San Francisco's fire engines run off of a biofuel known as renewable diesel. The city made the switch to the palm oil-based fuel earlier this year.

San Francisco’s fire engines run off of a biofuel known as renewable diesel. The city made the switch to the palm oil-based fuel earlier this year.

San Francisco’s mayor announced this week that the city’s fleet of trucks now runs on a second-generation biofuel known as renewable diesel. 

The city didn’t have to retrofit its fire engines, dump trucks, and other vehicles because the fuel is essentially identical to petroleum-based conventional diesel.

At a summit on climate change Friday, Lee urged the mayors of Portland, Seattle and Los Angles to make the switch.

“When we were in Rome earlier this year, I made a pledge that our city would get off of petroleum diesel. Well, as of last week, we did so” said Mayor Ed Lee.
“For my city, that represents a reduction of 50,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, a huge contribution to our environment and to cleaner air.”

According to Lee, the renewable diesel that fuels San Francisco’s fire engines and dump trucks comes from Neste oil, a Finnish energy company.  

The diesel is produced in a refinery in Singapore from feedstocks that include palm oil, waste fat from animals and fish and vegetable oils.

Neste has been criticized in the past by Greenpeace and by Finnish NGOs for the labor and environmental practices of its palm oil suppliers in Indonesia and Malaysia. Greenpeace asserts that palm oil harvest contributes to deforestation and habitat loss.

According to Neste’s website, all of the palm oil the company uses is now certified as sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. The company also states that wastes and residue comprise more than half its feedstock.

Lee is among five West Coast mayors who have pledged to work together to reduce carbon emissions that result from burning fossil fuels. He says if cities like Seattle and Portland started purchasing renewable diesel for their fleets, it could help bring a renewable diesel refinery to the West Coast.

The other cities represented at the climate change conference are turning to electric and hybrid-electric vehicles, rather than renewable diesel, to reduce their fleets’ carbon emissions. Los Angeles’s city fleet includes 160 electric vehicles and 128 plug-in hybrids. Seattle and Portland have both added electric vehicles and hybrids to their municipal fleets.