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Clean Diesel: Fueling a Decade of Change

The Shift To Cleaner Diesel Fuel Has Led To Major Environmental Accomplishments.

Ten years after the introduction of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel in 2006, the Diesel Technology Forum recognizes the role of the shift to cleaner diesel fuel and its importance in the major environmental accomplishments that were celebrated during National Clean Air Month last month.

“Clean Air Month is a time to reflect on fulfilling the vision established by the Clean Air Act of 1970. It’s also an important time to take stock of the technologies that have enabled past progress and ones that will take us even closer to that vision in the future,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum.

“Along with taking lead out of gasoline, a lesser known but equally important success story of the Clean Air Act was the introduction of new ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel in 2006,” Schaeffer said. “This cleaner diesel fuel enabled the development of more efficient engines and emissions control technologies on the road today. Taken together, clean diesel fuel, emissions controls and advanced engine technologies have allowed new diesel engines to achieve near-zero emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter – levels 95 percent lower than in 2000.

“As the prime mover in 15 sectors of the global economy, diesel engines have been driving economic growth and undergone continuous clean air improvements, with cleaner fuel being the foundation of the tremendous progress we have made,” Schaeffer said.

To put this progress from diesel engines in perspective, consider that:

  • More fine particle emissions come from grilling a 1/3-lb. hamburger than from driving a new clean diesel tractor trailer 140 miles.
  • To generate a penny’s weight in nitrogen oxides a 1988 model year truck would have to drive 0.25 miles while a 2016 model clean diesel truck would have to drive five miles.
  • It would take 60 of today’s model heavy-duty trucks to equal the particulate emissions of a single truck made in 1988.
  • Today in Southern California, brake dust and tire wear contribute more to fine particle emissions than do heavy-duty diesel truck engines.
  • Since 2005, the number of light-duty diesel vehicles on the road has amounted to just around 3 percent of the entire light-duty fleet, but by choosing diesel over gasoline, consumers have eliminated 70 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
  • New diesel engines used in construction machines, farm tractors, marine vessels and railroad locomotives have cut emissions by over 95 percent compared to pre-2000 models.

“In its recent State of the Air Report, the American Lung Association noted that the removal of older diesel engines had reduced emissions nationwide and noted that diesel technology exists that can reduce emissions by 90 percent,” Schaeffer said. “The Clean Air Act established important guideposts and a framework that are still as vital today as they were upon enactment. Flexibility and certainty in establishment and pursuit of new lower engine emissions levels, along with appropriate phase-in and timeframes for introducing new fuels and technologies have played a key role in achieving these dramatic emissions reductions.

“While new technology accomplishments are impressive, at the same time, innovative programs to modernize and upgrade emissions from existing engines and equipment have allowed us to attack the emissions challenge for older engines as well,” Schaefer continued. “The voluntary incentive-based Diesel Emissions Reduction Program has been successful in delivering more than $13 in health and environmental benefits for every $1 of investment. And these accomplishments were possible thanks to a cooperative working relationship between EPA, environmental and health organizations, the diesel industry and local government agencies.

“While these are significant accomplishments, the challenges of the future expand well beyond achieving near zero emissions,” Schaefer said. “Looking to the future we see diesel engines that have even further improved efficiency and lowered greenhouse gas emissions, while still meeting the needs of the economy and the many different kinds of customers that rely on clean diesel power.

“We envision further progress on both efficiency and emissions from new technology engines, and find the possibilities enhanced with expanded use of renewable biofuels. New technology clean diesel engines are expected to play an even greater role in out transportation choices going forward,” Schaeffer concluded.