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The Future of Fuels

New briefs outline sustainability impacts of five commercial trucking fuels.

Nathan Springer | BSR

When it comes to commercial trucking, customers, regulators, and other stakeholders all agree that in today’s climate-constrained world, we need more environmentally friendly fuels.

But given the different demands required to solve for myriad sustainability issues—from biofuel mandates to California’s Low-Carbon Fuel Standard—fleet owners and truck operators can feel like they are being pulled in multiple directions by 550-horsepower engines.

To help fleet owners and their value chain partners reduce the social and environmental impacts of commercial transportation, BSR’s Future of Fuels has created a series of fuel sustainability briefs that outline the market outlook, key social and environmental issues, and sustainability potential for five fuel categories: petroleum, natural gas, biofuels, electrification, and hydrogen.

We developed these briefs as part of a collaborative initiative among fleet owners like UPS and Walmart, vehicle OEM’s like Volvo North America, and fuel producers such as Shell and Suncor. For the past three years, Future of Fuels members have been developing research, tools, and opportunities for dialogue to accelerate the adoption of low-carbon, sustainable fuels for commercial trucking fleets.

We are launching the fuel briefs today at the Alternative Clean Transportation Expo (ACTExpo), and will host a side event this Thursday to discuss the challenge of measuring the sustainability impacts of fuel.

Here are some highlights from each fuel brief:

  • Petroleum: Diesel provides more than 90 percent of commercial and freight transport fuel in North America due to its energy density and multiple vehicle applications. It is also a leading source of emissions that cause climate change and the only fuel expected to cede share in the future.
  • Natural Gas: Switching from diesel to natural gas could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to one third from fossil sources, and it uses existing infrastructure and technology for fueling and combustion. But to realize its climate benefits, it will be necessary to cap methane leaks that occur during production and distribution at near 1 percent.
  • Biofuels: In the United States, biodiesel and renewable diesel reduce emissions an average of 80 percent compared with diesel. Cost, availability, and uncertainties surrounding land-use and agricultural commodity impacts must be addressed to ensure their viability and sustainability.
  • Electrification: Electric-vehicle efficiency is up to three times higher than combustion engines, yet, in the United States, emissions from electricity can vary by as much as 60 percent. In the near term, key technological constraints will limit its growth for medium- and heavy-duty trucking.
  • Hydrogen: Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) offer at least a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared with diesel. But in the near term, significant cost and technical hurdles remain to make FCVs a commercially viable option for medium- and heavy-duty trucking.

Our research and conversations with fleet owners have demonstrated that addressing the climate challenge by increasing the availability of low-carbon fuels is a priority. But businesses need help to avoid or reduce the other sustainability impacts of these fuels across the system.

Since experts project a “poly-fuel” future, BSR’s Future of Fuels takes a fuel-neutral approach by assessing impacts across multiple fuel types.

More is needed, and Future of Fuels is working with the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, UPS, and Walmart to further develop this research and build a “fuel tool” that will help fleet owners and others assess fuel impacts and identify low-cost, sustainable, and scalable solutions. goldbrown2

Help shape BSR’s agenda and the fuel tool by joining the ACTExpo side event on Thursday, May 7, or contact BSR at futureoffuels@bsr.org.

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Nathan Springer is Manager of Advisory Services for BSR.

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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Future of Fuels | Longitudes | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

  2. Dennis

    I am excited that the barriers to mass availability of mainstream fuels is inclusive. I want to put forward this thought into this global conversation. If we can rethink fuels it should include the ugly stepsister to alternative energy and refined petroleum. COAL. With nano technology becoming the little engines for adding unique characteristics to the ordinary, can coal endure a radical and simple process and be the clean, powerful energy form that once motivated trains across the continental divide and powered pre-industrial economies. The vision of how to mold coal is to do just that. Fuel cakes compressed beyond it’s limits held molecularly intact by nano glue could burn at an intensity that the only remaining byproduct is vapor. Fuel tubes powering big rigs could fuel a 4 or 5 thousand mile journey between replacements. Larger cakes could power home generators after sundown or make up for spikes when electricity is in demand. I think with chemical manipulation of coal just might be another resource in the future.

  3. Dennis

    I want to put forward this thought into this global conversation. If we can rethink fuels it should include the ugly stepsister to alternative energy and refined petroleum. COAL. With nano technology becoming the little engines for adding unique characteristics to the ordinary, can coal endure a radical and simple process and be the clean, powerful energy form that once motivated trains across the continental divide and powered pre-industrial economies. The vision of how to mold coal is to do just that. Fuel cakes compressed beyond it’s limits held molecularly intact by nano glue could burn at an intensity that the only remaining byproduct is vapor. Fuel tubes powering big rigs could fuel a 4 or 5 thousand mile journey between replacements. Larger cakes could power home generators after sundown or make up for spikes when electricity is in demand. I think with chemical manipulation of coal just might be another resource in the future.

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