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Is there a future for diesel? Ross MacKerron, of fleet fuel efficiency specialist Lightning Systems, gives his opinion on the future of diesel powertrains.

In a world hurtling towards electrification, diesel's place in this changing time has often been called into question. New headlines appear every few weeks proclaiming the death of diesel, with initiatives to ban the sale of diesel vehicles and to take them off the roads over the next few decades. This desire to eradicate diesels, however, is not necessarily the only way forward--particularly when considering the challenges we face in bringing electrification to the fore.

There are a number of infrastructure challenges which are hampering the swift move to electric powertrains. The UK is a long way off being able to deliver the infrastructure required to provide "clean" energy to power "clean vehicles". Typical charging infrastructure for electric vehicles currently rely on burning fossil fuels to generate energy, which counters the benefits electric powertrains bring. Clean charging infrastructures require investment in nuclear, natural and renewable energy production. Nuclear power is the easiest volume producer for this infrastructure, yet it is fraught with security, cost and timeline concerns.

In addition to charging challenges, the cost implications of electrified powertrains are high. While the running costs of electricity compared with diesel and petrol are comparatively low, these costs are not sustainable. As demand increases for vehicle charging, prices will quickly rise in tandem.

With this in mind, it is highly unlikely that there will be a point in the near future where diesel will cease to be and electric will rule. Many drive cycles adopted by commercial freight operators are effectively delivered by diesel. Modern diesels are efficient and relatively clean and with the increasing use of hybrid systems and fleet analytics products, clean diesel is happening now.

With such a debate ahead of us to make clean infrastructure a reality, it is clear diesel will remain integral to the running of our fleets. The key is to ensure fleets make changes to improve diesel powertrain efficiency. A starting point is through skilled analysis of telematics data. Too many telematics offerings result in a mere "data dump", where no proactive actions are taken. Using expert analysis, it is possible to ensure vehicles are in optimum condition for service and unplanned repairs are reduced through predictive maintenance.

Furthermore, detailed route analysis can easily flag up the best technological method of achieving fuel efficiency gains. Computer models can be run to determine whether a full electric drivetrain would be most cost-effective, or whether a hydraulic hybrid system would generate a timely return on investment. Additionally, driver behaviour can be monitored and improved which can have a huge effect on safety and fleet efficiency. Employing the correct drivetrain and ensuring the vehicle is driven well while in good operating order is paramount. Commercial fleets must become more savvy with regards to drivetrain deployment and fine tuning, harnessing analysis of telematics data.

Diesel will remain the best fuel option for a huge range of commercial drive cycles, but operators must start scrutinising their fleet profiles through analytics programs to pinpoint areas where the likes of alternative drivetrains would make commercial and environmental sense.

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Author:MacKerron, Ross
Publication:Environmental Engineering
Date:Dec 1, 2017
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