How a Legacy Fossil Fuel Company Can Lead the Way with Carbon Emissions Reduction in the Transportation Sector

Three generations of environmental stewardship within one fuel company​

A traditional ‘oil company’ might be the last business most people think of as being a trailblazer in emissions reductions and sustainability. But in the same way taking time off work can make you more productive, the more you think about this seemingly counterintuitive notion, the more sense it makes.

After all, while the best most companies can do is reduce or recycle to increase sustainability within their own business, by its very nature, a forward-thinking oil and fuel supplier is poised to affect changes not only for themselves but for virtually every business that uses fossil fuels downstream – as well as competing suppliers who will need to adopt the new standards to remain competitive.

"A forward-thinking oil and fuel supplier is poised to affect changes not only for themselves but for virtually every business that uses fossil fuels downstream – as well as competing suppliers who will need to adopt the new standards to remain competitive."

The early adoption of biofuels in Oregon

Such was the mindset of Jeff Rouse (at that time of Carson Oil, Inc.) way back in the mid-2000s when ‘going paperless’ was about as environmentally aggressive as most companies got. By that point, Rouse had already partnered with Randy Leonard (then city commissioner in Portland), the OFA (Oregon Fuels Association) as well as the Columbia-Willamette Clean Cities Coalition to support and help pass the City of Portland’s mandate to initially provide B2 (diesel with a 2% bioblend) ramping up to B5 (or diesel with a 5% bioblend) to government and business.

It wasn’t long before the mandate caught on with the rest of the state. In fact, Oregon was the second state to adopt such a mandate, beat out only by Minnesota, with its (then) weaker B2 only mandate. Today, nearly every state in the union requires some variation of biofuel as an option.

To meet this need in Oregon, Carson Oil repurposed and rebuilt an existing aviation tank to be used in conjunction with the installation of a ratio blending rack at the NuStar Energy terminal near Linton in 2007. At the time, this was the largest biodiesel storage tank in the Northwest. Bill Dungan, then manager for NuStar, commented that this was “a really tight time frame of two months” to meet the city’s deadline. Not only did Carson meet that deadline, the rack could satisfy not just the immediate B5 requirements, but it was future-proofed to meet up to a B20 mandate if needed.

Good thing too. In the years that followed, the bio-revolution initiated by the B5 mandate has grown significantly – kicking off the discretionary blending trend now ubiquitous among fuel suppliers.
Today, virtually every fuel provider in the state offers bioblend deliveries and bio at their stations. And the biofuel trend has only grown. Even though B5 is the state mandate, more and more businesses are switching to B20 despite any legal imperative to do so. As a result, most truck stops and many fuel stations now run B20 in their stations during the warmer months.

"And the biofuel trend has only grown. Even though B5 is the state mandate, more and more businesses are switching to B20 despite any legal imperative to do so.  As a result, most truck stops and many fuel stations now run B20 in their stations during the warmer months."

Renewable Diesel and The Clean Fuels Program

Even with bio established as a proven, viable option, the leadership at Carson has never been inclined to rest on their laurels.  So, when HB 2186 passed in 2009, Carson saw a chance to lead the way. HB 2186 asked the Oregon DEQ to establish an advisory committee (of which Jeff Rouse was a member) to make rules and recommendations for the implementation of low carbon fuel standards. This became known as the Clean Fuels Program.

The Clean Fuels Program sets out aggressive targets for yearly reductions in emissions with a 20% overall reduction by 2030 – and a 37% reduction by 2035.  One of its greatest challenges, however, is that certain goal-enabling technologies like electric, which have made great strides in the passenger vehicle market, are still many years (possibly decades) away from replacing diesel as the reliable, go-to energy source for fleet transport, agricultural automation and heavy equipment applications.

That’s where Carson’s long-standing relationship with renewable diesel innovators comes in. Though the Clean Fuels Program didn’t ‘officially’ begin in earnest until 2017, Carson was busy laying the groundwork long before its actual passage into law in 2015 – becoming the earliest adopter, and to date, largest reseller of renewable diesel in the state.

