Clean Fuels and Vehicles Project
“Diesel is the invisible force that moves the American economy, but until now it has also been a big polluter,” said Richard Kassel, head of NRDCs Clean Fuels and Vehicles Project. “Combining the new fuel with cleaner and more energy-efficient engines will mean healthier air and help reduce our dependence on oil.”
Diesel is widely used in Europe. Diesel offers more torque and gets at least 25 percent more fuel efficiency than gasoline and about 67 percent better fuel efficiency than (ethanol/gasoline) E85. Nearly 25 percent of all fuel used for transportation of cars in Germany is diesel. 50 percent of all Volkswagen sales in Canada are diesel and 70 percent of all Jetta wagons in the United States are diesel. Diesel is obtained through the partial distillation of crude oil. Diesel fuel often contains higher quantities of mineral compounds, particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur. In most of Europe diesel has on average 15ppm (parts per million) of sulfur, while the United States diesel has 500ppm. Until now.
Starting October 15, 2006, oil companies brought diesel sulfur levels down to 15ppm. It wasn’t easy and it took over five years for the oil companies to agree to clean the diesel. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the oil companies cleaned the diesel fuel “kicking and screaming” about reducing sulfur content in the United States, even though they do it in Europe. EPA held fast to the reduction but had to sweeten the pot by allowing a 45 day transition period through the pipelines to average 15ppm. The EPA agreed to give fuel refiners incentives to increase the production of ultra-low-sulfur diesel ahead of schedule so that pipeline companies and fuel retailers can test their distribution systems.
Alternatives to diesel:
Bio-fuels and synthetic liquids are a part of the strategy to broaden the energy sources for vehicles. Bio-diesel is already popular in Europe, and Volkswagen is working with Archer Daniels Midland to introduce Soya Methyl Ester (SME), or soybean oil. RME or rapeseed methyl ester is the technical name for biodiesel made from rapeseed, or canola, oil, which is used in Europe. Through the process of transesterification, the large, branched triacylglycerol molecules of the oil feedstock are altered to become smaller, unbranched methyl ester molecules, which are comparable in size to the components of classic diesel fuel. Chrysler has been working on SunDiesel, a Biomass to Liquid (BTL) using the Fischer-Tropsch synthesis process. This process allows even residual materials like woodcutting and straw to be converted to diesel. Biodiesel (also known as plant methyl ester -pme) uses only plant fruit that contain oil. EU subsidies are making this diesel competitive with diesel fuel from petroleum. According to Mercedes, SunDiesel would reduce CO2 in BTL by 90 percent. Biomass to liquid (BTL) is processed into a liquid synthetic fuel that can be blended with diesel fuel. Known as sun fuels, BTLs are CO2 neutral.
Another process is Gas-to-Liquids (GTL). GTL is a natural gas synthesized to form high-quality environmentally friendly diesel fuel. Volkswagen and Shell tested GTL on a fleet of their Volkswagen Bora TDI engine cars and it produced 50 percent fewer particle emissions and 20 percent Nitrox Oxide (NOX) emissions than conventional diesel -with the same engine. The method known as “Shell Middle Distillates Synthesis” (SMDS), is a modern form of Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. This process is used to make high-quality ecologically acceptable diesel fuel (“SynFuel”).
What diesel vehicles can you buy now?
Because of the clean fuel, we will have cleaner air, but where have all the diesel vehicles gone? According to the diesel technology forum, beginning on January 1st, 2007, new trucks engines will have state-of-the-art emissions filters in place so technologically advanced that they will only be able to run on the new clean fuel. The new filters, which act as self-cleaning ovens, will capture and eliminate harmful emissions. The clean fuel, coupled with the new filters on every new truck, will work in concert to ensure that all new diesel rigs pass the “white handkerchief test,” eliminating 98 percent of emissions and any hint of the smoke associated with diesel of the past.
There is not a single diesel car that has been certified by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to operate in 2008, which would mean it could be sold in all 50 states. The availability of diesel vehicles has been stymied by the regulations set up by the Federal EPA and by CARB, but all the manufacturers are working on the technology. The German companies, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen have said they will have a working relationship.
It is still not clear what the scope of the partnership entails. It could be the use of Mercedes Blutec and the manufacturers can position their products according to their own marketing needs, i.e., VW and Audi would still market their diesel under the TDI “brand”. The particulars are still being worked out, but the common goal is to make diesel reputation clean again. But what can you buy now? If you can find a 2006 Volkswagen Jetta or Beetle diesel, buy it, there won’t be any 2007 diesel cars made for the US market. The Volkswagen Touareg is the only Volkswagen available in 2006 in all 50 states. Because it weighs over 5,800 pounds, the Touareg meets the exclusion rule, so you can buy the Touareg in 2006. That rule is not valid after 2007, so the Touareg will only be available in 45 states. VW plans to have a 2008 Touareg and plan to introduce the new 50 state Jetta in 2008.
Mercedes-Benz has three diesel vehicles available: the ML320 CDI, a mid-size sport utility with a suggested retail price of $ 44,455; the R320 CDI, a six-passenger luxury vehicle priced at $ 44,775; and the E320 Bluetec, a full-size luxury sedan that begins at $ 52,325 (all three prices include a destination charge of $775).
The Dodge Sprinter diesel and the Dodge Ram 2500/3500 diesel is available in 50 states because of its weight. The Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel will be available in 45 states in early 2007.
Mercedes says they intend to have the R, M, & GL diesel in 50 states by 2008. According to CARB, they have not applied for certification.
Honda says the diesel engine they just introduced should be out in 2008. Hondas diesel engine uses advanced engine controls and a new type of catalytic converter that, according to Honda, will burn as clean as a gasoline engine.
Gone are the days of plumes of diesel coming out of your diesel engine. By 2008 there should be some great cars and SUVs out on the road, getting better mileage than most gasoline vehicles, and cleaner air than ever before. There is already an infrastructure for diesel, according to the DOE. Around 40 percent of gas stations have diesel pumps at them. There are less than 2 percent E85 pumps and less than 1 percent of hydrogen pumps in the nation. In order to diversify our vehicles, we need to diversify our energies. Everyone hopes for hydrogen and ethanol to take off, but diesel will be the quickest way to start.