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November 30, 2021   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

The Challenges of “X” Technology

Picking fuels and technologies to power the trucks and equipment in the future is more than just the satisfaction with the initial choice

Decisions, decisions: It’s that time of year when tough decisions under pressure are all around us. From picking the right holiday gift to deciding on which fuels and technologies will power the trucks and machines of the future, both are equally challenging with much in common. There are more choices than ever, there is uncertainty about availability, there are problems with deliveries, and then there is the potential for second-guessing whether the choice is the right one.

Picking fuels and technologies to power the trucks and equipment in the future is more than just the satisfaction with the initial choice. Pencilling out an acquisition cost, total cost of ownership and return on investment are familiar metrics that go into any business decision. Picking that “X” technology (where X equals electric, fuel cell, hydrogen, etc.) goes well beyond the choice.  

What comes next – the real world – is where the hard work and real story begins.   

Trucking fleets must continue to deliver their freight as promised. Today they know exactly what that looks like with diesel, thanks to more than half a century of experience in every possible scenario and circumstance. Fleet managers know where to find parts and servicing for today’s diesel fleet in every city, town and village and every point along the highway network. 

Can new “X” haul as much freight as diesel in all conditions? Impacts of rerouting, traffic delays and trip interruptions are well accommodated today, but new fuels may have different limitations to divert or delay. Even extreme climate conditions could impact available vehicle range or getting to the next charging location, which in turn can impact service levels and driver assignments. 

Commitment to expand the number of new “X” fuel stations will grow with government support, but even fuel stations need to be serviced and maintained to deliver fuel or power consistently 24/7 in all locations. Is that part of the plan? Can utilities deliver the power that will be needed if “X” relies on the grid? 

With so much reliance on government incentives to subsidize acquisition of new infrastructure and vehicles powered by “X”, what will happen when that diminishes or goes away altogether? Will fleets be able and confident enough to make higher dollar investments and carry the risks from new technologies alone?  

The consequences of choices are many, regardless of what that choice is. Today diesel powers over 95 percent of all heavy-duty commercial vehicles and 70 percent of all commercial vehicles – from smaller trucks to the big rigs. Availability of parts and servicing, increasing fuel efficiency, near and nearer to zero emissions, power density, driving range and easy access to fuel, and ability to use renewable biodiesel fuels are among the key attributes of today’s diesel.   

We should embrace the choice for new or existing and proven technologies like diesel using low carbon renewable biofuels that help tackle climate change. New fuels, like “X” in our example, also represent some evolving opportunity to decarbonize transportation as new options to conventional fuels. With it, each “X” choice represents many new considerations and they all will be compared to today’s gold standard – diesel.


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Allen Schaeffer
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