Diesel and the path to a carbon neutral future
Diesel engines will continue improving in the coming years, playing an important role in efforts to further reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) and atmospheric pollutants, according to a Cummins leader participating in a recent panel discussion on the technology’s future.
Dr. Wayne Eckerle, Vice President – Research and Technology, told the audience at the virtual event sponsored by the Diesel Technology Forum that initiatives such as SuperTruck II are already underway to explore increasing the efficiency of modern diesel engines and long-haul tractor-trailers.
Potential innovations include advances in waste-heat recovery, engine controls, reducing engine friction, aerodynamic vehicle design and much more.
Over time, Eckerle said there will be a growing connection between the entire vehicle and environmental conditions, including advances in “look ahead” technology that enables in-use adjustments for peak fuel efficiency, which translates into reduced GHGs.
“It’s really our equivalent to the space program,” Eckerle said of the SuperTruck program, a public-private partnership led by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and leading companies in on-highway heavy-duty transportation. “That’s how I look at it.”
SuperTruck I was launched in 2010 with the goal of improving freight hauling efficiency by 50%. It ended up exceeding that goal and many of the initiative’s advances are in mass production today. SuperTruck II aims to increase freight hauling efficiency even more.
Additional improvements in diesel technology will build on significant advances over the past 20 or 30 years in emissions control.
Since around 1990, modern diesel engines have reduced both particulate matter (PM) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx), key contributors to smog, by about 98%, according to the Diesel Technology Forum.
The forum says it would take 60 of today's clean diesel trucks to equal the emissions of one diesel truck sold in 1988.
While diesel could remain the dominant fuel source for on- and off-highway markets for some time, there will be a point when the technology can’t meet the growing demand for zero lifecycle GHGs and zero emissions without some form of electrification, either through battery electric or fuel cell technology or perhaps some new energy source.
Hybrid engines employing those low-carbon technologies and diesel could be critical on the path to carbon neutrality.
Cummins is developing low-carbon technologies in its New Power business segment as part of the company’s overall strategy to offer customers a broad portfolio of power solutions, so they can choose what works best for their unique sustainability goals.
The company will hold its first Hydrogen Day Nov. 16 to discuss its strategy for the promising low-carbon fuel.
Eckerle is optimistic about the future of diesel in part because Cummins has the powerful tools necessary to do great things.
“I must say that the big enabler in this whole process is our analytical capability, our ability to model the combustion process,” Eckerle said. “We can model the fuel going through the injector into the combustion chamber, combusting it and so forth, and the whole air handling process. It’s really a key to us because we have engines in a lot of different applications.”
Eckerle appeared on the panel with Carrie Song, Vice President of Renewable Diesel, Neste; and Michael Lefebvre, Worldwide Manager - Marketing, John Deere Power Systems. The Diesel Technology Forum is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of diesel engines, fuel and technology.