The subject of diesel has been ‘trending’ in recent weeks. Whether it is related to prices, supply and demand, emissions or new technology, diesel is currently a hot topic for news outlets, industry bodies and environmental lobbyists worldwide.
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In the days before this issue went to press, the UK was rocked by reports that growing dependence on foreign fuel has left the country facing a nationwide diesel drought. Transport policy and motoring research organisation, the RAC Foundation, announced that UK refineries, most of which were set up to produce light (petrol) and heavy (fuel oil) distillates, are struggling to cope with domestic diesel demand, which has risen by a staggering 76% over the past 20 years, compared with a 46% fall for petrol.
“Most of our refineries were built when diesel was a niche product. Retrofitting them is a billion pound decision that has failed to stack up for investors who see refining as a low margin business despite our sky high pump prices. The result: since 2009 three UK refineries have closed, and others have been up for sale,” said Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation. “That leaves us at the mercy of the global market and much of the rest of Europe is in the same boat. We are having to look further and further afield for the fuel we need.”
In addition to the diesel-petrol imbalance, the RAC’s 'Readdressing the balance between petrol and diesel demand' report addresses concerns over air quality and emissions. Unsurprisingly, due to the ever increasing number of diesel engined vehicles on the road, this has become a major talking point not only in the UK, but across the globe. In 2014, the EU implemented strict Euro 6 engine standards for light and heavy duty vehicles to help tackle emissions of NOX, particulates and hydrocarbons, while, across the pond, President Obama’s Climate Action Plan promises to reduce transport related pollution across the US by 2025.
In light of growing environmental concerns and new related legislation, the ‘clean diesel movement’ has made notable progression over the past few years, and initiatives to promote it have been resoundingly successful. In the US, the EPA has funded nearly 60 000 pieces of clean diesel technology since 2008 through the National Clean Diesel Campaign, and, in response to Euro 6 emissions standards, the European automotive and motor trading industries have joined forces to raise awareness. The #CleanDieselTech online campaign, launched by ACEA, AECC, CECRA and CLEPA, provides statistics and information to the general public about the latest generation of diesel technology.
Naturally, the downstream oil and gas industry has been increasing research and development in this area. Refiners with a specific focus on lower emission fuels are making an impact across the globe – production of renewable diesel at Finland’s Neste helped to reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 5.6 million t in 2014 – while industry giants, including ExxonMobil, Shell, Total and BP, have made huge developments in the production of low sulfur diesel, biodiesel and clean fuels. Moreover, manufacturers such as Honeywell are leading the way in clean process technology. Last year, the company announced that its renewable fuel technology had been chosen to power the largest commercial advanced biofuel plant in the US. The Diamond Green Diesel facility in Norco, Louisiana, is designed to produce more than 130 million gal./y of renewable diesel.
Air pollution and particulate emissions are, and always will be, a major concern within the diesel industry. However, as noted by the US based Diesel Technology Forum, new generation approaches, which include increasingly advanced refining techniques and technological innovations, will ensure that ‘clean diesel engines continue to play a dominant role in the future, as well as help countries around the world to meet energy security, greenhouse gas and clean air objectives'.