ESG & Industry Updates

COP28: Takeaways from Dubai

Posted by Kelly Burke on Feb 2, 2024 7:00:00 AM

The UN’s Climate Change Conference, or “COP28” Summit was held from November 30 through December 13th in Dubai, UAE. The Conference consisted of 150 heads of State and Government and 85,000 participants representing countries, organizations, etc. This year’s summit focused on where the world is in relation to the goals initially outlined in the Paris Agreement (forget what that is? Refresher here: LINK). Spoiler alert – the world is nowhere near achieving the goals outlined, and the focus became how the countries involved can speed up their action on climate change mitigation through multiple avenues.

For the first time, notably, this conference dealt with if there would be:

  • An agreement to end fossil fuel use (they ended up with a loophole heavy statement on a goal to “transition away”, more on that below)
  • An inclusion for the first time of agricultural emissions in countries calculations and mitigation plans
  • A focus on funding for smaller and poorer nations to begin their transitions to renewables.
  • An agreement to triple renewables, and double the rate of energy efficiency advancements.

The sections below give a little more context and detail of the major event items, if you are curious:

“Transitioning Away from Fossil Fuels”

Much of the news from the summit centers around the “historic deal” to “transition away” from fossil fuels, after a contentious battle over whether the specific language should remain in the final agreement. This inclusion was hailed by many as a huge victory and step towards serious climate change mitigation. However, the final agreement also includes language on Carbon Capture and Utilization and Storage (CCUS), Transitional Fuels, and Carbon markets, which is seen by some as a glaring loophole that would implicitly allow continued fossil fuel use on the premise that when the technology can scale (it currently cannot) those emissions would then be able to be captured, sold, offset, etc.

As a refresher, CCUS captures carbon emissions from large scale sources like refineries, power plants, etc, compresses them, and injects them into reservoirs underground to mitigate the carbon’s impact on the atmosphere). The IEA projects that even at a best-case scenario level of scale through 2030, CCUS technology will simply not be able to capture more than a third of the emissions it would need to in order to reach net-zero emissions.

Methane Emissions: Agriculture in Focus

Highlighted at the summit was agreement on the need to significantly curb methane emissions, with a goal of reaching net-zero methane emissions by 2050. For the first time officially, the organization took a good hard look at agriculture. Agriculture is responsible for 30% of global emissions.

If you’re a Netflix afficionado, you may remember the charts and footage from “What the Health” or “Cowspiracy” that illustrate just how massive the climate impact is from Industrial Agriculture. Much like the protagonist in those documentaries, many wonder why emissions discussions, particularly regarding methane emissions, don’t often include (or center on) Agriculture. The COP28 summit did in fact involve discussion of its impact and resulted in the “Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture” which, among other things, commits consenting nations to include emissions from agriculture and farming in their national climate action plans for the first time.

Climate Change Loss & Damage Fund and Green Climate Fund

The last COP summit (COP27) set up (on paper) a loss and damage fund to help mitigate financial impacts to poorer nations from Climate related impacts. During the COP28 summit, a focus was put on filling the established fund. The last summit set the fund up, but without being fully funded it was argued that the fund was essentially a meaningless gesture on the part of wealthier nations. Over the course of the two weeks of talks the fund went up to $790 million – that sounds like a lot of money to us, but the estimates on what is needed runs from $100-400 Billion, so at the end of the day, it’s still at less than 1% of target funding.

During the summit, US Vice President Kamala Harris announced the US would pledge $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, another established fund to help offset the cost to transition to green energy sources in developing nations. It is the understanding of the organization that poorer countries will need financial input from richer nations to facilitate their transition to green energy sources, and this fund is designed to be a source of funding for that.

