Replacing Diesel-Powered Trucks With Natural Gas, Hybrid, and Battery Power

The U.S. Department of Energy, in partnership with the California Energy Commission and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, awarded $18 million to nine companies and universities to advance natural gas technology for trucks.

2 minute read

March 26, 2019, 1:00 PM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Rural Traffic

carlos castilla / Shutterstock

The goal is to sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions from diesel-powered medium- and heavy-duty trucksreports John Fialka for Climatewire. "The challenge is that diesel fuel, while dirtier than natural gas, contains more energy than natural gas or electric power from batteries."

According to the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), CO2 from these trucks contributes 35 percent of emissions from the worldwide transportation sector. The number of trucks on the road is growing faster than passenger cars. 

In a report called "The Future of Trucks [pdf]," IEA predicts that the use of alternative fuels and greater energy efficiency of trucks could reduce CO2 emissions in trucks by as much as 75 percent by 2050.

In addition, the report, released in July 2017, notes that "oil demand from road freight vehicles accounts for around one-fifth of global oil demand, around 17 million barrels per day. While oil use of passenger cars has begun to plateau and decline in many industrialised countries, oil use from road freight vehicles continues to rise."

The March 6 announcement by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), part of the U.S. Department of Energy, is timely as the next day, California state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, introduced Senate Bill 44, dubbed “Ditching Dirty Diesel,” designed to phase out, over time, the use of polluting, diesel-fueled medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses in California.

One of the more interesting projects comes from US Hybrid Corp. of Torrance, Calif., which "will explore the development of a natural gas-electric plug-in hybrid, using a Cummins natural gas-powered engine and a lithium-ion battery pack to see whether a hybrid truck can operate over 24 months with close to zero emissions," adds Fialka.

The three universities that will submit projects are Michigan Technological UniversityUniversity of Alabama and University at Buffalo. All nine projects and their sponsors are listed here.

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