Study promotes more use of diesel vehicles to save fuel

"Encouraging" use of more diesel-powered passenger vehicles in the California market could reduce fuel consumption in that state by 141 million gal/year in 2010, according to a new report by M.Cubed.

By OGJ editors

HOUSTON, Aug. 30 -- "Encouraging" use of more diesel-powered passenger vehicles in the California market could reduce fuel consumption in that state by 141 million gal/year in 2010, according to a new report by M.Cubed, an economics and policy research firm in Davis, Calif.

That study—sponsored by the Diesel Technology Forum (DTF) representing manufacturers of diesel engines, fuel, and emissions control systems—found the state could cut consumption of "gasoline-equivalent fuel" by more than 530 million gal/year if diesel-powered vehicles increase to 25% of the California vehicle market by 2030. A more aggressive push to increase diesel to 32% of the California's vehicle market—about the penetration level of diesel in the European market—could save as much as 930 million gal/year by 2030, the study said.

"Clean diesel technology is a proven, efficient, and readily available solution for California's interest in reducing petroleum consumption," said Allen Schaeffer, DTF executive director. "Other petroleum reduction strategies such as fuel cell-powered cars are not commercially available and may take 15, 20, or even 30 years of research and development to reach the market. And even then, these other technologies would not be as cost effective as diesel or even (not) use less net energy to produce."

DTF commissioned the report to provide economic and technical input into California Assembly Bill 2076, which instructed the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and California Energy Commission (CEC) to develop strategies for reducing the state's dependence on petroleum. The joint CARB-CEC report was due in April, but state officials expect the report to be delivered to the legislature early next year, as a result of the complexity of fully evaluating the options.

The M.Cubed study reiterated previous industry claims that diesel-powered passenger vehicles are 35-50% more fuel-efficient than similar-sized gasoline-powered vehicles. It said diesel-powered economy cars, common in Europe, can attain up to 78 mpg.

The study did not say how greater demand for diesel-powered vehicles is to be "encouraged." Less than 2% of all US passenger vehicles currently are powered by diesel engines—the smallest percentage of any industrialized country, it said. Diesel accounts for more than a third of all new vehicle sales in Europe, where it historically has been more popular among the driving public.

A Volkswagen sales executive once explained that diesel-powered cars and light trucks are unpopular with US drivers because "the service stations, which are (designed) for (tractor-trailers), are dirtier. That's not what our customers want."

"Diesels sold in the 1980s were noisy, sluggish, and dirty," said a Detroit-based automotive publication. The technology has since improved, it said, but now "the biggest obstacle to the introduction of powerful, fuel-efficient diesels (into the US market) is new tailpipe emissions rules that take effect in 2004. The US Environmental Protection Agency rules reduce the amount of harmful emissions vehicles can emit while requiring them to burn cleaner fuels with less sulfur."

In July, executives from integrated oil companies, independent refiners, and pipeline firms urged EPA to expand the scope of an independent review of low-sulfur diesel standards or face supply worries later on (OGJ Online, July 29, 2002).

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