Renewable diesel (Hereafter referred to as R99) is a ‘drop in’ fuel that’s chemically identical to fossil fuel diesel, meeting the same ASTM standard of D975. R99 is made from waste streams from various other industrial processes, mostly waste streams that would normally go into landfills or to other non-recyclable ends.  Though R99 is similar to fossil diesel – in terms of performance, it burns significantly cleaner (emitting as much as 75% fewer greenhouse gases), is stabler across a greater range of temperatures, reduces service cycles and can be stored indefinitely. Taken together, R99’s advantages outperform fossil diesel in every measurable way.

Once again working with the Clean Cities Coalition, Carson trialed R99 with four government fleets in 2015 and 2016. They worked closely with early R99 advocate, Gary Lentsch of the Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) – along with the City of Portland, Lane County and Deschutes County. The City of Corvallis, the City of Eugene, Lane Transit District (LTD) and ODOT (the Oregon Department of Transportation) soon followed, further expanding the scope of the trial.

The results were impressive across the board. The Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) set aggressive goals for a 40% reduction by 2030. By adopting R99, they exceeded that target within one year.  The other pilot programs experienced similarly impressive results. In fact, ODOT and Brian Trice, Executive Director of the Columbia-Willamette Clean Cities Coalition were so blown away, they co-authored a white paper on the maintenance and reduction in DPF filter regeneration due to R99.

R99’s adoption has been rapid to say the least. As of the writing of this article in late 2023, demand for this high-performance drop-in fuel is outpacing supply. R99 is being used by multiple government agencies and private fleets throughout Oregon, with more requests for it being made nearly every day. In 2021, the Quickway Market in Bend even added the state’s first R99 dispenser open to the public, and a growing number of cardlock dispensers across the state now carry renewable diesel as well.

National EPA Requirements and bringing Diesel Exhaust Fluid to the Northwest

In 2004, EPA standards required diesel engines and equipment manufacturers to reduce emissions of particulate matter and smog-forming compounds to near-zero levels by 2014.  Diesel engines are typically operated with a lean burn, air-to-fuel ratio to ensure the full combustion of soot and to prevent them from exhausting unburnt fuel. The excess air leads to the generation of NOx, which are harmful pollutants created from nitrogen in the atmosphere.

After a few fumbling starts and stop gap measures were introduced using mechanically fraught technologies, by 2010 engine manufacturers finally settled on Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) to meet the emissions reduction goal. SCR systems require Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) refined to achieve an exacting performance standard to be effective.  When DEF is injected into a hot exhaust gas stream from a diesel motor, it transforms harmful NOx particles into harmless nitrogen and water vapor.

While SCR and DEF finally solved the emissions and performance conundrum engine manufacturers had been wrestling with for the better part of a decade, what they hadn’t solved was the supply and distribution piece of the puzzle. That’s where Carson once again threw its hat into the ring early.

Carson wanted to ensure a steady supply of DEF to Oregon and the Northwest markets at large. After careful analysis of the available supply, future demand, and formulation requirements – Carson took the bold step of becoming not just a key supplier but a key blender/manufacturer.

Jeff Rouse, who had overseen the early transition to bio, once again led the way, setting up a DEF manufacturing facility at Carson’s headquarters in Portland, Oregon. He formed relationships overseas to import automotive grade urea – the major ingredient in DEF. To assure quality, he made sure the DEF made at this facility conforms to strict requirements as defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and that it was certified by the American Petroleum Institute (API).

Once operational, demand for Carson DEF grew rapidly. So rapidly, in fact, Carson decided to spin off its DEF operations and form a separate brand and business line – NEXGEN DEF.  Since that time, NEXGEN has expanded to add a much larger, higher capacity facility in SeaTac – making NEXGEN DEF one of the largest manufacturers of DEF in the region with three facilities across the greater Northwest.

The story does not end here

Carson is proud of its long history in supporting environmental sustainability. From John T Carson’s early active participation with the Oregon Environmental Council to our aggressive expansion of renewable diesel availability – we’re in it for the long haul. The future holds many challenges for Oregon and the greater Northwest, both in terms of reducing pollution and increasing sustainability. Carson’s mission, and its commitment, is to continue to lead that charge.  To work with states, counties, and municipalities to help meet and exceed shared goals and targets. To not only drive sustainable innovations in energy for itself and its customers, but to create groundswell change that will have a transformative environmental effect across government, industry, and the public – in short to help shape a more sustainable Northwest.