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Despite net-zero push, trucking industry heavily reliant on diesel

Stay the path toward lower emissions with alternative fuels

In 2021, the Biden administration announced a plan to reduce the use of fossil fuels by switching American drivers to greener technologies like electric vehicles — all part of a much greater plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This includes the push toward a greener transportation industry — the largest source of emissions.

A recent report shows how far the transportation industry remains from the net-zero goal. A Diesel Technology Forum analysis shows that the trucking industry falls short of the original goals, even though there has been an influx of alternative fuel and EV technology.

According to the analysis, 76% of the roughly 15 million commercial trucks that make up U.S. fleets are diesel-powered, and of the largest (Class 8) trucks, 97% are diesel-powered.

“We are seeing more people converting to EVs for personal use; this is easy to see because of the ability to adapt to the range limitations that the batteries and cars have, as well as the current infrastructure,” said Danny Gomez, managing director of financial and emerging markets at FreightWaves. “It doesn’t yet work for long-haul trucking for the same reasons — battery and vehicle range and charging infrastructure. The ability to implement this is costly.”

Because a high percentage of U.S. trucks belong to small owner-operators, the upfront expense can be daunting — keeping the owner from even beginning to consider cleaner technology. 

The end goal for the freight and logistics industry should be net-zero carbon, but lack of information on financing and transition planning as well as overall accessibility have put pressure on owner-operators and other truck drivers in the U.S. when it comes to sustaining profits in a competitive market.

Over the next several years, as technology becomes more cost-effective and widely adopted and as infrastructure grows, it is important that the freight industry stay on the path toward decarbonization — including the exploration of greener technology through alternative fuels.

“Alternative fuels, such as drop-in fuel, require less investment and are what I would consider the low-hanging fruit at the moment,” Gomez said. “I call these transition fuels. They aren’t necessarily net-zero, but they are less emissive and will put us in the right direction because we know it will take some time to make the gains we need to get to fully zero-emission vehicles.”