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The Understand Energy Learning Hub is a cross-campus effort of the Precourt Institute for Energy.

Gasoline, Diesel, Jet Fuel, etc.

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Fast Facts About
Gasoline, Diesel, Jet Fuel, etc.

Petroleum-based fuels like gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and shipping fuel are all made from crude oil through the process of refining and make up almost 90% of the world’s transportation energy. These fuels contribute significantly to air pollution and climate change.

Petroleum-based fuels are high energy density fuels, both by weight and by volume, which makes them valuable for transportation (where you are carrying your fuel around with you). Because of this, it is challenging to replace them with other options (e.g., electricity, biofuels) as we try to decarbonize the transportation sector.

Crude oil is a global commodity, but local and regional fuel prices vary widely based on taxes, subsidies, and air pollution regulations. Global usage of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel has increased significantly over the past 40 years (65%, 132%, and 91% respectively). There has been a leveling off in consumption of these fuels in recent years, but it is uncertain when we will actually see a peak in global demand.


Oil Is the Primary Transportation Fuel in the World and the US

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Note: The natural gas category is not vehicles running on natural gas. It is natural gas being used to move other natural gas through pipelines by running compressors.


Global Fuel Usage

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Spotlight on California

California saw a 45% decrease in motor gasoline sales to end users between 2015 and 2021 due to fuel policies, electric vehicles, and changes in behavior (e.g., remote work). 

California, the 3rd largest gasoline market in the world after the rest of the US and China, refines its oil in-state. Some of California’s refineries are shifting to producing renewable fuels rather than oil-based fuels in response to the drop in gasoline demand.


US EPA Regulates Gasoline to Reduce Air Pollution

US gasoline regulations require certain fuel characteristics that reduce smog (NOx & VOCs), carbon monoxide, toxic pollutants, and sulfur dioxide.

Reformulated Gasoline (RFG)

Burns cleaner and reduces smog and toxic pollutants

Required in cities that don't meet air quality standards, but also used voluntarily by others

Used in 17 US states and DC

~30% of US gasoline sold

Oxygenates

Fuel additives that contain oxygen (currently ethanol)

Reduce wintertime carbon monoxide emissions that fall short of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)

Required in <5% of US gasoline; however, ethanol is added to 95% of fuel to meet renewable fuel standard requirements

Low Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP)

Reduces summertime gasoline evaporation to reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions

Required at retail gasoline stations during summer in the US

Ultra Low Sulfur Gasoline

Lowers air pollution

As of 2017, refiners required to supply 97% lower sulfur content than in 2004


World Fuel Prices and Taxes

Crude oil is a global commodity, so the regional range in prices is mostly based on taxes, which vary significantly by region, both within a country and between countries.

Components of Fuel Prices

Drawing of a gas pump showing four components of fuel prices: crude oil, refining, distribution and marketing, and taxes.

Gasoline Taxes* by Country** (USD)

Highest Taxes:

Netherlands $4.13/gallon
Greece, Italy, Israel $4.01/gallon
Denmark $3.89/gallon

Lowest Taxes:

US: $0.57/gallon
Turkey: $1.06/gallon
Canada: $1.21/gallon

Diesel Taxes* by Country** (USD)

Highest Taxes:

Israel $4.28/gallon
Switzerland, Italy $3.59/gallon
United Kingdom $3.48/gallon

Lowest Taxes:

Colombia: $0.26/gallon
US: $0.57/gallon
New Zealand: $0.76/gallon

*Not all countries tax fuel; in fact, exporting countries often subsidize it
**Only 35 countries were included in this dataset; notably Russia and China were not included


US Fuel Taxes by State

Highest Gasoline Taxes:

Pennsylvania: 70 cents/gallon

Lowest Gasoline Taxes:

Alaska: 31 cents/gallon

Highest Diesel Taxes:

Pennsylvania: 90 cents/gallon

Lowest Diesel Taxes:

Alaska: 37 cents/gallon

In the US, fuel taxes are often used to fund transportation infrastructure, including roads and bridges


