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February 06, 2019   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

Finding the Best of Both Worlds: Energy Abundance and Clean Energy Transition

Diesel power is an integral part of both a clean energy future and is a technology that enables and benefits from the energy abundance that we enjoy today. We need the continuous innovation and improvements in both to ensure a sustainable future.

Some would say that the nation is divided into two camps, those advancing America’s Energy Abundance - the production of petroleum and natural gas that has led to the U.S. being a net energy exporter, or those firmly on the side of the Clean Energy Transition - who seek non-fossil fuel based solutions, renewable energy from wind and solar and fully electrified transportation. 

Which is right and which will prevail? 

Both are right and both must prevail to ensure our future - advance economic growth, reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Both energy abundance and clean energy camps have embodied innovation, whether it be extraction and refining of liquid fuels, or development of advanced battery technology.

Diesel is a technology that is fundamental to both camps. 

Wanting to get more energy efficiency in the most popular selling vehicles in America (full size pickup trucks)? Offer a more fuel efficient diesel engine option to customers, like is happening in 2019 from General Motors, Ram and Ford. If every full size pickup in the U.S. were powered by a diesel engine, it would save 500 million gallons of fuel in one model year; equivalent to 15 percent of the car fleet switching entirely to EVs.

Want to cut carbon dioxide emissions from freight transport? Happening now. More than 36 percent of all commercial trucks on the road today in the U.S. are powered by the newest generation of advanced diesel technology achieving near-zero emissions of particulates and nitrogen oxides while also using less fuel. Since 2010, the new technology diesel engines have saved 5.8 billion gallons of fuel – that’s 138 million barrels of oil, and that’s 59 million fewer tonnes of C02.

Want to install more wind power or large scale solar farms? Diesel engines are the only technology available to prepare infrastructure for wind towers and their installation – through heavy machinery and large cranes; and in the case of off-shore wind farms, the marine workboats and barges necessary to install and maintain these units are all powered by diesel.

Want to promote moving away from the conventional grid to microgrids? Microgrids rely on renewable energy sources – solar and wind - to generate prime power, along with battery storage and advanced controllers and... a diesel engine/generator to provide a backup function to ensure continuous electricity when renewable prime power sources (sun, wind) are not available. 

Want to move away from fossil fuels for transportation? Truck, engine and equipment manufacturers have developed and are exploring and deploying a range of alternative fuels that includes electric trucks, hybrid construction machines and more to fully serve the diverse needs of their customers. Matching the right fuel and technology to the job is a fundamental tenet for engine and equipment manufacturers to serve their customers. But all indicate that they see diesel power playing a significant role in many applications for decades to come. Why? Because diesel has a unique combination of efficiency, power, range, availability, performance and durability that other fuels or batteries and electricity can’t beat.   

An increasing number of diesel engines aren’t running on diesel fuel at all. In 2017, an estimated 2.6 billion gallons of biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel were consumed in the U.S. by a growing number of public and private fleets with substantial numbers and types of diesel engines and equipment. Their successful switch to using renewable biodiesel fuels in place of petroleum diesel has cut carbon emissions immediately - lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions are at least 50 percent less - and has contributed to improving air quality by cutting other emissions. It is here today and the fuel is produced from by-products of food production or other waste streams or renewable bio-mass sources, and is projected to reach 4 billion gallons by 2022.  

Need to modify the nation’s city and coastal infrastructure as part of climate resilience practice? Whether it be establishing new coastal land contours, moving roads, mitigating ocean wave actions, elevation of vulnerable buildings, or establishment of flood control systems and storm water management, diesel engines play unique roles. Nearly all large construction machines used in these activities track type tractors (bulldozers), excavators, mobile water pumps, hydraulic lift systems - all are powered by diesel.  

These are but a few examples of how diesel power is an integral part of both a clean energy future and is a technology that enables and benefits from the energy abundance that we enjoy today. We need the continuous innovation and improvements in both to ensure a sustainable future.


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Ezra Finkin
Director, Policy

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