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What is diesel fuel?

Diesel fuel is any liquid used to fuel a diesel engine. Diesel is created through the fractional distillation of crude oil. Recently, alternative forms of diesel which are not derived from crude oil have become popular, especially biodiesel. For the purpose of this article, the diesel will refer to traditional diesel.

The diesel engine was patented in 1892 by Dr Rudolf Diesel, hence the name. While traditional gasoline fuelled engines use a spark plug to create ignition, diesel engines use heat and pressure to cause fuel ignition through internal combustion.

Diesel is considered much safer than traditional gasoline for many applications because it does not give off a large amount of flammable vapour and will not explode at atmospheric pressure. It is also has far better lubricating properties and causes less engine wear.

How is diesel fuel used?

Diesel fuel is widely used especially in the transport industry. It is the most commonly used fuel for engines in extra heavy vehicles including large marine transport vessels and non-electrified railway locomotives. The largest and most powerful engines in the world are slow speed, two-stroke diesel engines.

Since the 1930s, diesel has been commonly used in large cars, off-road vehicles and armoured military fighting vehicles such as tanks. Diesel engines enjoy greater efficiency, lower flammability, and are less likely to stall.

Diesel is becoming increasingly popular for use in regular cars, a result of the higher efficiency of diesels engines, as well as their ability to run off biodiesel. In 2007, more than 50% of all new car sales in Europe were diesel-powered vehicles.

Diesel is ideal for noise and efficiency sensitive applications such as submarines.

Who uses diesel fuel?

Diesel is used in countries all around the globe. The USA is the single largest consumer of traditional diesel, consuming more than 149 billion litres in 2005, the last year data was available. This amounts to roughly 19% of total global consumption.

The next biggest consumer is China, accounting for 6.8% of global consumption in 2005, or roughly 51.8 billion litres. The third biggest consumer was France, with 4.3% of global consumption, or roughly 33.2 billion litres.

Other major consumers include Japan (4.0%), Brazil (3.8%), Germany (3.7%), Spain (3.6%), Italy (3.3%) and India (3.2%).

Australia, with a consumption of 8.4 billion litres in 2005, accounts for roughly 1.1% of global consumption.

Where does diesel fuel come from?

Diesel is produced all over the globe.

In 2005 the USA was the largest producer of traditional diesel, producing 202 million tonnes, or roughly 18.6% of global production. The second biggest producer was China, producing 111 million tonnes, or roughly 10.2% of global production. Russia was the third largest producer, accounting for 60 million tonnes, or roughly 5.5% of global production.

Other major producers of traditional diesel are Japan (5.3%), Germany (4.8%), India (4.5%), Brazil (3.1%), Saudi Arabia (2.9%), South Korea (2.9%) and Canada (2.8%). Australia is responsible for 10.8 million tonnes, or roughly 1% of global diesel production.

Interesting facts diesel fuel about :
  • The worlds’ largest and most powerful engines are powered by diesel.
  • Diesel is often used to power submarines.
  • Volkswagen produced a diesel-fuelled car, the XL1, which can travel 100km on just 1 litre of diesel fuel.

Extra References:

For more information, visit our Oil, Gas and Energy section.
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