Diesel technology: Myth vs. fact

July 30, 2019
Thanks to advancements in diesel fuel efficiency, state-of-the-art particulate traps and other control systems, the latest generation of diesel trucks are more efficient than ever before.

Diesel technology continues to evolve to meet changing needs, as well as increasingly stringent environmental standards. Today, reliance on diesel fuel in the commercial sector is arguably strongest within the trucking industry but stretches across other industries such as mining, construction and farming. 

Due to heightened environmental concerns, along with the advent of alternative fuels and the potential of all-electric vehicles, some are questioning the future of diesel. There are still many misconceptions about its present state and future. To ensure commercial fleet owners are making diesel decisions best suited for their business, here are the truths to some of the more common myths about the global transport industry’s current fuel-of-choice.

Myth: Diesel is starting to lose its appeal

Fact: Not so fast! Contrary to a flurry of articles proclaiming diesel is “soon on its way out” due to increased global political pressures over environmental concerns, diesel technology is a proven performer with clear benefits that make it a logical choice to meet today’s industry demands. Commercial fleet owners recognize that diesel has a higher energy content than other fuels, offers great driving range, stronger low-end torque for towing and hauling, greater fuel efficiency and better truck engine durability.

Diesel engines also remain one of the most efficient combustion engines available today and, with the latest technology, they have become more environmentally friendly. In fact, newer diesel engines are even more efficient than earlier models as they are required to meet increasingly stringent clean air and fuel economy targets.

Myth: Alternative fuels and engines will replace diesel in the near future

Fact: While off-highway fleet owners have been utilizing biodiesel and natural gas as fuel alternatives, the majority of on-highway fleet owners have spent the past few decades investing in the expansion and maintenance of their diesel trucks. Today, 178 out of 180 billion miles traveled by heavy-duty vehicles still run on diesel fuel.  Many of these commercial fleet operators remain unconvinced about the performance of alternatives compared to diesel, and thus have been reluctant to make a change that is typically an expensive undertaking.

At the same time, other technologies such as electric and hydrogen fuel cells are still very much in the initial development and deployment stage. While some companies have placed orders for these new electric and hydrogen fuel cell semis, there is still a long way to go before universal industry adoption. These technologies will need to make considerable strides in terms of performance and infrastructure before the trucking industry at large will begin to contemplate making a switch from diesel.

Myth:  All diesel fuels are essentially the same

Fact: All diesel fuels are not equal. In addition to differences in their overall cleanliness, diesel fuels have varying levels of detergents (and some have none at all!) that help keep fuel injectors clean and may reduce the need for maintenance. Some diesel fuels are also designed for better lubricity and to handle cold temperatures. And as far as price goes, just because something looks like a good deal doesn’t mean it is a good deal. Given the high cost of longhaul diesel truck engines and the significant investments operators make in their diesel fleets, fleet owners should prioritize quality when choosing a diesel fuel if they want to maximize the longevity of their vehicles.

Myth: Diesel aftermarket fuel additives added to tanks are better for engines

Fact: Although some owners prefer the satisfaction of seeing an aftermarket diesel fuel additive poured into their fleet engines, the truth of the matter is that diesel fuel pre-blended with additives is far superior in terms of its consistency and effectiveness. In addition to the time and productivity lost as a result of having to add additives by hand, ambient temperatures can also pose serious issues. For example, in very cold temperatures, after-market additives become much less soluble and won’t dissolve correctly into the fuel.

Commercial fleet owners should also be wary of the performance claims made by many aftermarket additive producers, particularly those that promise unrealistic fuel efficiency increases. All performance claims are generally proven and approved before the product is sold, including the pre-blended Synergy Diesel Efficient fuel that has cited a 2 percent fuel economy benefit versus diesel without additive.   

Fact: Diesel continues to play a vital commercial role worldwide

According to ExxonMobil’s 2018 Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040 heavy-duty vehicle growth is expected to be the largest sector by volume as global transportation-related energy demand continues to rise, with consumer preferences indicating the addition of nearly 2 million barrels per day of liquids demand in 2040.

Also on the rise is the need for more cost-effective opportunities to meet environmental and fuel economy targets. Thanks to advancements in diesel fuel efficiency, state-of-the-art particulate traps and other control systems, the latest generation of diesel trucks are more efficient than ever before. With continued diesel technology enhancements and the ongoing search for alternative options, the commercial sector will continue to have options best suited for the owners’ fleets and businesses.

About the Author

Mike Hawkins | Global Fuels Marketing Strategy Manager

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