Efficient, available and clean power sources, incremental advancements to broad sectors of the economy, and both near- and longer-term solutions are needed
September 20, 2019 (WASHINGTON) – The Diesel Technology Forum issued the following statement on the occasion of the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York:
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has asked delegates to the 2019 UN Climate Summit to bring concrete, realistic plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Another stated goal: the Clean Air Initiative, which calls on governments to achieve air quality results by 2030, since “the climate emergency and air pollution are inextricably linked.” Among Secretary-General Guterres’ policy proposals is the idea that only “radical changes” – such as a “full shift towards electric vehicles” – are acceptable “climate-smart practices” that will “improve the health and save the lives of millions of people around the world.”
We respectfully disagree.
The diesel industry has been taking action to preserve the climate and meet economic and societal goals for many decades. Real and measurable progress toward virtually eliminating traditional pollutants, while at the same time making products more powerful and efficient that use less fuel, is the accomplishment of today’s generation of advanced diesel technology. As the prime mover for 15 sectors of the global economy, diesel technologies will be part of any realistic climate change and clean air solution.
Radical change in fuel or technology types across wide sectors of the global economy are neither practical nor technologically feasible over short timeframes. Developed and developing countries have different economic and infrastructure considerations and localized needs that value different transportation and energy solutions.
Meeting the climate challenge as defined by the United Nations – reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting temperature rise to below 2°C while also improving air quality – will require leveraging all possible innovations, inventions and technologies, both new and existing, near-term and longer-term, and proven and experimental. It is also vital to recognize that meaningful progress toward achieving goals in the longer term does not imply sacrifice of progress in the near-term. Calls for switches to emerging technologies with high expectations but at a nascent scale and an uncertain longer timeline must be balanced against existing and proven technologies at dominant scale, where incremental change delivers large dividends.
To that end, we call for delegates at the United Nations Summit to include the following in their plans:
1) Global climate strategies must value and embrace energy efficiency in all its forms.
Energy efficiency should be valued no matter how it is achieved, not its shape or size, “radical” or not. While substantial discussion centers around a shift to non-fossil-fuel-based options for transportation, the commercial availability and scalability of these technologies does not exist today nor in the foreseeable future for most commercial applications beyond small passenger vehicles. Therefore, while the prospect of zero-emissions full-scale electrification exists for some sectors, the reality is that it does not exist in the near term.
Yet, the need for continued and sustained progress in energy efficiency for the global economy is essential. Public policies that seek to arbitrarily ban or restrict diesel technologies, rather than taking advantage of their inherent efficiency, durability and near-zero emissions, create the very likely condition of increased emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants in the near term, rather than reducing them.
Diesel is the most energy-efficient internal combustion engine. Over the last 30 years, diesel technology has fundamentally transformed, virtually eliminating emissions of particulate matter (PM 2.5), oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and dramatically reducing carbon dioxide (CO2). These modern near-zero diesel systems rely on a combination of advanced engine technologies, emissions control systems, and cleaner fuels like ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD). The combination of proven efficiency, availability and substantial penetration across key sectors of the economy ensures that the expanded use of new generation diesel technology must be the foundation of near-term progress in CO2 reduction on a global scale.
Today, only 32 percent of the world – 69 countries, both developed and developing – use cleaner lower-sulfur diesel fuel. Ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel and the newest generation of diesel engine technologies – both readily available – are proven to immediately cut transportation-related pollution and emissions from diesel sources by at least 90 percent, compared to earlier generations of technologies still in service today around the world. It would take more than 60 of today’s generation of heavy-duty trucks to equal the emissions of a single truck manufactured in 1990.
Imagine what it would mean for air quality in Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro or Mumbai if the newest diesel engines were widely deployed using low-sulfur diesel fuel in the near-term timeframe.
2) Accelerate the introduction of efficient, low-carbon conventional technologies and fuels.
Diesel engines are versatile in their ability to utilize not only conventional fossil-based petroleum diesel, but also high-quality advanced renewable biodiesel fuels. Both new and existing diesel engines of all kinds can immediately lower the carbon footprint of their operation by utilizing these low-carbon biofuels.
Given the diversity of global economic needs and varying access to refined petroleum products, more than one fuel solution is deployed today. Around the world, diesel engines successfully operate using a full range of biodiesel fuel blends and types, feedstocks and concentrations made from waste sources such as animal byproducts or the byproducts of soybean processing. No other engine or fuel technology can claim such a broad capability as diesel, which can be a vital local asset, one responsive to local fuel sources and needs.
The use of high-quality renewable low-carbon fuels is today delivering immediate climate benefits. For example, in California in 2018, biodiesel and renewable diesel fuels eliminated 4.3 million tons of CO2, exceeding the reductions delivered by ethanol. The San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency removed more than 10,000 tons of CO2 in a single year, just by using renewable diesel fuel in 632 transit buses.
