Decarbonizing Trucking: "Should Begin with Diesel & RN Gas"

Decarbonizing Trucking: “Should Begin with Diesel & RN Gas”

In the world of trucking, the buzzword these days is “decarbonizing.” It’s the concept that’s on everyone’s minds, and many believe that the only way to achieve it is by making a massive shift to electric and hydrogen-powered trucks. However, Mike Roeth, the head of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE), has a different perspective on this. He believes that there’s more to the story than just electric and hydrogen trucks, and that we can make significant strides in decarbonizing the industry right now. Let’s take a closer look at the positive news for truck drivers and the environment when it comes to diesel and natural gas engines.

Diesel Trucks Are Going Green

The Diesel Technology Forum, now known as the Engine Technology Forum, recently reported that 57% of commercial diesel trucks on U.S. roads are now “near-zero” emissions models using EPA10 technologies. This is a substantial achievement for the industry, showing that diesel engines are getting cleaner and more environmentally friendly.

When it comes to Class 8 trucks, a whopping 96.8% are still powered by diesel, while electric trucks make up just 0.2% of the market. Even when we consider the broader Classes 3-8 market, 75.6% of trucks are diesel-powered, with electric trucks making up only 0.09%. The number of Class 8 trucks equipped with EPA10 diesel technologies increased by 10.2% from 2021 to 2022. These trucks are equipped with technologies like diesel particulate filters (DPFs) and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems that help reduce harmful emissions.

Allen Schaeffer, the executive director of the forum, highlights an interesting statistic, saying, “Nationwide, for every electric commercial truck on the road, there are nearly 1,100 powered by internal combustion engines.” This statistic clearly shows that diesel trucks still dominate the market.

The Path to Decarbonizing with Diesel

Mike Roeth firmly believes that we can start the journey towards decarbonizing today, even while operating diesel-powered trucks. He emphasizes that we don’t need to wait for electric or hydrogen trucks to become the norm to make a positive impact on the environment and reduce costs. Every gallon of fuel not burned is a step in the right direction.

So, what can trucking companies do to improve their carbon footprint while still operating diesel trucks? According to Roeth, there are numerous ways to enhance fuel efficiency using existing equipment. NACFE has identified 86 methods to improve freight efficiency, and all of them contribute to decarbonizing. Some of these methods include spec’ing aerodynamics, choosing low-rolling-resistance tires, and reducing truck speeds.

“Slowing down saves a lot of fuel,” Roeth points out, highlighting that simple changes in driving habits can make a significant difference. Additionally, proper maintenance and monitoring of tire pressures can lead to fuel savings. Many new trucks now support over-the-air programming, making it easier for fleets to adjust parameters and improve fuel consumption without taking trucks to the shop.

The Future of Diesel

Diesel may not be done evolving, either. Truck manufacturers like Volvo are continuously working on improving diesel engines. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Energy has been investing in research and development through projects like SuperTruck, which explores various technologies that could improve fuel efficiency in diesel-powered trucks.

Roeth suggests that some of the technology developed in projects like SuperTruck II could also find its way into diesel trucks, making them even cleaner and more efficient. So, there’s plenty optimism about the future of diesel and its role in decarbonizing the trucking industry.

Renewable Natural Gas (RNG): A Viable Alternative

In the pursuit of Decarbonizing, natural gas is also gaining renewed attention. Cummins, a well-known engine manufacturer, is introducing a new 15-liter natural gas engine to meet growing demand. This engine is designed to be fuel-agnostic, allowing customers to use various fuels, from natural gas to renewable fuels and even hydrogen.

Puneet Jhawar, general manager of global spark-ignited and fuel delivery systems at Cummins, emphasizes that these natural gas engines have come a long way in terms of reliability and performance. They offer similar power and torque to diesel engines, addressing historical concerns about lower power output.

One of the significant advantages of natural gas is its extensive fueling network, with over 1,600 stations in the U.S. Quick fills, taking about 15 minutes, provide around 700-800 miles of range, making it a practical choice for long-haul trucking.

The Promise of Renewable Natural Gas

Reducing carbon footprints with natural gas is effective, but cleaner options like Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) take it a step further. RNG is considered carbon-negative, making it an environmentally friendly choice. Andrew Okuyiga, vice-president of public affairs at UPS, praises RNG for its ability to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it produces.

UPS has been using RNG harvested from dairy farms to fuel its trucks, effectively turning them into carbon-negative vehicles. This is because the RNG process not only consumes methane but also prevents it from entering the environment. RNG can be used in existing natural gas engines without major operational adjustments, making it a practical and cost-effective choice.

However, Okuyiga highlights that emerging emissions standards should be more accommodating towards RNG to encourage its adoption.

In Conclusion

In the journey toward decarbonizing the trucking industry, diesel and natural gas engines are proving to be valuable players. With advancements in technology and a focus on cleaner fuels like RNG, truck drivers and companies can make a positive impact on the environment without immediately transitioning to electric or hydrogen-powered trucks.

Mike Roeth’s message is clear: we can start decarbonizing today, and every small improvement in fuel efficiency contributes to a greener future. As technology continues to evolve, there’s hope for even cleaner and more efficient diesel and natural gas engines in the years to come. Truck drivers and the industry as a whole have the tools and options to reduce their carbon footprint and embrace a more sustainable future, one mile at a time.

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