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How Cleaner Diesel Trucks Matter in Zero Emission Vehicle World

07/20/2023 21:02

The Diesel Technology Forum's reported advancements do not appear to sway the state of California and its supporters who strive for a complete elimination of emissions (Greenhouse gas emissions/Greenhouse gases) by heavy-duty vehicles and diesel vehicles, rather than solely a substantial decrease.

Amidst the dynamic and diverse discourse surrounding the future of truck powertrains in a particulate matter, Allen Schaeffer occupies a central position.

He serves as the esteemed Executive Director of the Diesel Technology Forum (DTF), a prominent trade organization representing a range of suppliers involved in the diesel engine supply chain.

The Pioneer of CARB

In recent times, Schaeffer has been deeply engrossed in his work, as several members of the DTF were instrumental in the pioneering agreement signed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) earlier this month.

This landmark accord crucially harmonizes CARB regulations regarding nitrous oxide with existing federal alterations and is widely regarded as a triumph for the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) who are responsible for manufacturing diesel engines.

Furthermore, in recent months, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has officially endorsed the California Clean Fleet regulation. This regulation, in conjunction with the California Clean Trucks Rule, propels the state, ranked fifth or sixth in the world's largest economies, towards a future where the passenger and trucking industries solely utilize zero-emission vehicles.

Despite the aforementioned scenario, it would be premature to classify the DTF as a defender of the status quo. In fact, the organization seems to be taking proactive measures to address the issue at hand. It recognizes the diesel sector as a key player in promoting a cleaner future, albeit one that may not meet the stringent standards of California and the states that have pledged to adopt the Clean Trucks and Clean Fleet regulations in full or in part. CARB has identified these states as Connecticut, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Studies Conducted Related to Emissions From Diesel Engines and Trucks

A recent study conducted by the DTF has highlighted a notable increase in the proportion of trucks, ranging from Class 3 to Class 8, that are regarded as near-zero-emission vehicles (NZEVs), a term commonly used by the DTF, although it may not be viewed as credible in California.

In California, the sole objective is to achieve zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), which will be the exclusive mode of transport permitted in the state in approximately two decades, regardless of whether it is fueled by hydrogen, batteries, or any comparable technology. From next year onwards, solely ZEVs will be granted admission to the state's drayage registry, which serves trucks operating within California's ports.

According to the report released by the Department of Transport and Finance, the New Zero Emission Vehicles (NZEVs) sector witnessed an increase of 10% in the number of trucks that meet the outlined criteria between the years 2021 and 2022. These trucks are defined as those manufactured after 2010 when advanced clean engine technologies such as diesel exhaust fluid were introduced.

The broad figure in question pertains to all vehicles from Class 3 onwards. However, in the case of Class 8 trucks, it has been reported by the DTF that a staggering 96.8% of them operate as Non-Zero Emission Vehicles (NZEVs), with a mere 1.3% running on compressed natural gas and 0.2% being electric. The remaining trucks use gasoline or other fuel sources.

The Truck Ecosystem and Long-Term Exposure

The truck ecosystem outlined by the dual California regulations does not account for the presence of NZEVs within the state.

Instead, a comprehensive, multiphase approach to achieving full ZEV compliance has been established, with the timeline for implementation ranging from 2036 onward through the 2040s, contingent upon the specific regulations put in place. However, the emission standards set forth in the plan do not encompass the level of cleanliness achievable through a NZEV diesel engine.

Schaeffer, during his appearance on the FreightWaves podcast Drilling Deep, conveyed a nuanced perspective on the California regulations without outright dismissing them. He acknowledged the state's tendency to assert itself as a pioneering force in problem-solving and championing industry-wide progress, while also highlighting its current efforts to push and incentivize the transportation industry towards certain objectives.

According to Schaeffer, the state of California has made a substantial financial commitment to initiate this endeavor, and its efficacy remains to be seen. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that substantial investment may yield positive outcomes in certain regions of the state.

Widespread Adoption of Clean Trucks to Manage Carbon Dioxide Emissions

As observed by various individuals, the primary impediment to the widespread adoption of clean trucks does not stem from mechanical limitations.

Rather, it lies in the imperative need to establish a robust distribution network for the dominant fuel source that will drive the engines of the future, be it electric batteries or hydrogen in a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) paradigm. In areas where ZEVs are not mandatory, alternatives such as clean diesel fumes, renewable diesel, or natural gas may also be viable options.

Alternative fuel options for vehicles continue to be explored, and hydrogen is one such possibility. However, the definitive uptake of this fuel source remains uncertain. Hydrogen can be utilized via combustion within ammonia, resulting in nitrous oxide emissions, or alternatively, it can be injected into a fuel cell to generate electricity that powers the engine, which is equivalent to battery-driven usage. The latter application would classify as a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV).

During a recent appearance on Drilling Deep, Schaeffer raised concerns regarding the adoption of advanced diesel trucks in certain states within America's heartland. As per our analysis, some of these states are already ranking high in their adoption rates. However, the question arises as to whether they possess a supportive ecosystem and infrastructure to sustain this trend. Schaeffer's observations bring to light the importance of developing a comprehensive framework that fosters the growth and adoption of advanced diesel trucks in these areas.

The recent accord inked by the OEMs and CARB has been a subject of inquiry, as indicated by Schaeffer.

Although the agreement does not impede the timetable for complete ZEV implementation in California, it does entail CARB's revocation of their NOx emission regulations, which demanded more stringent benchmarks commencing next year. Instead, the regulatory body has opted to embrace the more rigorous federal standards that will take effect in 2027.

