As journalists, we're predisposed to get excited about stuff that's new. It's news. And some of you, as gearheads and truck enthusiasts, may get pretty excited about new stuff, too.
That's why it can be easy to get carried away writing about and reading about all the exciting things going on in the world of alternative fuels. But most experts agree that diesel will still be the fuel of choice for most of trucking for a long, long time to come.
And why not? Diesel exhaust is not the carcinogen-loaded, smog-causing belch of black smoke it once was.
Introduction of advanced diesel technology in 2007 that relied on ultra low sulfur clean diesel fuel has today reduced emissions of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides — an ozone precursor — by more than 98% in heavy-duty truck applications compared to 2000 models.
Although the decade of ever-stricter limits on PM and NOx was painful in additional up-front costs and maintenance challenges, today we can boast that in some pollution-plagued areas, a new truck is putting out cleaner air than it is drawing in!
And if your goal is to use fewer fossil fuels and reduce dependency on foreign oil, today's more fuel-efficient trucks are helping on that front, as well. Some super-fuel-efficient fleets report 10 mpg or more. And you can blend in biodiesel to further improve that greenhouse gas carbon footprint.
The Diesel Technology forum, a big proponent of clean diesel, points out that diesel engines were originally invented to run on vegetable oils. Today, most diesel engines can run on high-quality blends of biodiesel with little modification as well as next-generation, drop-in renewable diesel fuels which offer even further benefits.
Although the diesel hybrid market has been stuttering, the forum points out that diesel hybrids hold the promise of significant efficiency gains for commercial vehicles. By combining a smaller, fuel-efficient clean diesel engine with an advanced electric or hydraulic system, hybrid buses and delivery vehicles have demonstrated significantly improved fuel economy, along with reduced exhaust emissions and enhanced performance.
The Diesel Technology Forum also notes that diesel engines are the world's most efficient internal combustion engine. Diesel fuel, it says, provides more power and more fuel efficiency than alternatives such as gasoline, compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas.
In fact, more of the automotive world should be following trucking's lead. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that America could save up to 1.4 million barrels of oil per day – an amount equivalent to the oil we currently import from Saudi Arabia – if one-third of U.S. cars, pickup trucks and SUVs were diesel-powered.
So go ahead and explore the various alternative fuels available. It could be that one is a perfect fit for your fleet's sustainability efforts. But if they're not, then take advantage of what today's clean diesel has to offer.
At this year's Mid-America Trucking Show, Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Daimler Trucks, was asked about his favorite alternative fuel. "My favorite alternative fuel is diesel," he said, drawing a chuckle from the audience, "because I don't see any replacement for diesel, not even in the long run."