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June 23, 2017   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

The Fuel of Work

While diesel might be the 2nd most used fuel in the U.S., our economy could not function without it.

Gasoline made some big news this week. In certain locations around the country, gasoline prices hit a 10 year low. Much of the decline in prices owes to expanding U.S. crude oil production that has grown by 58 percent since 2011. That’s great for the 98 percent of American drivers who own a vehicle that runs on gasoline. Many of us are well aware of gasoline as it powers most of our cars and gas stations are found in just about every community. Thanks to newfound energy abundance, more U.S. gasoline is produced from domestic sources of petroleum.

More than just gasoline is made from a barrel of crude oil. A standard 42 gallon barrel of crude oil produces 20 gallons of gasoline and 11 gallons of diesel fuel, according to the Energy Information Agency. While those 20 gallons of gasoline are used almost exclusively to power automobiles, diesel fuel has a wide variety of uses that are essential to our economy. In fact, diesel fuel is the 2nd most used liquid fuel and its uses power one out of every two sectors of the economy. 

According to the Energy Information Agency, the overwhelming majority of diesel consumed in the U.S. come from trucks and buses moving goods and people.  In fact, diesel fuel makes up 20 percent of all transportation fuels.

Diesel Fuel Users
(Billions of Gallons) – 2015









Three out of every four commercial vehicles on the road is powered by a diesel engine. Of these, 75 percent of fuel used is attributable to the large Class 8 trucks that travel about 125,000 miles each year and diesel powers 99 percent of these large trucks. These trucks and vehicles are essential to daily life as they deliver the products you buy and move other materials and goods to and from factories and warehouses.

Other equipment that is vital for the health of the economy operate in diesel. After commercial vehicles, freight railroads come in as the 2nd biggest users of diesel fuel. Line-haul and switch locomotives are exclusively powered by diesel fuel.  This equipment is vital to move raw materials and energy products across the country and deliver commodities and products to markets at home and abroad.

In a close 3rd is the agricultural sector. America’s agricultural bounty puts food on the table for consumers in the U.S. and abroad. Once again, diesel fuel is the preferred technology powering farm equipment. Construction equipment comes in as the 4th largest consumers of diesel fuel. Many of the most iconic pieces of equipment are exclusively powered by diesel fuel. This equipment is necessary to complete public works projects that help keep people and commerce moving, ensure safe and available drinking water, and even electricity grid projects to keep the lights on and broadband projects to keep us connected.

Much smaller uses of diesel fuel are still of vital importance. Most notably, are the fleet of mobile and stationary emergency generators that provide electricity to mission critical facilities during power outtages. Thanks to diesel’s durability and portability of diesel fuel, diesel is the preferred technology in these emergency generators. In fact, diesel is capable of providing full load within seconds of a power outage – a necessary requirement to meet many building codes. In the nation’s capital, the DC government operates 192 emergency standby generators to provide backup power to offices, storm water and waste water pumping stations, jails, schools, shelters, police and fire stations, recreation centers, etc.  Of these, 140 or 73 percent are powered by diesel.

Other more remote communities located far away from the electrical grid rely on diesel generators and fuel for prime power. Many remote communities throughout Alaska rely on their powerhouse for electricity. These powerhouses are home to banks of diesel generators and rely on regular shipments of diesel fuel.

While diesel might be the 2nd most used fuel in the U.S., our economy could not function without it. Thanks to recently discovered sources of domestic energy, we are assured a domestic supply of diesel to keep our economy moving. 


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Ezra Finkin
Director, Policy

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