Diesel Tech Cuts Emissions to Near Zero, Group Says

States challenge California’s diesel truck regulations
Trucks travel the highways of California.
Photograph: Shutterstock

While California is pushing the trucking industry to replace older models with electric vehicles, the Diesel Technology Forum sees no reason to eliminate diesel-powered trucks from U.S. highways.

Clean energy in trucking doesn’t necessarily require EVs, as advances in diesel technology have cut emissions in diesel-powered commercial vehicles, the Forum’s Executive Director Allen Schaeffer told CSP Daily News.

New commercial trucks are equipped with selective catalytic reduction systems (SCR) and particulate filtering system to prevent the release of pollutants as the vehicle consumes diesel fuel, allowing it to  achieve near-zero levels of emissions, Schaeffer says. Near-zero-emission trucks built in model year 2010 or later now represent about 57% of commercial diesel trucks on the road, and their numbers grew 10% in 2022 from 2021, the Diesel Technology Forum said.

While California has pushed for more electric trucks, operating an e-truck over long distances isn’t practical today as the charging infrastructure isn’t in place, Schaeffer said. Besides this, a new heavy-duty truck costs over $100,000. 

Concerns about how the trucking industry would continue to serve California if its ban on internal-combustible-engine trucks goes through have surfaced, Schaeffer said.

Advanced Clean Fleets regulation

In April, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted the Advanced Clean Fleets regulation requiring medium- and heavy-duty vehicles sold or registered in California to be zero-emission by 2036, but California’s Office of Administrative Law hasn’t approved the new regulation, CARB said on its website.

In a June decision, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed for California’s gas-powered truck ban to proceed, but a coalition of 19 states have challenged this decision, asking a federal appeals court to review it because of its potential impact on the broader economy.  The attorneys general for Iowa, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming are petitioners in the case.

“My office isn’t going to stand for it,” said Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey in a statement, noting the regulation could upend Missouri’s economy.

California’s Advanced Clean Fleets regulation is separate from the Advanced Clean Trucks regulation the state adopted in 2020, which requires manufacturers to supply enough electric trucks so companies can add them to their fleets. To rely on electric trucks also requires a charging-station infrastructure that doesn’t yet exist, Schaeffer said.

“Today, you could have a truck run its route and fill up its tank for the next day. Will an electric vehicle be able to do that? It’s not clear. If you can’t supply fuel and vehicles that meet that demand, it’s going to be a challenge,” Schaeffer said.

About 95% of large commercial trucks produced in model year 2010 or later use advanced diesel technology to reduce emissions, the Forum said.

Electric Charging Infrastructure

Switching to electricity would require costly new infrastructure to keep them charged. “There’s the upfront cost of the trucks, but what about the fuel?” said Schaeffer.

“The economy isn’t going to stop and wait for zero emissions to mature, be accepted and be adequately funded,” he said. Electricity might work for light-duty trucks, such as Amazon delivery vans traveling around a city. But for long-haul trucks, the demands of the vehicle are different, he said. The size of the battery they’d need to travel a long distance before stopping to recharge would take away from the amount of haul they could transport, he said.

The Diesel Technology Forum doesn’t expect transportation fuel to remain static. “It’s pretty clear we’re in a time of transition for energy and fuels,” Schaeffer said. The Forum’s members are looking at alternative fuels, including hydrogen.

“The push is on to transition more to a clean energy future or alternative energy,” said Schaeffer. “I don’t think things are going to stop there.”

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