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Diesel Dominates: Debate on the Future of Trucking Through 2030 - Combustion vs Battery vs Hydrogen


    Hydrogen fueled and Electric Trucks Show Promise

    WASHINGTON (February 10, 2022) – Diesel, and the combustion engines running on it, will continue to dominate the commercial trucking sector through 2030, beating out hydrogen and electrification. That was the key message from Allen Schaeffer, the executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum during Wednesday’s virtual debate organized by Mobility Impact Partners.

    Colin Murphy, the deputy director of the UC Davis Policy Institute, argued that battery-powered vehicles will soon dominate.

    Craig Scott of Toyota made the case for hydrogen fueled vehicles.

    By the conclusion of the event, the audience participating in a non-scientific online poll agreed with Schaeffer’s view that diesel will most likely be the predominant fuel choice of the trucking industry for the rest of the decade.

    “The availability and overall performance of diesel, the fact that it is on a path to get more efficient and cleaner, the many uncertainties with emerging alternatives, the very nature of the trucking industry, and time, all point to diesel as the technology that will dominate this sector through the end of this decade. Though this debate framework was limited to 2030, I would go so far as to say we would have the same result if we were looking to 2040.”

    “The very nature of the commercial trucking sector demands many options along the journey to full decarbonization, which will not happen overnight. Continued investment in combustion engines like diesel and natural gas and the use of more low-carbon renewable fuels is a critical component that is delivering meaningful emissions and carbon reductions today with even greater potential tomorrow.

    Hydrogen and all-electric trucks both have significant economic, policy and market hurdles to overcome but offer promise for the future.

    Schaeffer said when evaluating these fuels, we need to look at the full package. He says only diesel has the full package that serves all the trucking industry’s needs including: 

    •         Availability of vehicles and fuel to meet every kind of trucking need
    •         A 24/7, coast to coast, national fueling, parts, and servicing network
    •         Emissions performance achieving near zero emissions today, with further reductions in the next 3-5 years; increasing efficiency to meet the second phase of greenhouse gas regulatory requirements
    •         Capabilities to use low-carbon renewable biodiesel fuels already available that reduce GHG by up to 80% without requiring new investments in vehicles or infrastructure
    •         Million-mile durability
    •         Established secondary truck market with high resale value

    Schaeffer explained that the high threshold acquisition costs, as well as many uncertainties with electric and hydrogen options, are likely to keep more truckers from making early investments in these technologies in the near term. Knowing more about real world driving range and battery lifecycle issues are key for electric vehicles, not only in the first year but also at three, and five, year intervals. Also, with resale value being a key consideration, the secondary market for trucks that require specialized fueling, points to many uncertainties and likely considerable challenges for hydrogen and electric vehicles. Important geopolitical questions about the sourcing and supply chains for key battery components such as rare metals were also noted.

    Schaeffer pointed out two outsized influences that often cloud the future fuels debate. California’s policy priorities, and billions of public dollar investments made to subsidize new fuels there, are not likely to be replicated in other states. Also, while the overall industry benefits from knowledge gained from high-profile national fleets with thousands of trucks that are early adopters of electric and hydrogen vehicles, over 97% of the trucking industry is dominated by fleets of 20 or fewer vehicles, with far fewer means to invest and greater aversion to risk that comes with new technology investments. 

    In the future, one thing we can agree on is that it is reasonable to expect that our powertrain lineup for commercial trucks will be more eclectic than ever, a mix of technologies like diesel as well as new fuels like hydrogen, fuel cells and battery electric vehicles. The how and when are the big unknowns. We know the why, to meet the challenge of our time in attacking climate change.


    Watch the recording:

    The Mobility Impact Partners Website

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