Renewable Energy Capacity Tripling

The final deal struck at COP28 seeks for countries to triple their renewable energy capacity by 2030. A point of major contention at the summit (and in general) has been the category of so called “transition fuels” and what counts for them. Natural gas is the main sticking point on this – many member countries say natural gas should not count as a transitionary fuel because of its emissions, it’s a fossil fuel, etc – however, for poorer developing nations it is hard to argue that fuels like natural gas are not a huge step forward from existing systems, and it is also a lot more financially in reach than options like wind and solar, not to mention infinitely more scalable.

So?

Ultimately, the view of the summit’s conclusions among members, climate activist groups, and international groups is that the summit was successful and the language included is a step forward but does not go fast enough or far enough for their liking. As an editorial aside, it is difficult to imagine an agreement that did go far or fast enough for some of the groups, so given the disparate goals of all the member nations, coming away with any remotely firm statement on transition should be seen as a positive by most of the involved participants.

Read More

Topics: methane, Climate Change, Carbon Emissions, renewable energy, paris accord

Transportation DeCarbonization Blueprint: Pipelines

Posted by Kelly Burke on Dec 1, 2023 7:45:00 AM

As we have been discussing, the US National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization breaks the Transportation sector into seven categories, each of which has its own targets for emission reduction/elimination, and strategies for how those declines in emissions will be achieved. The next category addressed in the Blueprint is pipelines.

We don’t generally think of pipelines as “freight” (versus items carried by truck, etc.) but actually, pipelines were responsible for 18% of all freight by tonnage in the US in 2015. In the US, pipelines for petroleum and natural gas span over 3 million miles across the country, and the fuels they carry cover close to 70% of energy use in the country currently. Although pipelines transport fossil fuels, the pipelines themselves are remarkably efficient. The major focus of the blueprint when it comes to pipelines is developing enhanced safety controls to avoid unintentional releases that can cause extreme environmental damage, and development of enhanced leak detection and repair. When pipelines have leaks, the main concern is the released methane, which as we know, has an even greater impact environmentally than carbon itself (more on that here: 2021: Methane Regulations on the Agenda)

Outside of those two major points, there are emissions gains to be realized by moving to more efficient systems for pumps, compressor systems, and other ancillary equipment used to keep fuels moving through the pipelines.

Keep in mind, the steps outlined for pipelines are in theory transitional, as the ultimate goal would be pipeline systems designed to transport sustainable/alternative fuels and carbon, versus fossil fuels. As it stands currently, there are substantial challenges and safety questions regarding pipeline transport of current alternative fuels based on variances in their chemical makeup like solvent properties, flammability, pressure issues, etc.

The steps outlined are:

  • Policy & Regulation: The Safety Act of 2020 has a substantial focus on minimizing methane emissions. This is done under the DOT’s PHSMA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration). PHSMA has issued multiple regulations on pipeline safety & leak regulation – these regulations target the main two issues around pipeline transport: accidental releases, and methane leaks. (The regulations are included under the US Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan, if you would like more detail on their specifics)
  • Infrastructure Planning & Investment: Part of the Infrastructure Bill passed in 2021 provides for funding to upgrade the pipeline infrastructure via the “Natural Gas Distribution Infrastructure Safety & Modernization” grant program. This grant exists to fund repairs/replacement of portions of pipelines or their operating systems that are outdated, faulty, or prone to failure. The repairs done through this grant will automatically have a positive impact on reducing methane leaks in the existing system, which, as mentioned, is a major goal of this segment’s planning.
  • Research & Innovation: continuous development of monitoring and reporting technology for methane is the major focus of technological advancements & research for this segment. Enhanced leak detection, and enhanced fire prevention at risky sites (like LNG terminals) are the main focus for existing infrastructure, while research into the risks and requirements for safe pipeline transport of alternative fuels is the focus for the new infrastructure we would need to see in order to transition the system to non-fossil fuels, ultimately/

The main takeaway for this segment's goals is methane leak detection and prevention is of paramount importance. We don't necessarily think of small inadvertent leaks being controlled as being a major "thing" in the way we would think about switching to an EV vehicle, or a similar "large" move. However, the EPA estimates that methane leaks in 2019 were an estimated 57 MMT of CO2 equivalent emissions - more than that generated by the more visible parts of pipeline transport like compressor stations.  Natural Gas & Methane leaks have an enormous environmental impact, and an enormous financial one as well (for a quick refresher, take a look at this throwback article from 2015: Harvard Finds Boston is Leaking $90 Million of Natural Gas Annually )  Stopping leaks and spills as an interim step to control pipeline segment emissions is critically important to the overall plan for carbon emission reduction in the United States.  

