Volume 14 | Issue 3 | Year 2011

Debate about green energy and the future follows predictable ideological fault lines.
One side fixates on the future, where the mix of energy sources and policies take us to a vastly different place than today – the so-called clean energy future. The other side staunchly clings to “old school” energy sources, which are perceived as somewhat less than clean.

It’s vital that energy debate begins with the present – and what is actually getting the job done. Current energy sources will enable us to move toward our economic and energetic tomorrow –whatever, whenever and wherever that is. We can’t chase potential new energy sources at the expense of what has already proven to be effective and efficient.

Economy, in its most simplistic form, is about doing work. And no internal combustion engine technology does more work using less energy than our old friend the diesel engine. So deeply ingrained in so many economic sectors, diesel is often unnoticed and undeservedly underappreciated. But given its portability and efficiency, diesel probably touches more transactions and activities than electricity.

The Diesel Technology Forum – a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit educational organization dedicated to raising awareness about the essential uses of diesel engines and, in turn, their financial importance – recently released a study that examined the diesel industry’s positive influence on US employment and, in turn, the economy. This study (“Diesel Powers the US Economy: Providing High-Paying Jobs, Exports and Long-Term Productivity Gains in the Nation’s Fundamental Sector”) was conducted by the Aspen Environmental Group and M.Cubed, and it is the first major examination of the industry in more than 10 years. The report (available at www.dieselforum.org) highlights how diesel literally powers major components of numerous economic sectors.

Why is a 100-plus-year-old technology like diesel still such a dominant force? The answer is easy: Simply because it works so well. That’s why it continues powering global trade and key sectors in national economies.

And diesel works because it is a technology that has not stood still. It has evolved over time. It meets ever-demanding societal and customer demands – for instance, it achieves near zero emissions while cutting fuel consumption by five percent.

Diesel is both a driver and a product of economic growth. Its benefits are felt across a wide swath of our economy. New-technology clean diesel engines are manufactured and maintained by highly skilled and well-compensated workers. Indeed, their handiwork fosters productivity across our economy’s core layers.

As the report indicates, in 2009, diesel technology directly contributed $183 billion to the US economy, as well as 1.25 million jobs. Another $300 billion was created through indirect and induced ripple effects. These included “highly productive” jobs, with each diesel-related employee creating $146,000 directly in national income, nearly a third higher than the national average of $110,000 per employee. Diesel technology producing sectors were even higher, averaging $207,000 per job.

New generation diesel technology is not only an energy efficient, low emissions product; it is also an “export powerhouse,” according to the report. Look at the large picture: Diesel product and fuel exports represented $46.2 billion (or 4.35 percent) of US exports in 2009, with an export-to-value ratio that was five times higher than the national average. Further, diesel technology and fuel powered $455 billion (or 3.2 percent) of the 2009 GDP. This came from key diesel-reliant industries like construction, public transportation, agriculture, freight movement and power generation.

Diesel’s technology influence multiplies through the economy: $1 earned on diesel technology enables another $4.50 of added value elsewhere. Whether we’re talking about moving dirt with construction equipment or delivering groceries to rural America, nothing does that job as efficiently as diesel.

Still unconvinced? Then consider this: 94 percent of all global trade is moved by diesel power. As the report reveals, in the United States, diesel moves 80 percent of all freight by value ($11.7 trillion annually). We’re talking about more than 12.5 billion tons.

Now consider this: 98 percent of all energy use by the construction industry comes from diesel. And consider this projection: As high as 10 percent of all new US car purchases will use diesel technology in the next decade.

Here’s another projection: Further advances in diesel power will introduce hybrid powertrains in commercial trucks and some of the largest construction machinery. This is already happening. Growing confidence and expanded use of biodiesel and renewable fuels in diesel engines only positions diesel power for greater future gains.

For sure, diesel is one our nation’s greatest environmental success stories. It has already undergone a fundamental transformation to cleaner fuels, near zero emissions and greater efficiency. You want to talk about “green” and “clean”? The transformation positions diesel as an essential technology for a sustainable future.

The role for clean diesel technology is embodied in two major policy announcements by the Obama Administration, which seeks to establish new automobile and truck fuel-efficiency standards. Beginning in 2017, national fuel economy standards for cars and light-duty trucks are expected to be met in part by an increasing number of clean diesel passenger vehicle choices, while the first-ever fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty commercial trucks and buses will drive further innovation and efficiency gains in diesel technology as a key compliance strategy.

Likewise, Congressional efforts to launch a broad new investment in the national infrastructure and transportation networks demand a greater use of diesel power in construction machines and equipment. Whether this includes building bike paths or bridges, tunnels or train stations, or bringing high-speed Internet to more communities – or building wind farms or upgrading the nation’s electrical grid – diesel power will be required.

Diesel power is a great enabler. Its power is proven. Also it’s clean, readily accessible, and affordable. Think of it as a foundation upon which to build tomorrow’s economy.

Allen Schaeffer is executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum in Frederick, Md. He can be reached at dtf@dieselforum.org.

Previous articlePort-Related Infrastructure Investments Can Reap Dividends
Next articleStandards Boost Business: Call to Action for Corporate America