According to Schaeffer, there seems to have been a disconnect in California's decision to implement NOx standards and certain provisions that did not align with the Clean Air Act. However, states that have committed to following California's Clean Truck and Clean Fleets regulations will now have to adhere to California's NOx regulations, as they will not differ from the federal standard.

As per the Schaeffer forecast, certain sectors and regions are expected to experience accelerated growth while others will continue to rely on diesel for a prolonged duration. This is due to the fact that the projected progress may not be as swift as initially anticipated, resulting in higher costs than originally estimated.

The year 2024 will witness a momentous milestone in California's journey towards a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) trucking sector, with the prohibition of new internal combustion engines being registered in the drayage registry. Additionally, with a percentage of current vehicles nearing the end of their lifespan, the pertinent question is the extent to which ZEVs will be incorporated into the drayage registry to replace the aging vehicles.

The transition toward green hydrogen production

The transition towards green hydrogen production is being driven by a host of incentives beyond California's borders. The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act has been received with great enthusiasm by the hydrogen community, as it offers tax incentives for the production of this eco-friendly fuel. While these incentives will undoubtedly provide a boost to the industry, the question remains whether they will be sufficient to catalyze the necessary investment and decision-making outside California to achieve zero emissions. The verdict on this matter is still out, but it is clear that some cities and states are making significant strides in this direction.

Schaeffer brought attention to the issue of size not only within the realm of geography, but also in regards to the expansive trucking industry. Megacarriers and smaller companies alike vie for the same business, with the latter often operating within a handful of states and maintaining a fraction of the size of their larger counterparts. It is worth noting that while larger public companies may have the resources to experiment and learn from these challenges, the majority of the trucking industry comprises fleets with 20 or fewer trucks.

It may prove advantageous to consider implementing changes in regions along the West Coast, where significant investment is being made in infrastructure. The debate surrounding NOx emissions between California and other parts of the nation has been resolved, Schaeffer predicts that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will introduce novel technologies addressing NOx emissions as the 2027 deadline approaches.

The primary focus areas entail commencing the truck's engine in cold conditions and operating it under low loads. The regulations established in 2010 lack directives on the permissible levels of NOx emissions during these scenarios. However, it is imperative for the entire operating duration of the truck to have minimal NOx emissions.

According to Schaeffer, having systems that operate at maximum capacity from the onset is crucial as the engine's cold start duration significantly affects the operational time in some urban settings. Despite the challenges, Schaeffer remains positive that manufacturers have a comprehensive understanding of the required measures to attain the set goal.

California's stringent regulations

California's stringent regulations dictate the maximum lifespan of vehicles on the road, with pre-2009 models already prohibited. Trucks must be decommissioned after 18 years or once they have accumulated 800,000 miles, or a minimum of 13 years for those exceeding the mileage threshold. While other regions lack similar edicts, the replacement of older, more polluting vehicles with zero-emission alternatives is not obligatory. Nevertheless, industry expert Schaeffer has noted that the typical lifespan of a truck is 12 to 15 years, implying that the natural turnover of vehicles in fleets promotes environmental improvement, even in the absence of California-style mandates.

Schaeffer noted that although the national percentage of NZEVs has risen by 10% this year, it remains to be seen what the future holds.

However, it is important to note that the NZEV data does not account for the use of renewable diesel, which has a limited impact on NOx emissions for such vehicles.

Schaeffer emphasized that using renewable diesel or biodiesel fuels in trucks built before 2010 would offer greater benefits in mitigating NOx particulate emissions than the newest generation of trucks. Furthermore, the use of renewable diesel is advantageous in reducing carbon emissions, as it can be easily substituted for petroleum diesel on a 1:1 basis.

Conclusion: Cleaner Diesel Trucks are Crucial for Transitioning to ZEVs

In the transition towards a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) or Zero Emission Trucks world, cleaner diesel trucks play a crucial role. While ZEVs like electric vehicles and hydrogen-powered vehicles are gaining momentum, they still face limitations in terms of range, charging infrastructure, and cost. This is where cleaner diesel trucks come into the picture as an important bridge technology.

Cleaner diesel trucks offer several advantages that make them essential during the transition period.

Firstly, they have a longer range compared to most ZEVs, making them more suitable for long-haul transportation needs. Additionally, their existing infrastructure for fueling and maintenance is already well-established, reducing the need for extensive investments in charging stations or hydrogen refueling stations.

Moreover, cleaner diesel fuel trucks can also contribute to reducing emissions and improving air quality while efforts are made to increase the adoption of ZEVs.

Advanced technologies such as particulate filters and selective catalytic reduction systems significantly reduce harmful exhaust emissions from these vehicles. By implementing stricter emission standards and incentivizing the use of cleaner diesel technology, we can minimize environmental impact while working towards achieving a fully sustainable ZEV future.

Lastly, we who are in the trucking and transportation industry with several trucking fleets and commercial fleets should think of public health, health benefits, and the total health impact of our operations.

This is beyond just achieving energy efficiency but more on how the previous generations (US) could impart a rule of thumb and strict rules to the next generation so that clean truck adoption and precise adoption will happen and be sustained.

ATTENTION: We are launching soon our Labworks USA Network where we will be listing different trucking companies and offering a resellers program.

On this network, you can connect with fellow trucking companies who are already successfully transitioning their fleet to ZEVs. 

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