THE FUTURE OF FUEL
Alternative fuel is no longer the “exhaust pipe dream” it used to be. As the cost of running a fleet on regular diesel continues to hurt transport companies and vehicle owners, different ways of moving products and people from A to B have become serious considerations.
With tougher “Euro 6” regulations due to come into force at the end of 2015, the future of diesel is uncertain. Euro 6 is the latest rise in standards that have been in place since the early 1990s. Once it takes effect, replacing existing Euro 5 regulations, all newly registered diesel vehicles will have to comply.
Likely effects of Euro 6
The impact of Euro 6 will be staggered over the next year. From September 2015, only Class 1 vans are required to adopt the new standard. However, while Classes 2 and 3 have an extra 12 months to get ready, businesses committed to reducing their carbon footprint should start to look ahead as the new emissions limits represent cuts of over 50% in the levels of environmentally harmful NOx currently allowed by Euro 5.
While there are thousands of Euro 6-compliant vehicles already on the road, it’s unclear how van costs – and therefore van usage – will be affected over the next year and a half. It is expensive for manufacturers to engineer an entirely new diesel engine, so their efforts are focused instead on treating the exhaust after it has been created.
To combat NOx emissions, we’re likely to see a wider uptake of AdBlue. This is a urea-based fluid which is injected into exhaust emissions to catalyse the harmful elements. AdBlue transforms NOx into water vapour and nitrogen, which are emitted harmlessly. The addition of Selective Catalytic Reduction to vehicles is costly, and those costs will ultimately pass down to the fleet manager in rising vehicle prices.
Where is the fuel market going?
Regardless of more punishing requirements for diesel emissions, the fuel itself will continue to be widely available. Two new Middle Eastern oil refineries have just opened for business, and are aiming to flood Europe and the UK with diesel over the next few years.
A planned extra levy on diesel vehicles heading into London will have an effect on fleet costs, if it goes ahead. Boris Johnson has floated the idea of an Ultra Low Emission Zone, which would see non-Euro 6 diesel vehicles charged a fee on top of the Congestion Charge. However, by 2020 (which is when the ULEZ is currently forecast to be introduced), it is likely that the majority of fleet vehicles will be Euro 6 compliant.
Are diesel cars and vans on the way out?
As long as diesel engines remain more efficient than petrol alternatives, diesel vehicles will continue to be an attractive option for businesses. Price concerns over newer Euro 6-compliant vehicles are valid, but while the technology to keep up with the regulations exists, manufacturers are likely to carry on making diesel vehicles.
The longer term future of diesel, and the cars and vans that run on it, is less clear. Euro 6 has been introduced to try to curb atmospheric pollutants. Should emissions requirements continue to tighten – as they have been doing since 1992 – it could be the case that modern alternatives are made more commonplace. We run down some of the most likely candidates for alternative ways to power an engine below.
Electric vehicles have been around for more than 100 years, but have yet to catch on as a mass market option. That said, modern electric engine technology, particularly hybrid technology, is a more viable choice than older iterations.
The main problem with electric power is range. Maximum range for a modern electric vehicle is around 100 miles between charges, and charging time can be long. While there are more charging points at service stations than there used to be, there would need to be many more before long distance haulage can be managed on electricity alone.
Plus points include the low cost of running - both to the fleet owner and the environment. An electric vehicle delivers a high range for the relative price, and the emissions produced by the plant making the power are significantly lower than the emissions produced by a diesel-powered vehicle.
Biodiesel can run a standard diesel engine with few or no modifications. It’s created from commonly available bio-substances, including vegetable oil and animal fats.
An engine running on biodiesel expels, in general, fewer pollutants than the same engine running standard diesel fuel. It’s also classified as carbon neutral, because while it produces carbon dioxide as a waste product, this carbon dioxide can be efficiently absorbed by the original source of the fuel. Fill up your fleet with biodiesel made from recycled vegetable oil, and the plants that were rendered into the oil in the first place will be able to use it to grow.
Mitigating the environmental value of biodiesel is its increased amount of nitrous oxide waste, when compared to standard diesel emissions. Nitrous oxide is a known factor in smog production.
Hydrogen fuel cells
For an alternative that rethinks the way engines are powered, look to hydrogen. Hydrogen can be used to power a fuel cell - like a battery, but one that uses a similar refuelling method to filling up at a diesel pump.
An engine powered by hydrogen fuel cells doesn’t need to burn its power source. The cell works by creating a fusion of hydrogen and oxygen, a process that emits water as a waste product. The energy output is electrical, and the emissions leaving the exhaust pipe are steam and hot air.
Hydrogen is costly to store at a pressure that will release the energy required for a successful electrical reaction. With the right technology, however, it could be easy to fill your fleet vehicles with hydrogen using a familiar pumping system - and vehicle range is likely to exceed that of purely electric alternatives.