Freight truck with diesel engine
Tanker in Ushuaia's (Argentina) seaport.

Source: Stock photography (copyrighted)

The inventor of the diesel engine, Rudolf Diesel, originally designed his engine to use coal dust as fuel. He also experimented with vegetable oil (biodiesel) before the petroleum industry began making diesel fuel. Most diesel fuel we use in the United States is refined from crude oil, and diesel fuel is a type of distillate fuel. Biodiesel use is also common.

The first diesel engine automobile trip was completed on January 6, 1930. The nearly 800-mile trip was from Indianapolis, Indiana, to New York City. The trip demonstrated the potential value of the diesel engine design, which has been used in millions of vehicles since its inaugural trip.

Diesel is an important fuel

Diesel fuel is important to the U.S. economy. As a transportation fuel, diesel fuel offers a wide range of performance, efficiency, and safety features. Diesel fuel also has a greater energy density than other liquid fuels, so it provides more useful energy per unit of volume.

In 2016, diesel fuel accounted for about 21% of the petroleum fuels consumed by the U.S. transportation sector.

Diesel fuel is used for many tasks

A dirt scooper and loader loading dirt into a dump truck
Dirt scooper and loader, loading dirt in a dumptruck, redepositing dirt for new runway at the Charlotte Int. airport.

Source: Stock photography (copyrighted)

Diesel engines in trucks, trains, boats, and barges help transport nearly all products people consume. Diesel fuel is commonly used in public buses and school buses.

Diesel fuel powers most of the farm and construction equipment in the United States. The construction industry also depends on the power diesel fuel provides. Diesel engines can do demanding construction work, such as lifting steel beams, digging foundations and trenches, drilling wells, paving roads, and moving soil safely and efficiently.

The U.S. military uses diesel fuel in tanks and trucks because diesel fuel is less flammable and less explosive than other fuels. Diesel engines are also less likely to stall than gasoline-fueled engines.

Diesel fuel is also used in diesel engine generators to generate electricity. Many industrial facilities, large buildings, institutional facilities, hospitals, and electric utilities have diesel generators for backup and emergency power supply. Most remote villages in Alaska use diesel generators for their electricity.