Reasons for Differing Regional Fuel Prices in the US

  • Proximity to fuel supply
  • Supply disruptions (e.g., hurricanes)
  • Competition in the local market
  • Differing regional quality and additive requirements (e.g., CA has high standards for cleaner burning fuels and higher gasoline prices)
  • Regional environmental regulations
  • State and local taxes

Drivers and Barriers for Reducing the Use of Oil for Transportation

Drivers

  • Increasing impacts from climate change
  • Geopolitics and impacts on oil price and availability
  • Air pollution standards
  • Increasing desirability and availability of electric vehicles
  • Potential development of sustainable aviation fuels

Barriers

  • Historical investment in global oil infrastructure
  • Gasoline and diesel are poorly priced globally; they do not reflect the full social costs of using them
  • Hard to decarbonize transport modes may continue to use oil (long-haul trucking, airplanes, ships)
  • Technological, political, and behavioral barriers to electrified transportation (range for passenger cars, long haul transport)

Climate Impact: High

High gradient
  • Petroleum-based fuels are major contributors of GHG emissions

Environmental Impact: High

High gradient
  • Air pollution from NOx, SOx (→ acid rain), ozone, particulate matter (PM) (→ smog)
  • Land and water pollution
  • Lead has significant health impacts and environmental justice issues and is still being used as an additive in small aviation (avgas)

Updated November 2023

Before You Watch Our Lecture on
Gasoline, Diesel, Jet Fuel, etc.

We assign videos and readings to our Stanford students as pre-work for each lecture to help contextualize the lecture content. We strongly encourage you to review the Essential readings and videos below before watching our lecture sections on Gasoline, Diesel, Jet Fuel, etc. Include selections from the Optional and Useful list based on your interests and available time.

Essential

The Essential Items Below Are Also Assigned for the Oil Lecture

  • Distillation Basics. Valero Refining 101 Series. October 2, 2020. (4 min)
    Explanation of distillation, a key process in oil refining.
  • Refinery Configurations. Valero Refining 101 Series. October 2, 2020. (6 min)
    Detailed explanation of oil refinery equipment and processes.
  • Neighbors of the Fence. The Bitter Southerner. May 1, 2015. (18 pages)
    In depth article about the challenges facing oil refineries and fenceline communities in Baton Rouge, LA.

Optional and Useful

The Optional and Useful Items Below Are Also Assigned for the Oil Lecture

Our Lecture on
Gasoline, Diesel, Jet Fuel, etc.

Our Stanford University Understand Energy course lecture on Gasoline, Diesel, Jet Fuel, etc. is comprised of sections from our Oil and Energy for Transportation lectures. We strongly encourage you to watch all of the designated lecture sections below to gain important context around Gasoline, Diesel, and Jet Fuel and the roles they play in our current transportation energy system. For a complete learning experience, we also encourage you to watch / read the Essential videos and readings we assign to our students before watching the lecture.

Diana Gragg

Presented by: Diana Gragg, PhD; Core Lecturer, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University; Explore Energy Managing Director, Precourt Institute for Energy
Recorded on: October 11, 2023 and October 25, 2023   Duration: 44 minutes

Table of Contents

(Clicking on a timestamp will take you to YouTube.)

Oil Lecture

47:33 Oil Refining (Downstream)

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Transportation Lecture

27:40 Air Pollution Regulation & Fuel Policies 
43:44 Vehicle Efficiency Standards

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Additional Resources About
Gasoline, Diesel, Jet Fuel, etc.

Government and International Organizations

Fast Facts Sources
Global Fuel Usage: World 2021 (Petroleum and Other Liquids, EIA).
Transportation Consumption by Fuel: World 2012 (Today in Energy, EIA).
Spotlight on California: 2015-2021 (Petroleum and Other Liquids, EIA).
Gasoline and Diesel Taxes and Prices: 2023 (International Price Comparisons, Australian Institute of Petroleum).