What is Clean Diesel?


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Climate Change and Diesel Technology

Diesel is the most energy-efficient internal combustion engine, one that now achieves near-zero emissions with increasing fuel efficiency (which means lower CO2 emissions) and is capable of utilizing low-carbon renewable biofuels. The latest generation of advanced diesel technology is working today to help cool a warming planet. Further advancements to diesel technology are expected to significantly contribute to help achieve climate goals.


Diesel is the most energy-efficient internal combustion engine, one that now achieves near-zero emissions with increasing fuel efficiency (which means lower CO2 emissions) and is capable of utilizing low-carbon renewable biofuels. The latest generation of advanced diesel technology is working today to help cool a warming planet. Further advancements to diesel technology are expected to significantly contribute to help achieve climate goals. From the latest advanced diesel engines that virtually eliminate particulate (black carbon) emissions, to the use of biofuels, learn more about diesel technology and climate change below.

energy density graph

Reducing GHG with Advanced Technology Diesel Trucks
Diesel fuel is the most energy dense transportation fuel and the diesel engine is the most efficient technology type to transfer this energy into work. The combination of energy density and engine efficiency explain why diesel makes up 75 percent of commercial vehicles on the road today.

Much like cars, fuel economy standards are now required of the large variety of commercial vehicles from heavy-duty pickups, to vocational trucks like cement mixers and utility trucks to full-size Class 8 tractor-trailer type trucks.  The first phase of those rules kicked-in in 2014 while the second and more stringent fuel economy standard will be implemented in 2021.  For a typical Class 8 long haul truck, these standards adopted jointly by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will result in a 25 percent improvement in fuel economy over the lifetime of the rule.  

To meet these requirements, a variety of technologies will be used to make these vehicles more efficient and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while also maintaining near zero emissions performance for criteria emissions particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen. 

Between 2011 and 2030, these technologies will save 1.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions and save 130 billion gallons of fuel. These benefits are equivalent to the emissions generated by nearly all cars, pickups and SUVs on the road today.

Diesel technology is expected to deliver the overwhelming majority of these benefits even as gasoline, natural gas and propane power some small portion of commercial truck. While alternatives exist today and others are expected to hit dealer lots soon, research confirms that diesel will still be the predominant technology and fuel type.

Climate Change, Short Lived Climate Pollutants, Black Carbon and Clean Diesel

Are We Near the End of the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) Age?

Benefits of Growing Use of Biodiesel and Renewable Diesel Fuel
Diesel engines are capable of operating on a variety of advanced biofuels to deliver significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel are considered advanced biofuels by the U.S. EPA that are capable of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent.

These fuels are derived from a variety of waste residues including soy and animal fats. The U.S. produced 2.4 billion gallons of biodiesel fuel and smaller amounts of renewable diesel fuel. Most modern diesel engines are capable of operating on blends of biodiesel up to 20 percent. Renewable diesel fuel is derived from the same feedstocks as biodiesel but is refined using a different chemical process to generate a fuel that meets the same engineering specification as petroleum diesel fuel. This means that renewable diesel fuel may be used as a substitute to petroleum-based diesel fuel.

California is the leading consumer of biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel consuming almost one out of every four gallons of the fuel supplied in the U.S.  In 2018, the California Air Resources Board found that these fuels have generated the greatest reduction in transportation emissions among all the many fuel and technology types. Since 2011, biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel eliminated more than 18 million tons of carbon dioxide.  This compares to only 4.5 million tons of carbon dioxide eliminated from the use of battery electric vehicles.

Biodiesel and Renewable Diesel Infographic

Fleets across the country are switching to these fuels and realizing significant benefits without incurring significant costs required of other alternative fuels. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority has been using renewable diesel fuel in its fleet of over 600 buses to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 10,000 tons. Florida Power and Light now uses biodiesel in its fleet of over 3,900 utility vehicles to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 6,700 tons.

“Combating climate change calls for quick, instantly effective solutions. By choosing Neste MY Renewable Diesel, drivers can reduce their carbon footprint by approximately 90 percent compared to fossil diesel. In addition to private customers, many logistics companies have also selected this low-emission, sustainable alternative. Niemi’s choice is an indication of the importance of sustainability for the company, and we’re delighted to collaborate with the company,” says Panu Kopra, Executive Vice President, Marketing & Services business unit at Neste

Guess What Technology is Eliminating the Most CO2?

Climate Change, Advanced Biofuels and Clean Diesel

Black Carbon Reduction from Advanced Diesel Engines

While carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas, there are other greenhouse gas forming compounds known as short lived climate pollutants (SLCP). One of these pollutants is black carbon and it is upwards of 900 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Unlike carbon dioxide, eliminating man made emissions of black carbon is relatively easy including the contribution from older diesel engines.

Black carbon, also known as soot, is generated by the incomplete combustion of fuels including contributions from forest fires, charcoal stoves and diesel engines. Soot is emitted and rises in the atmosphere where it soon falls on polar ice. The black particles trap solar heat and contribute to melting polar ice.

Eliminating diesel sources of black carbon emissions is very cost effective and many countries across the globe are adopting cleaner fuel standards and tighter regulations on tailpipe emissions that will nearly eliminate diesel’s contribution to black carbon emissions.

The U.S. has been a success in developing and deploying diesel technologies that will reduce black carbon emissions by 91 percent between 2005 and 2030. Clean diesel technologies that control black carbon emissions will be an important strategy to meet ambitious climate goals as more countries adopt cleaner diesel fuel standards and tailpipe emissions regulations.

“The rapid reduction of diesel black carbon emissions is one element of a multi-pollutant and multi-sectoral strategy … to reduce near-term climate warming by an average of 0.5°C over 25 years.” - The International Council on Clean Transportation

Advanced Diesel Engines and Climate Change

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