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May 17, 2022   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

Accelerating the Shift to Destination Net Zero

We’ll continue to rely on the continuous improvement of advanced diesel technology, getting even nearer to zero emissions and more fuel efficient, delivering important benefits as we journey to destination net zero

The message coming from truck and engine manufacturers is loud and clear: We’re on a path to net zero. We know what the destination is, and we know there are many paths to get there. We have some goals and forecasts, but we’re not fully sure how long it might take because there are many factors that must come together. We all must work together, and fast, to decarbonize the industry. Our future generations depend on it. It sounds simple enough, but it is the tallest order and biggest challenge industry has faced.

This is the message from a gathering of trucking industry leaders, truck and engine makers, and fuel suppliers last week in California. It has also been the focus of industry comments and testimony to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on its proposed rule establishing future heavy-duty engine emission standards. There are roles to play for battery electric vehicles, hydrogen in fuel cells and hydrogen fueling new combustion engines, as well as renewable biobased diesel. We need the right policies and incentives to guide the way to that destination net zero.

As reported, Tom Linebarger CEO of Cummins said they are busy advancing all viable clean energy solutions at once. He had no idea which technologies will dominate in what applications for trucks. “Batteries will win out for passenger cars — hands down,” he predicted. “Hydrogen looks like a better fit for mining trucks. But in long-haul applications, things aren’t so clear. Converting all of the infrastructure to an all-renewable electric grid will cost multiple trillions of dollars in the US alone,” he said. “On top of that, we need a power grid that is twice the size of the one we have today. This is going to be a big job, and it’s not going to be cheap.”

“I can’t give you a battery-electric long-haul truck with the range of a diesel truck today, right now,” he said. “I’d like to. But I can’t. But what I can do is give you a natural gas internal combustion engine that will perform just like you want it to.”

At the California event, Volvo Group’s CEO Peter Voorhoeve urged that we “accelerate the shift” to net zero, and outlined Volvo’s many commitments to get there. Volvo’s all electric VNR truck was displayed alongside an autonomous version of their popular VNL truck powered by an advanced diesel engine that gets up to 16% better fuel efficiency than previous models.  

And then there is the tremendous opportunity for using sustainable low-carbon biobased diesel fuels, that deliver 50% to 86% reduction in CO2 emissions right now, without any investment in new infrastructure or new vehicles. It’s the fastest way to cut carbon across the broadest range of industry vehicles and equipment, since it can be used in any diesel engine. Blends of biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel are intriguing and promise to deliver targeted benefits and expand the benefit reach of the fuels. Renewable diesel fuel is set to rapidly expand with new investments and business partnerships emerging from leading fuel providers including Phillips 66, Neste and Renewable Energy Group.

New and emerging technologies such as battery electric, fuel cell, and even some limited hydrogen options are transitioning from concepts and demonstrations to products with commercial sales, albeit slowly in small numbers. At the same time reaching the destination net zero and accelerating the shift to new forms of energy will take time, measured in many years and decades. In the meantime, we’ll continue to rely on the continuous improvement of advanced diesel technology, getting even nearer to zero emissions and more fuel efficient, delivering important benefits as we journey to destination net zero.


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Allen Schaeffer
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