The Future of Diesel Engines
Diesel as a fuel has always garnered mixed emotions and has had different take-up amongst consumers and transporters. In the last ten years, however, with the emergence of cleantech & renewable energy and the center stage given towards climate change, are we looking at the holy grail situation for the diesel engines? Adapting to newer technologies and improving powertrain efficiencies would play a key part in diesel engines to stay relevant by 2030. There are plenty of pros when it comes to using Diesel engines, but with stricter emission control norms, the cons seem to be outnumbering the pros.
Advantages of Diesel Fuel
In simple terms, Diesel is a mixture of hydrocarbons obtained by the distillation of crude oil. Diesel has long been the preferred choice for commercial vehicles and the running of heavy machinery due to its greater fuel efficiencies. It edges over gasoline/petrol primarily due to its lack of volatility and the possibility to run with lean fuel-air ratios. This means Diesel has higher volumetric energy preventing it from the risk of detonation when compared to other fuel formats. Not just that, Diesel engines are known to produce more torque and a better fuel economy compared to a Petrol engine. Today most of the economic sectors use some format of Diesel, be it for transportation, agriculture, or construction, most of them this fuel format.
Though marred by the emergence of electric vehicles, Diesel fuel is still trying to stay relevant through various technological developments and a stride to reduce harmful pollutants that are getting emitted.
The Grey Area
Diesel fuel had enjoyed a great status until the early 2000s due to the above-mentioned advantages. However, the cost of both making the Diesel engines and owning them by consumers proved to be high. Above all major setbacks came in the form of ’emissions’ for Diesel. Researchers found that Co2 emitted output from a diesel engine was harmful to the environment. This was further ascertained through the Volkswagen Dieselgate Scandal, where VW blatantly broke the emission regulations by rigging the Diesel engine to cheat the government on emission tests.
The transport sector still continues to be the major user of the Diesel technology and hence also the main contributor towards air pollution. It is the largest contributor to the NOx (Nitric oxide) emissions, a direct reason for depleting the Ozone layer. NOx reacts with ammonium, water vapor, and other compounds to form Nitric acid which in turn damages the ecosystem and Diesel-powered vehicles account for 80% of NOx emissions. Aside from the fact that they are harmful to the environment, there is particulate pollution from Diesel engines that are causing respiratory issues in humans.
Diesel engines have been under constant scrutiny and many cities have been pushing to ban diesel cars from its streets to avoid emission levels from rising and resulting in further ecological problems. Germany has put cash incentives on the table to encourage owners of high polluting vehicles to trade up to either electric vehicles or lesser polluting variants.
Different markets have different strategies when it comes to adapting to Diesel engines. Some of the developed economies such as the US, China, and Japan primarily use Petrol and Diesel cars playing next to no role. However, the European Union and in countries such as India the Diesel market share is around 50%. The EU is working on tightening the emission reduction rules (Ex: Euro6, BS6) to make Diesel engines less polluting. In an effort to match these rules, automakers are implementing newer technologies such as installing Diesel Particulate Filters (DPF) to reduce the particulate outflow.
Despite all these efforts the future does not look that great for Diesel engines, even though it is going to still going to stay relevant until 2030, minimum. Car manufactures are starting to focus more on electric vehicles, lack of charging stations akin to petrol stations does not seem to be a deterrent – this is going to be the future of modern transport. Many companies are exploring the hybrid option as well (diesel powertrain along with electric) to reduce the load on Diesel combustion thereby significantly dropping the emissions.
Having said that Diesel engine advocates have also been upbeat of the new technologies that have been implemented to reduce emissions. There is also a possibility of Diesel vehicles to run partially or entirely on renewable fuel from organic waste. What the future holds for Diesel, especially post COVID-19, is something to look out for.
“Diesel Engines are becoming more efficient and preparing for transition to cleaner generation in the future. We had the privilege of being involved in engineering and commissioning of Diesel + HRSG Combined Cycle power plants globally, which gave an insight into various other efficient possibilities such as dual-fuel (liquid & Gas) switchable capability, biofuels etc. Dual-fuel tech is a fantastic transition tool for countries that depend heavily on diesel at present, to migrate to cleaner gas-powered generation in future. Without a doubt, Rudolf Diesel’s brainchild will continue to evolve into refined cleaner iterations.” – says Navin Kumar, Managing Director, Navsar Engineering International Pte. Ltd.
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Article References: CNBC Articles, Dieselnet.com, Other Multiple Sources.