The mission to make data centers greener encompasses all aspects of an operation—including backup power. Fuel usage represents a major component in the ongoing process of making generators more sustainable and efficient, and as part of that evolution, Kohler recently announced that all of its data center diesel generators can now run on Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO). Kohler see it as a big step toward a more sustainable future, and a response to a swelling market trend in data centers seeking alternatives to diesel to generate their backup power.
As an up-and-coming development, HVO may not yet be on every data center’s radar. For those that are curious about what all the hubbub is about but aren’t sure where to start, we’ve got you covered. We sat down with Jacky Pluchon, Vice President of EMEA Power Solutions at Kohler, to ask all the the starter questions you’re too afraid to ask.
JSA: Let’s start with the basics. What is HVO?
Pluchon: The big thing to know is that it’s a renewable, combustible material that can work in diesel engines. The term HVO stands for Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil, but it’s sometimes also referred to as Hydrogenation-derived renewable diesel (HDRD). Our engineers would call it a paraffinic, liquid, synthetic fuel.
JSA: Hold on, what is a paraffinic fuel?
Pluchon: Similar to kerosene, in this context paraffin refers to a type of diesel alternative that contains no sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen, or aromatics. They can come from several different sources, including natural gas and coal.
JSA: Okay, what is HVO made of then?
Pluchon: Well, HVO is produced from a number of different plant and animal oils. As long as it contains triglycerides and fatty acids, it could be a candidate for HVO. Common materials include waste vegetable oil and used cooking oils such as rapeseed oil or sunflower oil. Waste livestock and fish fats are also common. Plus, as the name would suggest, hydrogen is added. One of the advantages of HVO is that it can be flexible with a wide range of possible materials as a base.
Pluchon: Basically, HVO is produced with plant or animal oils derived from the residues of the meat and fish industries. These types of facilities produce a lot of low-quality waste and residue materials. Some other related industries also contribute, too. For instance, inedible oils produced in the process of generating ethanol from corn could also be a source material. Even some types of algae could be used.
JSA: Wow! How do these materials turn into HVO?
Pluchon: It’s a complex process, but here’s the gist. After the impurities are removed, hydrogen is added to the material. It then undergoes a process called hydrocracking, which is the same way jet fuel is produced. Hydrocracking, among other things, removes gas and sulfur. Both hydrogenation and hydrocracking require high temperature and high pressure, and only certain facilities in the world are capable of performing such an operation.
JSA: That sounds like biodiesel. Is HVO just another biofuel?
Pluchon: I can see how you’d think in that direction, but not really, no. Think of it as a new, second generation take on biofuel. Conventional biodiesel is designated by standard EN14214 in Europe and standard ASTM D6751 in the United States. By comparison, as a paraffin-based fuel HVO is governed by completely separate standards. In Europe the standard is EN15940, whereas in the United States HVO falls under ASTM D975—the same standard as ordinary fossil diesel.
JSA: Really? Is HVO that similar to normal diesel?
Pluchon: Totally. It’s so similar that HVO can be mixed with fossil diesel at any ratio or percentage, with no difference to the rating or performance. It can be used pure or as a blend.
JSA: Sounds too good to be true. What are the trade-offs?
Pluchon: Good question. Let’s break it down. Regarding performance, the sacrifice is very little. HVO produces a slightly higher consumption rate but in the 3-4% variance is barely noticeable. The bigger factor is likely the fact that HVO is more expensive than fossil diesel. For most, the major disadvantage of HVO may be the limitations of the supply chain being able to provide it.
On the plus side, storage maintenance represents a major advantage, as it can be stored in colder temperatures, hotter temperatures, and for far longer than fossil diesel.
Now that you’ve got HVO 101 under your belt, click here to learn more about Kohler’s commitment to HVO with mission critical applications.