Despite the current craze for electric vehicles, research indicates biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel are the largest carbon-cutting technologies being used by the California transportation industry. However, the number of vehicles on the road could play a role, according to an electric bus manufacturer.
Data released on April 30 by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) shows that low carbon transportation fuels powering internal combustion engines are delivering the state’s largest reduction in transportation-related sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Meanwhile, the Diesel Technology Forum reported that biodiesel and renewable diesel fuels are the biggest carbon-cutting technologies used by the transportation sector, edging out ethanol and three times more effective than electric vehicles.
“When it comes to tackling the climate challenge, these new findings underscore the large and significant role that low carbon biobased diesel fuels are playing in California today and should also inform current and future climate and transportation policy considerations at the national and regional levels outside of California,” commented Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the nonprofit Diesel Technology Forum, in a May 18 press release.
Schaeffer added that from 2011 to 2020, California’s consumption of biodiesel and renewable diesel accounted for 43 percent of all GHG eliminated from the transportation sector. Electric, on the other hand, accounted for 13 percent.
However, a school bus industry consultant and the Lion Electric Company both separately suggested that the low number of electric vehicles on the road compared to diesel may be influencing the data.
“This is not an apples-to-apples comparison,” Brian Alexander, the director of public relations for Lion Electric, told School Transportation News. “I don’t have an exact figure but electric trucks right now account for a very small percentage of national sales – around 1 percent nationally. Of course, the market is growing.”
According to figures compiled for the 2021 STN Buyer’s Guide, 22,021 diesel school buses were manufactured compared to 396 electric buses last year. But electric grew by almost 62 percent from the year prior.
Alexander added that, because diesel accounts for the vast majority of legacy commercial vehicles on the road, any reduction in emissions generated by bio and renewable diesel or any emissions cleansing systems and after agents is going to create a larger percentage of GHG offset. “Simply because of the proportions involved,” Alexander explained.
He noted that from the day it leaves the factory, “an electric bus or truck emits no greenhouse gases or criteria pollutants. So, for every mile it is driven, the vehicle becomes more carbon neutral. Diesel vehicles are always creating emissions – however increasingly clean those may be with new technologies – for every mile driven.”
Ezra Finkin, the director of policy and outreach for the Diesel Technology Forum addressed DTF’s press release. He explained that California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) generated credits for the supply of low carbon fuels and not the adoption of vehicles.
“Credits are given for gallons of low carbon liquid and gaseous fuels supplied to the California market for transportation purposes,” Finkin said. “For EVs, credits are granted to the installation of EV charging infrastructure and there is a formula that estimates the CO2 reduction for each EV charger installed.”
He noted that since the number of diesel commercial vehicles outweigh the number of EV trucks by a very large percentage, there are more opportunities right now to reduce emissions through low carbon biobased diesel relative to EV opportunities.
“This is what the LCFS data finds,” Finkin said. “Most of the EV LCFS credits are granted to light-duty or passenger cars, where EV adoption is happening much more quickly than with commercial vehicles.”
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Meanwhile, DTF states that internal combustion engines that are using biobased diesel fuels have been delivering significant carbon reductions across various sectors of the economy, including heavy-duty vehicles and Class 8 trucks. In addition, fleets don’t need to invest in new engines, trucks, or equipment – or invest in charging infrastructure.
All diesel engines can operate on blends of biodiesel or 100 percent renewable diesel fuels without voiding factory warranties. Plus, the fuels could reduce greenhouse emissions by at least 50 percent. In terms of renewable diesel specifically, emission reductions may be upwards of 80 percent, the press release stated as according to research commissioned by the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
As previously reported by School Transportation News, most of the renewable diesel is produced and imported from other countries, such as South or Central America, and there is sometimes a delay in shipments. While Neste, one of the world’s largest producers of renewable diesel and renewable jet fuels, has distributors and headquarters in the U.S., it is currently manufacturing the product at factories in Finland, the Netherlands, and Singapore.
Theodore Rolfvondenbaumen, the communications manager for Neste North America, told School Transportation News that while there is no production in the U.S., the company is growing rapidly within the country.
Meanwhile, Renewable Energy Group, a biodiesel production company in Delaware and headquartered in Ames, Iowa, does operate a renewable diesel biorefinery in Geismar, Louisiana, that produces renewable diesel in the U.S.
The availability of low-carbon biobased diesel is expanding. CARB estimates that biodiesel-based fuel has grown from 16 million gallons in 2011 to nearly 1 billion gallons produced in 2020. Reportedly, it’s becoming one of the fastest-growing, low-carbon transportation fuels sold in the state of California.
“Relative to other strategies, today the switch to biobased diesel fuel is a cost-effective solution that allows municipal and private fleets to generate big climate benefits by using existing assets like fueling infrastructure and diesel engines,” DTF’s Schaeffer stated.