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by Lindsay Steves
Lindsay Steves

5 min read

The Energy Landscape For A Polyfuel Strategy

June 7, 2023

Lindsay Steves
by Lindsay Steves

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Congress has provided the much-needed funding and federal programs to stimulate and incentivize a transition from diesel fuel to alternative energy. Now, it’s on the public and private sector to leverage the programs, organize pilots, and implement alternative energy into their transportation networks.

A polyfuel strategy is a key component to achieving emissions reduction on a global scale. CNG (produced from RNG), biodiesel, renewable diesel, battery-electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are all relevant options in the 2023 energy landscape for a polyfuel strategy. With research, development, and infrastructure all at various levels of execution, the importance to gather stakeholders and create a plan is critical.

To achieve emissions reduction targets and avoid greenwashing, companies will need to align stakeholders, encourage incremental improvements, and establish genuine partnerships. The roadmap may seem ambitious, but it is achievable. With the cost of doing nothing far worse than trying an actionable, data-driven recommendation, transportation leaders need to take the initiative to decarbonize their transportation networks. For this reason, we outlined a high-level summary of the 2023 energy landscape.

CNG (from RNG)

Compressed natural gas from renewable natural gas is a relatively new, but reliable source of energy. Derived from sources, like landfills or dairy waste, the energy can result in over 100 percent emissions reduction depending on the source. Tractors that consume CNG and the infrastructure to support these tractors are available across the United States and Canada, with stations and reliability improving daily. While there is a reduced length of haul in the short term, research and development continues and an increased range of 750+ miles is expected to enter the market as early as 2024.

Biodiesel

Biodiesel is one of the most widely used alternative fuels in commercial transportation today. Produced from vegetable oils, animal fats, and used cooking oils, it can reduce carbon emissions by 7% or more. B20 and lower-level blends are the most common because they can be used in existing tractors and infrastructure without modification. While the benefits of using biodiesel are substantial, it is important to consider fueling availability along specific routes and the season to select the correct blend type.

Renewable Diesel

Renewable diesel, like biodiesel, is a drop-in fuel that can be used with conventional diesel engines and existing infrastructure. Renewable diesel is sourced from similar feedstocks as biodiesel, but is produced through different processes. Because of this, it is challenging to scale and price prohibitive for markets that don’t have supportive carbon policies. Renewable diesel is concentrated in California due to incentives from programs like the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).

Battery-electric Vehicle

Battery-electric vehicles are becoming more popular in commercial transportation with significant operational benefits over diesel vehicles. While the upfront vehicle cost for battery-electric vehicles is greater than their diesel counterparts, fuel (electricity) costs and maintenance costs are lower. When calculating the total cost of ownership, the availability of government funding and incentives can make battery-electric vehicles a cost-effective option.

One of the major benefits of battery-electric vehicles is that they produce no direct tailpipe emissions, which significantly reduces lifecycle emissions. However, it’s important to consider the source of electricity. The greatest emissions reductions come from renewable sources of electricity such as wind, solar, and hydro. In the race to adoption, a partnership and pilot program with OEMs and infrastructure partners can put you first in line when commercialization arrives.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, while in their infancy, boast a promising outlook with the potential for significant lifecycle GHG emissions reductions, depending on the production process. The most common type of hydrogen produced in the U.S. is grey hydrogen, which offers minimal lifecycle emissions reduction benefits over diesel because it’s produced using natural gas. In contrast, blue and green hydrogen are processed to be emissions-free. Blue hydrogen is produced in the same way as grey hydrogen, but with carbon capture and storage. Green hydrogen is produced through electrolysis with a renewable source of electricity (e.g., wind, solar, hydro). Other benefits of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles include a similar refuel time and lower maintenance relative to diesel trucks. While heavy-duty infrastructure is limited to California in the short-term, significant federal funds are allocated for hydrogen production projects to make it more widely accessible.

Considerations for a Robust Polyfuel Strategy

CNG (produced from RNG), biodiesel, renewable diesel, battery-electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are available based on your transportation sustainability goals and the geographic location of your route. As a result, a polyfuel strategy is necessary to accommodate the intricacies of your transportation network. This strategy also enables a gradual transition from fossil fuels to cleaner alternatives. With innovative decarbonization solutions emerging, it is imperative to begin considering the infrastructure and partners available.

For more information on one or more of the energy forms and technologies of the future, consider partnering with Breakthrough. Whether it is identifying applicable credits to subsidize your investment, understanding the capabilities of the energy, or how to implement it, the Breakthrough team works as a trusted advisor for your team.

Breakthrough has a dedicated team of sustainability and data analysts proactively monitoring the sustainability landscape and as a result, it can accommodate industry breakthroughs and infrastructure developments. As ESG policies at the federal and state levels progress and new sustainability solutions emerge in the market, CleanMile provides shippers with the data, strategy, and partnerships to make emissions reduction progress.

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