Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Diesel automobiles for US could help to reduce oil consumption

"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 the NRDC's clean fuels and vehicles project. "Combining the new fuel with cleaner and more energy-efficient engines will mean healthier air and reduce our dependence on oil."

Environmental Protection Agency officials also predicted significant long-term health benefits, including $150 billion in annual health-care and welfare-related savings and 20,000 fewer premature deaths each year.

Until now, diesel has primarily powered trucks and buses in the U.S. Diesel trucks move more than 18 million tons of the nation's freight a day, according to the NRDC. About 14 million Americans ride half a million diesel buses to work and school, the group says.Diesel has historically been viewed as an environmental problem because burning it produces more pollutants than gasoline. But diesel engines get better mileage than gasoline engines.

Distillate fuel oil use ranks second behind gasoline. Unlike gasoline, which is used almost exclusively in the transportation sector, distillate fuel oil is used in every sector: for home heating fuel, for industrial power, for electric generation, as well as for diesel-fueled vehicles. The largest use of distillate is in the transportation sector. Diesel fuel used in vehicles on the highway -- trucks, buses, passenger cars -- must be low sulfur (no more than 0.05 percent sulfur by weight), an Environmental Protection Agency regulation implemented in late 1993. Distillate fuel oil used off the highway -- for vessels, railroads, farm equipment, industrial machinery, electric generation, or space heating -- is not subject to the low on-highway standard, but as a matter of course contains only a small amount of sulfur, commonly 0.2 percent sulfur by weight. (California has a more stringent standard, requiring that all distillate meet the current low highway specification.) The U.S. Department of the Treasury also requires that the non-highway product be dyed to distinguish it from the taxable on-highway diesel. These requirements also limit distribution flexibility for distillate fuels, requiring segregated storage and transportation, and preventing one product from easing shortages of the other.

Now, Americans could see more diesel engines in passenger cars. Researchers at J.D. Power & Associates predict diesel sales will nearly triple in the next 10 years because of the engine's fuel efficiency -- typically 20% to 40% more miles per gallon than gasoline engines.

The Extended Policies case modifies the Reference case by assuming a 3-percent annual increase in the stringency of CAFE standards for MY 2017 to MY 2025, with subsequent standards held constant. The LDV CAFE standards in the Extended Policies case increase from 34.1 mpg in 2016 to 46.0 mpg in 2025, as compared with 35.6 mpg in the Reference case. Sales of unconventional vehicles (including those that use diesel, alternative fuels, and/or hybrid electric systems) play a substantial role in meeting the higher fuel economy standards, growing to around 70 percent of new LDV sales in 2035, compared with about 40 percent in the Reference case.

Volkswagen of America, Inc. reported 27,176 units sold in March 2011, a 22.7 percent increase over prior year sales. The company also announced 16,969 Jetta models sold – more than any other month in company history.

More Americans are discovering diesel as an alternative fuel option. Annual registration of diesel passenger vehicles has grown by 80%, from just over 300,000 in 2000 to nearly 550,000 in 2005. And most analysts expect this trend to continue.

Researchers at J.D. Power and Associates predict that diesel sales will triple in the next 10 years, growing to more than 10% of U.S. vehicle sales by 2015 - up from 3.6% in 2005.

Greater use of diesel technology would help the U.S. reduce petroleum consumption and improve energy security. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that America could save up to 1.4 million barrels of oil per day – an amount equivalent to the oil we currently import from Saudi Arabia – if one-third of U.S. cars, pickup trucks and SUVs were diesel-powered.

In Europe, diesel cars account for nearly half of the car market. In the U.S., diesel-powered passenger cars and light trucks are a niche market, despite recent efforts by VW and DaimlerChrysler to reignite interest in their European diesel engines.

A new generation of clean diesel is fueling even greater environmental progress. As of 2007, exhaust
from a clean diesel truck or bus is so clean that it would take 60 new trucks to equal the soot emissions
of one truck sold in 1988. By 2010, truck and bus emissions levels will be near zero – a total reduction
of 98% from 1988. The EPA predicts that these new trucks, once they fully replace the existing fleet,
will reduce emissions of smog-forming gases by 2.6 million tons each year and cut soot emissions by
110,000 tons annually.
Cost is an issue. In North America, diesel engines could add $2,000 to passenger-car prices, and possibly more, said Charles Freese, GM's executive director of diesel engineering. In addition, after-treatment technology to address nitrous oxide and particulate emissions can run thousands of dollars, he said.

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