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American companies are importing massive amounts of used cooking oil from China — all for one unexpected reason

Renewable diesel is cheaper and better for the planet.

Renewable diesel, made from cooking oil

Photo Credit: iStock

The U.S. is importing an unprecedented volume of used cooking oil to make renewable diesel — a sustainable fuel made from food waste.

Renewable diesel is a type of biofuel that is chemically identical to traditional diesel fuel, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This means it can be used in ordinary diesel engines and mixed in with diesel fuel. But instead of being made from crude oil, it's made from vegetable oil or animal fat.

Rudolf Diesel, the inventor of the diesel engine, also experimented with vegetable oil as a power source, the EIA reports. However, it took until the early 2000s for companies to begin producing biofuel in bulk. Now the U.S. Department of Energy says that there are five plants in the U.S. making renewable diesel.

While this incredible fuel source is a smart investment, manufacturers still need raw materials to work with. As of now, they're getting it from China. The analytics firm Kpler told Bloomberg that the 530,000 barrels shipped in the first two months of 2023 were the first imports of this type since the group began gathering data in 2017.

Renewable diesel is a good financial choice for companies because there's a virtually endless supply of vegetable oil compared to a limited amount of crude oil. In addition, Bloomberg reports that there are government subsidies making it even more profitable to manufacture biofuel. As the market develops, these savings could be passed on to consumers.

This fuel source is also eco-friendly while harvesting crude oil from underground pollutes the environment. According to Bloomberg, making and using renewable diesel creates only about 20% as much heat-trapping gas as traditional diesel, helping slow down rising temperatures worldwide. 

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. used almost one billion gallons of renewable diesel in 2020. It expects six new plants to open in the near future, increasing the U.S.'s capacity to produce renewable diesel by two billion gallons.

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