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March 01, 2022   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

State of the (Diesel) Union

On the journey to a carbon-constrained future there will be many twists and turns in the road, and some dead ends, yet in the meantime, we can rely on diesel

Tonight marks President Biden’s first State of the Union speech. Like those before it, this speech will be many things, an accounting of successes, a call to action for the nation to meet future challenges, messages of hope, opportunity and inspiration. Let us use this occasion for our own “taking stock” on diesel; where we are and where we are going as well as the how, where and why diesel fits into the future.

As it stands today, the state of diesel technology is strong, evolving to be better, and determined to help meet the global challenges and assure a place in the future.

Let there be no doubt emerging fuels and technologies that seek to fully replace diesel are doing their part to gain a foothold. Manufacturers are straddling two worlds. They’re continuing to serve their customers with new diesel products. Meanwhile in some sectors, manufacturers are trying to offer customers other technology options apart from diesel with the hope that they are accepted and embraced at some point when ownership costs become advantageous and when infrastructure, servicing, and support networks become established and available.

However, as our country works to tackle the global challenge of climate change, we must be realistic about what is possible and when it is possible. We must also recognize that the scale and complexity of this challenge necessitates many, not singular, solutions. Seismic economic or technology shifts don’t happen overnight and we should not expect this one to either.

The Biden Administration has set forward a goal of the US vowing to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. To achieve this goal, decarbonization of the US economy by 2050 will be required. That’s just 28 years from right now. Changes needed to achieve this goal are both incremental and monumental. Getting all new cars to be entirely electric by 2035 is already a stated goal of some automakers, and now more electric models are available than ever before. Achieving by 2050 a wholesale switch from today’s mix of electric power generating sources (natural gas, coal, nuclear) to full reliance on renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro) to charge those electric vehicles, not to mention delivered through a more reliable and upgraded power grid, can best be described as a monumental challenge whose success is anything but certain.   

If it is not possible to electrify everything or decarbonize every sector right away. So, what do we do in the meantime to make progress in lowering greenhouse gas and other emissions during a complicated time of hopeful, but not guaranteed, transition to alternative energy sources?

In the meantime, we must rely on diesel.

Because today, just like every other day, diesel delivers just what we need when we need it: efficient and near-zero clean power. It is exactly why diesel fits into the future because progress, people and global economies demand it. And it must fit until and unless there is something better, cheaper more available, and more efficient to replace it. Just being new and cool will not be good enough for businesses and governments that cannot hit a “pause” button to wait for “the perfect” energy source to fully develop; they must deliver vital services now.

Diesel is an available and proven option with a long list of attributes. Diesel fits into the future because a diversified energy portfolio that includes diesel will be a strategic asset. We have to continue to rely on diesel because other options seeking to replace it are still developing, may not fully work and/or will not be ready for prime-time market domination anytime soon. Even with considerable public investment in infrastructure, the timeline until commercial market scale and competitive viability and penetration into key sectors of transportation happens will be measured in decades not days. In the meantime, we rely on diesel.

Where diesel fits into the future is everywhere it is currently. In sectors that demand efficient, reliable, and available power, diesel will be a viable option for the foreseeable future. That’s because there will always be a situation, an application, a use or demand for which the “new technology” might not be able to meet without a significant compromise or risk. Commercial trucks, construction, farm, power generation and other heavy-duty equipment, as well as larger SUVs and pickup trucks rely on diesel.

How diesel fits into the future? Diesel fits by continuing to evolve, to achieve even lower emissions, use less energy and do more work. Inside the engine opportunity explodes with new high-performance coatings and configurations of pistons and metal parts, new cylinder deactivation systems use energy more efficiently and reduce emissions while 48-volt technologies, waste heat recovery and advanced engine controls, and hybridization give a boost to many applications.

A major “how” diesel will fit into the future is by providing customers with a choice to enhance their diesel fleet performance by uncoupling the use of diesel fuel in diesel engines and replacing all, or a portion, with low carbon renewable biofuels. The results? Timely and important greenhouse gas and other emissions reductions now since no new vehicles or infrastructure are required. The greater use of renewable fuels by diesel engines, vehicles and equipment will provide important and attainable benefits immediately. The benefits may not be as profound as a wholesale switch to all electric, but they are important because they can actually occur now, and deliver the benefits now without waiting, without requiring new vehicles and without requiring new infrastructure.

On this journey to the carbon-constrained future there will be many twists and turns in the road, and some dead ends. In the meantime, we can rely on diesel.


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Allen Schaeffer
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