For diesel engine, equipment and vehicle makers, the future is hopeful – even as they explore the opportunity of new power and fuel types, they continue to develop, refine, and manufacture in large numbers the most advanced internal combustion diesel engines. As the established power behind the global economy, construction, agricultural, mining, goods movement by marine, locomotive, or highway means, power generation, and producing food to feed the world, each of these activities today all depend largely on diesel power. Solving big challenges of ours and the next generation will take many fuels and technologies contributing, and advanced diesel is one of them.

Anticipation for all that a new year brings is higher for 2021 than any in recent memory, thanks to the ongoing tragedy of the global pandemic, and the new incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden. Big questions loom:  can we shut down the pandemic? Will there be seismic shifts in national climate policy? Will infrastructure and clean energy goals be realized? Will there be moves toward electrification of the transportation system? Will internal combustion engines (gas, diesel) be phased out?

Let’s break it down:

First and foremost, efforts to fight the global pandemic will take center stage in the new administration. All policy activities and opportunities beyond that will hinge on the nation’s success in moving forward from the virus and pandemic. Also, the outcome in the Georgia Senate run-off race will play a key role in determining the outlook for Congressional action on President-elect Biden’s major priorities like climate change.

That said, a national infrastructure initiative looks like an attractive place to start because investments in transportation, communications & other infrastructure yield benefits that extend across the economy & generally enjoy bipartisan support. It is reasonable to expect that based on the candidate platforms that climate change considerations will play a role, such as installation of electric charging infrastructure to support electric vehicles, and potentially other considerations. Makers of diesel engines and equipment produce the tools of infrastructure development that build, repair, and expand the nation’s roads, telecommunications, and climate-resilient infrastructure. A substantially funded infrastructure program will drive investments by contractors in new technology engines and equipment and enable the new infrastructure initiative to be realized with technologies that save fuel and achieve near zero emissions today.

A major push for electrification of the nation’s transportation system is also a likely initiative, targeting personal vehicles as well as commercial trucks. While aspirations to diversify fuels used to power commercial trucks has been increasing with interest in hydrogen, fuel cells and battery-electric trucks, today still more than 90 percent of all heavy-duty commercial trucks are powered by diesel. According to recent data more than 43 percent of those in operation today are near zero emissions. More new technology diesel powered trucks engines and equipment will be entering operation in the coming year which will bring cleaner air to all communities along with fewer greenhouse gas emissions as well. Alternatives to diesel in this segment are still generally in the nascent stages with major hurdles in fueling and charging infrastructure. Diesel is expected to continue to be the dominant technology for the largest trucks for decades to come, so its continuous improvement is just as important as the introduction of non-diesel alternatives .

Calls for rapid transitions to clean energy, an end to internal combustion engines and displacement of fossil fuels will be significant yet these initiatives will face the practical reality that for many applications, alternatives to internal combustion engines and fossil fueled based technology like gasoline and diesel are not fully ready or ready at a commercial scale to drive rapid transitions that some envision. To be truly zero carbon, electrification of the nation’s transportation system requires that electricity be sourced from clean and renewable sources, which today is not the case for the majority of power in the majority of states. Some clean energy ethos even fails to recognize the substantial benefit of using low-carbon renewable biofuels in internal combustion engines which can today reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 80 percent over conventional petroleum-based diesel.

The technical development state of technologies, the right push and pull of government incentives and manufacturer investments all will play a role in how all fuels and technologies compete in 2021. But we must not forget that customers and marketplaces value choices and ultimately are best suited to determine which technologies make the most sense for their operation . Time is of the essence as is often brought up in these discussions, such as to meet the Paris Climate Accord goals of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C. Time means today too, not just years and decades ahead in the future, so technologies and fuels here today delivering the promise of near zero emissions and lower carbon emissions and greater efficiency must still be embraced, and that includes diesel engines, and the use of renewable biofuels. Solving big challenges requires many solutions, and diesel technology is one of them.

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