 

 

Read More

Topics: methane, Carbon Emissions, Biden Administration, decarbonization, pipeline

Tank Monitoring Takes the Headache out of Fuel Management

Posted by Kelly Burke on Oct 30, 2023 7:45:00 AM

tank monitoring 3Tank monitors are one of the best ways to simplify all the parts of your operation that rely on fuel, DEF, or bulk lubricants. With monitors, you eliminate runouts and streamline the ordering process. You can also maximize deliveries, which allows fewer interruptions to your business.

In addition to using monitors at our customers’ sites, we use them ourselves at our facilities to monitor our levels in bulk tanks, which allows us to maximize orders from our suppliers and minimize shop interruptions – just like it does for our customers.

We monitor a typical customer tank twice a day, so morning and night dispatchers review levels as they update, which ensures we have accurate information on volume and the trajectory of use so we can determine when to bring what products. Some tanks have very variable use (like say at a marina where demand fluctuates wildly) and this lets us make sure we get there ahead of any critical low volumes, and it also lets the manager on site focus on his customers instead of monitoring his fuel levels all day. Monitors also let us take a quick look at volumes in the field ahead of storms, anticipated outages, or other factors so we are able to top off where necessary and preempt a lot of headaches for everyone involved down the line.

The monitors are visible online on a secure, password protected site to both ourselves and the customer, from virtually anywhere. So just like we can get ahead of anticipated problems, customers on site can get ahead of upcoming vacations, outages, or just get some visibility into usage patterns that can better help them manage their operations over time.

tank monitoring screen

It’s not just for fuel either – DEF and lubricants are also able to be fitted with monitors. Monitors can eliminate the need to stick tanks, track daily volumes, call for orders, or be physically on site to determine an upcoming fuel or lubricant need. One less worry.

We wrote an article for Oil & Energy magazine this past month that goes a little more into the details of tank monitoring – how the reporting works, what tanks make sense for monitoring, etc. You can read that article in its entirety here: Real-Time Tank Data Drives Better Fuel Management

 

Read More

Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, remote tank monitoring, fuel management

MA Offshore Wind Scales Up

Posted by Kelly Burke on Sep 28, 2023 10:15:00 AM

In another move forward against Climate Change, Massachusetts will be home to the United States' first utility-scale offshore wind project. Vineyard Wind, about 35 miles off the Mass coast, will produce up to 800 megawatts of electricity, powering 400,000 homes and businesses across the Commonwealth, dropping carbon emissions by up to 1.6 million tons per year. 

The project has faced years and years of legal challenges and other issues, from environmental studies to lawsuits from local residents of Nantucket. As of today (9/28/2023), Nantucket residents have actually filed another suit (Saturday September 26) with the First Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a district court ruling dismissing their prior lawsuit. The current suit centers on the allegation that federal authorities failed to consider the best evidence regarding impacts on endangered right whales in the area that would be effected by the project. 

Construction began in 2021, with cable laying to bring turbine power to the offshore substation. The turbines themselves began being constructed this past summer. The final project will include 62 turbines, each close to 850 feet tall. The project will be underway until 2024, but spokesmen for Avangrid (one of the project partners) expressed confidence that initial power generation would be online by the end of 2023.

One of the more recent confounding issues for Vineyard Wind is economic uncertainty in the general economy, particularly around offshore wind projects themselves. