What is diesel fuel?
Diesel fuel is the common term for the petroleum distillate fuel oil sold for use in motor vehicles that use the compression ignition engine named for its inventor, German engineer Rudolf Diesel. He patented his original design in 1892.
One of the fuels that Rudolf Diesel originally considered for his engine was vegetable seed oil, an idea that eventually contributed to biodiesel production and use today.
Diesel fuel is made from crude oil
Diesel fuel is refined from crude oil at petroleum refineries. U.S. petroleum refineries produce an average of 11 to 12 gallons of diesel fuel from each 42-gallon (U.S.) barrel of crude oil.
Before 2006, most diesel fuel sold in the United States contained high quantities of sulfur. Sulfur in diesel fuel produces air pollution emissions that are harmful to human health. In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued requirements to reduce the sulfur content of diesel fuel sold for use in the United States. The requirements were phased in over time, beginning with diesel fuel sold for vehicles used on roadways and eventually including all non-road diesel fuel. Diesel fuel now sold in the United States for on-highway use is ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD), which has a sulfur content of 15 parts per million or less. Most diesel fuel sold for off-highway (or non-road) use is also ULSD.
Freight truck with diesel engine
Source: Stock photography (copyrighted)
Diesel fuel has many uses
Diesel fuel is used in the diesel engines found in most freight and delivery trucks, trains, buses, boats, and farm, construction, and military vehicles. Some small trucks and cars also have diesel engines. Diesel fuel is also used in diesel engine generators to generate electricity, such as in remote villages in Alaska, among other locations around the world. Many industrial facilities, large buildings, institutional facilities, hospitals, and electric utilities have diesel generators for backup and emergency power supply.
In 2018, diesel/distillate accounted for about 20% of total U.S. petroleum consumption, of which about 97% was ULSD, and about 22% of total petroleum consumption by the transportation sector.
Last updated: June 12, 2019