it can be used in existing underground diesel storage tanks without a special permit unlike most biodiesel blends (which is a huge benefit) and it costs about the same or less than standard diesel or biodiesel. It can also be used in any diesel powered vehicle or equipment, even those where traditionally fleet managers have had no alternative fuel options such as off-road vehicles, construction equipment, auxiliary engines, generators, etc. To summarize, it’s cleaner burning, displaces petroleum consumption, costs about the same, and can be used in all existing diesel fuel tanks and vehicles at no additional cost, converting the entire diesel fleet to alternative fuel overnight. I know, it sounds too good to be true…but it is!

HWT: How have the trucks performed thus far on renewable diesel?

Battersby: All of our vehicles and equipment running on renewable diesel have performed flawlessly so far. There has been no discernable difference and no driver complaints.

HWT: Has there been any difference in fuel consumption? If so, please describe.

Battersby: It’s honestly too early to tell anything about fuel economy at this point.

HWT: How do you refuel the trucks? Do you have an on-site fueling station?

Battersby: We had renewable diesel delivered to our diesel fuel tanks and started dispensing it from the same equipment immediately. No equipment or infrastructure modifications are necessary. No special training, handling or permits are required.

HWT: How has the public or local media responded to your switch to renewable diesel?

Battersby: Almost consistently the response has been favorable. The most common reaction is disbelief that there is a cleaner burning direct diesel fuel substitute, that is made from renewable sources and doesn’t require anything additional for the fuel itself or equipment and infrastructure modifications.

HWT: Do you know of any other fleets that have as many vehicles running on renewable diesel?

Battersby: Not at this moment, but I predict there will be many shortly. Joe Jorgensen at the City of Walnut Creek led his fleet in becoming the first in our area to start using renewable diesel, but it was really Rick Ruvolo and Tom Fung at the City of San Francisco that did most of the heavy lifting and led the charge on researching and vetting this new fuel. It was merely by chance that we happened to begin using this fuel just a few weeks before they are making the switch themselves.

HWT: What kind of advice can you offer to fleet managers who are considering alternative fuels?

Battersby: Do your homework, ask around and most importantly connect with your local Clean Cities Coalition. Clean Cities is a wealth of information and experience on alternative fuels and can supply you the fleet manager with all the tools and data to make you look like a hero!