Diesel fuel and gasoline are both (usually) petroleum products that come from crude oil. Diesel is a more dense fuel that is easier to refine from crude oil and that has a higher energy content than gasoline, meaning you can go further on one gallon of it. While it is often viewed as a dirty fuel, it has become much better in recent years. From a CO2 emissions standpoint, diesel emits more CO2 per gallon, but can go much further on that gallon, making it have lower emissions per mile travelled. Diesel does, however, release more in the way of soot and other particulate matter that can cause smog. It is also notorious for emitting large amounts of sulfur, which contributes to acid rain, among other things. Low sulfur fuels are being mandated now, but at the expense of some of the CO2 emissions benefits.
Diesel fuel (petrodiesel) and gasoline are both processed from oil (petrol). Petrodiesel is now the ideal term to use, as it is easier to distinguish from biodiesel. Ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) is diesel fuel with substantially lower amounts of sulfur. As of 2007, almost all diesel fuel available in America and Europe is of the ULSD variety. Diesel used to be easier to refine than gasoline, but because of stricter environmental standards there is now extra processing to create the ULS Diesel. This extra refining has driven up the price of petrodiesel in comparison to gasoline.
Petrodeisel contains high amounts of sulfur, which is oxidized during combustion to produce sulfur dioxide and sulfur trioxide. Sulfur di/trioxides in presence of water rapidly convert to sulfuric acid, which is one of the chemical processes that results in acid rain. Gasoline does not contain sulfur, but it does produce carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide as exhaust.
As a whole, neither is good for the environment, but in the comparison ULSD processed diesel is better for the environment than gasoline.
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