Heavy-duty trucks, semi-trailers, and large transportation vehicles are a big part of our life. Think about the last time you drove on the highway. How many semi-trucks did you pass? Probably more than you can count! We rely on the transportation industry to transport goods, equipment, food, and more across our country. Truckers transporting goods and services across the country are a vital clog in our economy that keeps everything running.

In recent years, a transition has started taking place in the trucking industry as the world begins to transition away from fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The transportation and trucking industry is a big part of this debate as their services account for a significant portion of GHG emissions. For example, in 2020, the transportation industry accounted for 27% of all GHG emissions, the economy’s highest sector. Of the 27% of GHG emissions created by the transportation industry, a significant portion is formed by medium and heavy-duty trucks at 26%. These vehicles we rely on most for transporting goods and services across the country.

This past December, the White House announced stricter standards on emissions from medium and heavy-duty trucks, vans, and buses starting in 2027. These new standards are the first significant update to clean air standards for heavy-duty vehicles in 20 years. The hope is that by 2045 these standards will result in significant emission reductions, including:

  • 48% reduction in nitrogen oxide
  • 28% reduction in benzene
  • 23% reduction in volatile organic compounds
  • 18% reduction in carbon monoxide

These new standards are intended to help guide the trucking industry towards greener alternatives and to embrace new technologies and fuels that reduce emissions. Many manufacturers, fleet managers, and businesses are actively seeking ways to adopt these new rules and reduce their emissions. Sean Waters, VP of product compliance and regulatory affairs at Daimler Truck North America, a major manufacturer of heavy-duty trucks, said of the new standards, “[the] EPA’s Clean Trucks Plan sets challenging targets for our medium- and heavy-duty engines and vehicles. We’re ready to rise to meet the technological hurdles of the plan and help reduce emissions from conventionally powered vehicles even further. This is an important and intermediary step on our pathway to the goal of offering exclusively CO2-neutral (in driving operation) medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles by 2039.”

What cleaner fuel options are available for the trucking industry?
The trucking industry can adapt to these new standards and the overall push for reduced GHG emissions in several different ways. Let’s explore a few of the most popular options.

Natural Gas Vehicles
In a recent blog, we discussed adopting Natural Gas or NGV vehicles in the heavy-duty trucking industry. NGV engines are becoming increasingly popular, and manufacturers are creating more engines and trucks that are NGV-compatible. If you want to learn more about NGV engines and how they shape the trucking industry, please read our blog.

Biodiesel is a potential game changer, created from renewable, biodegradable sources like vegetable oil, animal fats, recycled restaurant grease, and other biomass materials. Biodiesel or B100 can be used with adjustments in standard fuel compression ignition engines. For example, 100% biodiesel reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 75%, while blended biodiesel reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 20%. Biodiesel has a higher flashpoint than gasoline, so it burns hotter and faster but is less volatile for transportation.

Despite the many advantages of using biodiesel, there are some drawbacks. For one, it’s still not a readily available option for fueling across the country. It also tends to solidify when temperatures dip, which makes it unusable in colder weather months without adding extra additives to counteract this issue. Biodiesel also interacts with other engine components like copper alloy, plastics, and sometimes rubber, which can lead to engine damage after prolonged use. But the biggest issue with biodiesel is that you must grow plants and raw materials to create the fuel, increasing emissions over time. Currently, soybean oil is a plant widely used for producing biodiesel, but manufacturers are also experimenting with other types of plants.

Renewable diesel might be the answer, for now
The short-term answer to reducing GHG emissions might be renewable diesel for the transportation industry. Like biodiesel, renewable diesel is produced from the same feedstocks, like soybean oil, restaurant grease, and more. But it’s processed differently compared to biodiesel. The biomass used to make renewable diesel goes through transesterification in a refinery. This process turns renewable diesel into a ‘drop-in’ fuel so it can be used in any diesel engine without modification. Some traditional diesel is often still mixed in, but it can be significantly lower than even biodiesel blends!

How does renewable diesel work?
The biggest advantage of renewable diesel is that fleets can switch without engine modifications or increased engine maintenance. It’s a low-cost option allowing trucking companies and fleet managers to immediately reduce their GHG emissions without significant investments in new trucks, technology, or tools.

The city of Oakland, CA, switched to renewable diesel in 2015 for all its diesel-powered equipment, including its fire department equipment. They found no significant drawback or difference from traditional diesel products. Richard Battersby, CAFM, CPFP, manager of equipment services for the city, said, “At first, renewable diesel seemed like a ‘too good to be true’ cost-neutral way to achieve our goals. But renewable diesel gives you the ability to convert your entire diesel-­powered fleet to alternative fuel overnight… We expect to displace the consumption of about 250,000 gallons of petroleum diesel and eliminate more than 1,500 tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year, and we have yet to encounter any drawbacks,” Battersby said. “The most common reaction I’ve experienced is disbelief that there is a cleaner burning direct diesel fuel substitute that is made from renewable sources, doesn’t require any additional expense for the fuel itself, and does not require equipment and infrastructure modifications.”

It’s time to make a change!
These are just a few tools available now to help the trucking industry reduce GHG emissions. Other options like solar power, hydrogen, electric vehicles, and more are also in development. More may be coming in recent years as scientists, manufacturers, and more explore ways to reduce emissions across the industry. But if you’re looking for options to help you make a change now, these fuel options may be your best bet. If you have questions about switching to renewable fuels, contact your Greg’s Petroleum Service representative today!