Allen Schaeffer: Diesel Will Survive & Thrive

10.11.16 | Podcast | By:

Recently I talked to Allen Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Diesel Technology Forum about the future of diesel post Dieselgate, not only in Europe, but globally. What follows are a few highlights from the discussion.

On Whether Diesel Is “Dead” in Europe

I think it is pretty clear that Europe has had a market share of diesel on average about 50% for the last 12-13 years or so in average in some countries even as high as 70%. And those percentages will be declining somewhat and I think there is really two things behind that. First of all, as you alluded to in that story there are going to be an elimination of some of the tax advantages on fuel that enabled diesel to gain such market share and I think that is being expedited as result of the situation here…The other thing that is really coming into play here of course is that we had some major movement on a global climate agreement in Paris last year and that has motivated a number of European countries to move to reduce future emissions of CO2 and some of that involves providing a lot of incentives for electric vehicles.

 

I think this is going to play out over a longer term and we all have to see really where this is at a one year, three year and five year period to really understand what the impacts have been. If you look at the Europeans in terms of CO2 those vehicles are actually achieving their standards quite well and these are ones that are critical in terms of being part of achieving global climate goals and other things. I think Matthias from the German Automakers has said that if you believe in addressing climate change then you must believe in the diesel and the ability there to reduce CO2 emissions and boost efficiency so you really can’t get there from a place without having diesel as one of your tools.

On the Reversal of the Dieselization Trend in Europe

I think there’s no question there will be some loss of diesel market share there. It hasn’t necessarily played out that way in what I would say is early period since the situation broke about a year ago, but we all see competitive issues with other technologies and some of these research engines and cities in local areas on the operation of some older diesels. Those are things that will pull down the diesel market share. Keep in mind 50% is huge and for folks in the US here just by comparison we are about 1% in the passenger car space for diesel as a percentage of new technology. If you count the heavy duty pick-up trucks, we make it to 3% and it is kind of been there for a long time. So keep things in perspective.

On What We Should Know about Dieselgate

This is really not an issue about diesel so much. It is really about an issue of emissions compliance and in this case the choice is that one company made or shouldn’t have made and in the course of getting to that point I think what has come out that has and will impact everybody going forward no matter which vehicle that you are manufacturing certifying to sell whatever and this is all manufacturers across any kind of fuel or technology. The situation I think exposed the things that we, and the industry, long knew about which is that you test and certify these vehicles in the lab in one way and then they go out and get into the hand of customers who use them in many different other ways.

 

And we might expect that the emissions that we calculated so carefully and estimated so well and did on the laboratory bench controlled setting would be representative of what happens in the real world but surprise, surprise it is not always representative of what happens in the real world. So whether you are talking about gasoline, diesel, whatever, I think there is a real feeling that where we are in this process of understanding emissions and how we test for them and how we control for them, and we sort of cracked open a new chapter of that as a result of the situation here with Volkswagen. And that is a whole lot more emphasis on real world emissions.

 

This has been brewing in Europe for over 8 years. They were working to try and resolve these kinds of testing procedures, make the procedures more robust, more representative in ways that worked for both manufacturers and for the government and for the EU and then the situation with Volkswagen came along and just sort of threw gasoline into that already smouldering fire, so at the end of the day where we come out at on all this is every manufacturer has been held a high level of scrutiny in terms of their emission certification  for their new vehicles both in the lab.

 

You are going to see a major move forward on some mobile testing and what happens in the real world. And I think that is going to be the lasting legacy of all this. It is not going to be so much about what happened with this one manufacturer or what this did to diesel so much but it is going to fundamentally redirect people’s work and emission compliance in the future and that has implications for everybody. You’ve seen a few of these reports already that some manufacturers product announcements have been delayed because they had to go through additional test procedures and requirements and all that adds additional time and cost and complexity to manufacturing and producing these vehicles. So I think that is 3, 4, 5 years from now there is going to be a lot of better understanding about that than we have ever had before.

On the Future of Diesel

In California today and I’ll just throw this nugget there, this is kind of an interesting thing as we watch the summer fade away, that you are getting more particulate emissions from grilling a one-third pound hamburger than you are from driving a heavy duty diesel truck a 141 miles. So the progress we have made has been pretty amazing and so we have now set the stage for the future and what does the future look like with diesel still the prime mover of the global economy?

 

That is over 90% of all trucks, over 90% of all off road machines and equipment whether it is on the water, moving by train what have you, diesel is really the power of work and it had to transform to be around in the future and it has here in the U.S. I think from a global point of view the situation has to be taken on a country-by-country basis and what we need to have in other places is a move towards cleaner fuels, which get you more advantages right away. Ultra-low sulfur for diesel is the perfect example of that and we can achieve these near 0 levels in other parts of the world if there is a broad penetration of the cleaner fuel.

 

Absent abroad penetration of ultra-low sulfur diesel the industry has now understood and had a good amount of experience with biofuels. So we start to see that not only can diesel engines use 5% or some up to 20%. Now we are seeing a whole discussion about a second generation biofuels such as 100% renewable diesel fuel that is made from waste animal fats and waste food processing that is a drop in hydrocarbon replacement basically. And has about 90% better greenhouse gas emission than petroleum diesel and none of the emissions concerns at all, these and all the newer generations the cleanest diesels around with advanced emission controls. So what we see is a technology that has transformed with its efficiency still inherent in it with the ability now to minimize emissions reduction and the ability to use these renewable fuels that I think are going to be increasingly part of the conversation.

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