Industry trade shows – such as the Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) Annual Meeting, held last February in Orlando, are excellent places to learn the latest news concerning trucking. But, given the volume of information that comes out of a show like TMC, it’s also easy for important and news-worthy stories to get lost in the shuffle because there’s so much going on.
And I feel like that was the case with the North American Council for Freight Efficiency’s (NACFE) “Messy Middle” report, released during a press conference at TMC. Because in an age of confusion, uncertainty and hesitation, NACFE did the industry a tremendous favor by developing and disseminating a valuable technology “road map” designed to help fleets make sense of emerging zero-emissions technologies and ultimately settle on the best fit for their operations.
Full disclosure: I am a NACFE analyst who covers the research and development of autonomous trucks for the organization.
Mike Roeth, executive director for NACFE, coined the phrase “Messy Middle” to describe the wave of new – and often uncomplimentary – technologies coming at trucking today as the industry strides to eventually become a net-zero emissions industry in the coming years. The deadlines aren’t as far away as many people think.
Just this morning, for example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Phase 3 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards for heavy trucks, which will go into effect in 2027 and ramp up standards for each consecutive year until the full weight of the regulations come into effect in 2032.
When is the Best Time to Make Decisions on Alt-Fuels?
So, if you’ve been putting off making some key decisions on how your fleet will do business in this coming net-zero future, the time is rapidly approaching when you’re going to have to start considering alternative fuels and powertrains, and put a plan together to begin evaluating your choices. Which brings us back to the NACFE alt fuels flowchart – which you can check out in detail up above.
The flowchart is a great starting point on your alt fuel journey because it can help you zero in on the most likely path forward for your fleet. As Roeth often notes, one major difference for a zero-emissions trucking future is the fact that the “one fuel for all applications” advantage offered by diesel for almost a century now will no longer apply. Certain fuels and powertrains will be a better fit for some applications than others, given our current technological footing.
Battery-electric trucks, for example, are an excellent fit for urban and regional delivery fleets. But a poor choice for long-haul applications, which will be better served by hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (or maybe hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engines a new more years down the road).
NACFE points out, for many carriers – particularly in the long-haul space – diesel may well remain the best option for some time to come, depending on fuel/power infrastructure and availability issues in some parts of the country. Equally important, many fleets may well end up running multiple fuels and powertrains for different applications – electric trucks out on the West Coast, for example, and diesel trucks in the Deep South.
What Comes Next?
Change is the only constant, so the old saying goes. And trucking in North America has proven remarkably resistant to change for several decades now.
The push toward alternative/zero-emissions fuels doesn’t sit well with everyone in this industry. But it is apparent that these changes are coming and can’t be stopped. And the clock is ticking.
The sooner fleets begin their evaluation of alternative fuels and powertrains, and begin gaining experience with them, the better off they will be when the proverbial clock finally strikes midnight. NACFE will be there to help and advise the industry all the way during that journey. And the organization has already provided fleets with an excellent starting point to begin.