Diesel Fuel Energy Explained

Aug 18, 2019 | Main Blog | 2 comments

What is diesel fuel?

Did you know?

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 the common term for the petroleum distillate fuel oil sold for use in motor vehicles that use the compression ignition enginenamed for its inventor, German engineer Rudolf Diesel. He patented his original design in 1892.

A graphic illustration of a barrel to show the different products produced from a barrel of crude oil in 2018: other products 7 gallons, liquified petroleum gases 2 gallons, jet fuel 4 gallons, heavy fuel oil (residual) 1 gallon, other distillates (heating oil) 1 gallon, diesel 11 gallons, and gasoline 19 gallons.

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.

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.

Freight truck with diesel engine

Tanker in Ushuaia's (Argentina) seaport.

Source: Stock photography (copyrighted)

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration


  1. Stefan Bradley

    I didn’t know that diesel was commonly used to power the engines in delivery trucks. My uncle wants to open a small delivery business and would like to find a truck that will help him efficiently deliver his packages, but he feels like a gas-powered vehicle would not be energy efficient. I’ll let him know that he should consider looking for a vehicle that runs on diesel fuel.

  2. Darrien Hansen

    I had no idea that diesel fuel could be used to fuel a variety of vehicles. My uncle would like to get a diesel engine soon. I’ll let him know about the versatility that diesel fuel has to offer.


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