By Steve Klein

 

Reflecting on the rollercoaster ride that was 2020, great strides were made in lowering emissions and advancing alternative fuel use, but we think the best is yet to come. Here are a few areas we have our eyes on for 2021.

Trucks continue to transport about 70% of all goods in the U.S. Class 8 truck sales did take a dive earlier in 2020 because of COVID-19, but they bottomed out in May and have been on the rebound ever since. The long-haul market is largely expected to bounce back, and it is likely to rely on diesel machines for years to come. As intriguing as electric vehicles are, they are not yet viable for most trucking applications, and our environment can’t wait for fleets to start reducing their emissions. That’s why the alternative fuel market will remain critical.

Unfortunately, the driver shortage will continue to be an issue; the U.S. trucking industry faces a predicted shortfall of up to one million drivers by 2030. We’re so grateful to the drivers and shipping companies who have kept our world moving during the pandemic. It’s our hope that people everywhere continue showing them appreciation and that the workload stabilizes so drivers feel more motivated to work in this rewarding career.

 

Biodiesel’s star is rising. Using the CA-GREET model, Renewable Energy Group calculated the reductions in carbon intensity for our best-in-class biodiesel versus the following options:

  • 88% lower than ULSD
  • 85% lower than CNG
  • 65% lower than an EV charged by U.S. grid average electricity (2019)

Biodiesel can make a big difference right away. And its performance will not be an issue, either. One of the best things about biodiesel is that it requires no updates to infrastructure or equipment—biodiesel blends are drop-in fuels that make it easy to be part of the solution. Supply is also strong, with domestic production able to meet demand coast to coast.

People are taking notice: Biodiesel has seen a 600% increase in consumption in the past 10 years.

 

It’s getting used in new ways, too. Watch for new ways of using biodiesel as more fleets give it a chance. A trend we expect to continue is the exploration of higher blends. Many used to think of B20 (20% biodiesel, 80% ULSD) as the highest they would go, but now they’re going higher—even up to B100. In Washington, D.C., and our hometown of Ames, Iowa, B100 pilots are going well, even in cold temperatures. The added lubricity and higher Cetane that biodiesel offers are definitely worth exploring.

We are also gearing up for higher usage of blends that use biodiesel and renewable diesel together to get the best characteristics of both. This is an especially valuable product for those who want to run on renewable diesel but need to stretch their supply and/or lower costs.

 

Greenhouse gas emissions will remain a hot topic. Transportation is the top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the U.S., so it is critical for fleets, fuel marketers, policymakers and even individual drivers to be aware of this trend. Discussion of low-carbon policies often centers around California because it has what many people consider one of the world’s foremost clean air programs. However, these types of policies are present across North America—and interest is only growing. It’s not only government laws and regulations—the private sector is a major driver of the sustainability trend, as well.

Those in the sustainability sector have their eyes on the year 2030 because, according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we must make “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes” to limit global warming by then, or the results could be irreversible.

Each day that a fleet waits to switch to cleaner fuels, more harmful emissions enter the atmosphere. Switching now will have a cumulative effect and lead to greater reductions over time. Biodiesel is a great option because it significantly reduces several types of emissions compared with petroleum diesel:

  • Total hydrocarbons by nearly 70%
  • Particulate matter by nearly 50%
  • Carbon monoxide by nearly 50%

 

The ESG movement is just getting started. Expect to see a continued rise in environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing. In just the first nine months of 2020, $19 billion was invested into ESG funds, compared with $8 billion for all of 2019, according to DWS Group in a CNBC interview.

Some 90% of S&P 500 Index companies published sustainability reports last year, indicating that customers and the public really care what companies are doing to make a difference in climate change. We take this trend seriously as well, which is why we publish our own annual ESG report.

As 2020 has shown us a few times, curveballs are bound to happen. But we remain optimistic about the alternative fuels market and the future of emissions reduction. These trends show we are on the right track—but also have work left to do. Here’s wishing you and yours a successful 2021.

 

Steve Klein is senior manager, marketing, at Renewable Energy Group Inc. REG is leading the energy industry’s transition to sustainability by transforming renewable resources into high quality, cleaner fuels. REG is North America’s largest producer of biodiesel and an industry-leading producer of renewable diesel. This includes REG Ultra Clean, a proprietary blend of bio and renewable diesel.