Renewable diesel fuel.

The widespread use of renewable diesel fuel would be a cheaper and faster means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions than switching to electric and hydrogen fuel cell trucks, an ATRI study has found. 

Graphic: HDT

The American Transportation Research Institute has released a new report that analyzes the benefits of employing renewable diesel as an alternative to battery-electric trucks.

This analysis is a follow-up to findings from past ATRI research on zero-emission vehicles and electric infrastructure challenges.

ATRI points out that while zero-emission trucks release no direct tailpipe emissions during operation, they are still responsible for generating greenhouse gases during the production of fuels like electricity and hydrogen, and through the production and disposal of the vehicles and lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion battery production generates more than six times the carbon of diesel truck production, it has found.

Renewable Diesel: 6 Times Cheaper than BEVs

In those past reports, ATRI used the U.S. Department of Energy’s GREET Model (Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Technologies) of life cycle analysis to confirm renewable diesel as a promising solution for lowering the trucking industry’s CO2 emissions.

While both renewable diesel and battery-electric truck adoption have implementation costs, the report concludes that relying on BEV to decrease CO2 emissions is nearly six times more expensive than using renewable diesel.

 The two pathways are evaluated on three criteria:

  •  Environmental benefits
  • Operational capabilities
  • Financial viability

Overall, ATRI estimated that a transition to BEV for long-haul trucking will cost over $1 trillion in electric infrastructure and vehicle purchase costs over 15 years.

To achieve similar CO2 benefits with renewable diesel, ATRI estimates a price tag of $203 billion, a significant cost savings for achieving the same environmental bene

Because renewable diesel is considerably more scalable than truck electrification and can be deployed immediately in trucks without modifications, it is likely that CO2 benefits using renewable diesel can be achieved on a much shorter timeline than with a BEV transition, ATRI contends.

Converting a Trucking Fleet from Renewable Diesel to Electric is a Step Backward for the Environment

Additionally, ATRI found that when trucks using renewable diesel today are converted to BEVs, there is actually a significant negative environmental impact.

The report highlights operational benefits for trucking when using renewable diesel as an alternative, as well as significant infrastructure and new-vehicle cost savings.

As previously documented, renewable diesel use decreases CO2 emissions significantly when compared to petroleum diesel. Regulations such as California’s Advanced Clean Fleet and Advanced Clean Trucks rules — which have acted to mandate BEV trucks — could result in higher overall CO2 emissions compared to policies and programs that increase the production and use of renewable diesel, ATRI said.

Battery-electric vehicle produce far more CO2 emissions over their total life cycle than internal-combustion trucks on renewable diesel, ATRI said.

While a regulation requiring trucks that are currently running on renewable diesel to convert to battery-electric technology may be well intentioned, ATRI said, in reality, it would more than double the CO2 emissions output of a sample fleet when using renewable diesel.

The end result, ATRI concluded, is that mandating BEV adoption effectively results in the trucking industry emitting more CO2 than it would if it were using internal combustion engines running on renewable diesel fuel.

A copy of the full report is available through ATRI's website.

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