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April 06, 2021   |  


Clean diesel trucks are already on our roads. Electrification is not the only way to fight climate change

There is not a single best solution. We should value greenhouse gas and other emissions reductions in whatever form they come.

By Letters to the Editor  Apr 6, 2021, 3:00pm CDT

I’m not sure what is more out of touch: the Sun-Times editorial board’s conflated and outdated perspectives about diesel technology, or the selection of a 19-year-old image to run alongside.

According to our analysis of IHS Markit data (2020), fully 64% of all commercial vehicles of class 3-8 operating on Illinois roads today are the newest generation of near-zero emissions diesel technology. It would take more than 60 of these 2021 model year trucks to have the same level of emissions as the 1992 model in the photo. Conflating individual pickup truck owners’ choices to illegally modify their vehicles is a cheap shot and an illogical comparison against diesel.

Even more surprising is that by advocating for electrification, the Sun-Times is taking a direct stand against a major home-grown industry and employer. Illinois is home to the fourth-largest production of biodiesel in the country, a low-carbon renewable fuel that today is reducing emissions from all diesel engines both new and existing.

Truck and engine manufacturers are developing a range of powertrain options for their customers including hydrogen fuel cells, advanced diesel and natural gas technology. None are perfect, even electric. Today, fully 40% of Illinois electricity comes from coal and natural gas, so total emissions from electric vehicles would not be zero, yet considerable state investment in infrastructure and incentives for electric vehicle purchase will be needed. As for the future of diesel, analysts agree that diesel technology will continue to be the dominant technology in heavy-duty truck applications for decades to come.

Tackling climate change is a big challenge. There is not a single best solution. We should value greenhouse gas and other emissions reductions in whatever form they come, but with eyes wide open, and not make a case based on old and outdated perspectives. Until an all-electric future could be realized, we need continued steady progress.

Greater benefits to Illinois will accrue faster with more of the newer generation of diesel trucks hitting the road and expanding use of renewable fuels.

Allen Schaeffer, executive director, Diesel Technology Forum

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