3) Utilize only the most advanced generation of near-zero emissions diesel engines and fuels.
Diesel engines are the workhorses of the global economy. In every corner of the world, these engines make progress possible – whether it be the planting and harvesting of agricultural products, the movement of people and goods, the mining of essential minerals, the delivery of clean drinking water, or the support of vital public health infrastructure such as wastewater treatment or continuous electricity. For many of these applications, diesel engines today are the only practical solution.
The benefits of the new, proven generation of diesel technology are substantial. Consider that in the United States, new technology diesel engines combined with ULSD in heavy-duty trucks eliminated 26 million tons of NOx and nearly 60 million tons of CO2 between 2011 and 2017.
Developed nations have the luxury and prerogative to experiment with alternative technologies. However, these are not of a scale currently to deliver key societal benefits now, nor for the next five, 10 or 15 years. In the meantime, it is vital for the continuous improvement of the internal combustion engine to achieve progress in energy efficiency and lower emissions. One size does not fit all, but everyone should have a size that fits their needs.
While grand gestures and aspirational plans are expected, arbitrary bans on technologies and fuel types are both unwise and unwelcome. Such approaches create winners and losers and, as a result, diminish economic livelihoods, which in turn reduces the potential uptake of new and unproven technologies.
Practical decisions – like accelerating the turnover from old technology to new, cleaner and more energy efficient options across broad scales in the near term – have a high potential to make a major positive impact in the global fight to reduce emissions, clean the air and keep the Earth’s temperature from rising.
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Diesel Technologies Deliver on Climate and Clean Air Promises, Now
Diesel delivers on every single Action Portfolio outlined for the UN Climate Action Summit:
- Finance: Financing transitions to new energy technology requires successful and viable economies that are dependent on currently available fuels and technologies. In the United States, diesel engines are the primary technology driving one out of every two sectors of the U.S. economy. Nearly 900,000 heavy-duty diesel engines are produced in 13 states and serviced and maintained across the country, sustaining over 1.2 million well-paid jobs. Workers in the diesel technology sector typically earn a wage 60 percent higher than the national average.
- Energy Transition: The U.S. Energy Information Administration states that no currently available liquid transportation fuel surpasses the energy density of diesel. Even advanced biofuels including biodiesel and renewable diesel have energy densities far superior than other alternatives.
- Industry Transition: Diesel is the lifeblood of the global economy, moving 90 percent of all freight worldwide and running nearly all trucks, trains, ships and intermodal systems. Diesel also provides power for most agricultural, construction and mining equipment. Nearly every aspect of modern life relies on diesel in some form. Diesel truck and engine manufacturers, and farm and construction equipment manufacturers are exploring and implementing new strategies to reduce the climate and clean air impact from diesel engines, while also meeting the needs of their customers. This includes hybridization where possible, downsizing engines and increasing combustion efficiency, utilizing electric motors and 48V systems that reduce engine loads and allow for optimal efficient operating conditions, the use of advanced renewable biofuels, and other approaches. At the same time, these companies are also exploring alternative fuels, electrification, hydrogen and fuel cells, and other strategies.
- Nature-Based Solutions: Diesel engines were originally invented to run on vegetable oils. Today, both new and existing diesel engines in revenue and public service around the world utilize high-quality blends of biodiesel made from a variety of global feedstocks. Advanced renewable diesel fuels processed in refinery settings from a diverse array of waste products offer even further decarbonization benefits. These advanced, non-fossil-based fuels even further reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent, compared to fossil fuels.
- Cities and Local Action: Diesel’s prevalence in mass transportation and urban environments means upgrades to the newest technologies have an even greater impact on the world’s most vulnerable communities. Creating viable public transport systems that boost economic prosperity while reducing carbon and other emissions requires reliable, affordable and available technology such as diesel. Delivering essential public services demands proven and existing technologies, and diesel powers many key aspects of city services including back-up emergency power, material handling, land management, goods transport, water pumping and public safety services.
- Resilience and Adaptation: Hardening public water and waste treatment and transportation infrastructures, reconfiguration of land masses, dredging, creation of waterway management systems all rely on diesel power, the technology of choice in construction equipment. With no foreseeable replacements for diesel technology in medium- and large-size machines, diesel will play a critical role in helping nations and communities become more resilient and adapt to changing climate conditions.
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About The Diesel Technology Forum
The Diesel Technology Forum is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of diesel engines, fuel and technology. Forum members are leaders in clean diesel technology and represent the three key elements of the modern clean-diesel system: advanced engines, vehicles and equipment, cleaner diesel fuel and emissions-control systems. For more information visit https://www.dieselforum.org/.