The air around truck-power developments may crackle with electricity, but is the distinctly pungent aroma of diesel fuel in danger of floating away, into our past? To get up to speed on the current outlook for diesel power, HDT Talks Trucking got on the line with Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the nonprofit Diesel Technology Forum.
As Schaeffer sees it, not only is diesel not going away, it keeps getting cleaner. “Diesel is in a good spot today,” he told HDT Talks Trucking host Jim Park. “It's achieving near-zero emissions for the newest generation of technology. And, you know, there's plenty out of additional improvement in diesel [to come] in the future. We’re excited about that as are the member companies of Diesel Technology Forum.”
He pointed out that compared to truck diesels of 2000, “today’s diesel engine is over 98% lower in emissions of fine particles and nitrogen oxides. That’s an incredible accomplishment. Now, the focus is on how much closer to zero can we get? From what I hear from manufacturers and suppliers, there's definitely some room to scoot closer to that zero point. It will be challenging, and not without additional expense, but it's definitely possible.”
Schaeffer contended that you can’t fairly compare the green impact of diesel vs. electric powering trucks without factoring in the source of electricity generation. He says the question is should tailpipe emissions be traded for smokestack emissions?
“Do we talk about zero emissions if there really is no such thing, because there are always some impacts associated with whatever it is that's powering whatever vehicle that you have,” he said. Schaeffer then pointed out that California has “a very high mix of renewable energy and wind and solar power and aggressive policies to go even further on that, so electric vehicles there are going to get very close to near zero [overall].
“The Pacific Northwest gets a lot of its electrical energy from hydropower,” he continued. “As long as there are high volumes of water flowing out through the Cascade Mountains, you're going to have a good supply of extremely clean hydropower to generate electricity. But then go to the East Coast and other places where the idea of wind farms and other [green technology] things is only recently coming into focus. That means the electricity is coming from conventional fossil-fuel fired power generators or from nuclear reactors.”
Schaeffer also spoke to the reality that the newness of electric trucks alone naturally sparks interest. “There is tremendous hyperbole and media coverage and excitement about something new and electrification is that. It's the talk of the town. I think my advice for fleets would be that this is all about risk management. I think if you know your [vehicle] supplier and have a relationship with them and trust and understand what they offer, you can maybe get a feel for other technologies in your business model and your lanes of freight. That's where you start. To see if these might work in your business.”
He straight up advised “not getting caught up in the moment. Go with what you know. Don't be afraid to take some risks along the way, just make sure you know what you're getting into and do it with good partners and folks who can advise you well. Check out not only how cold the water is, but how deep it is before you jump in.”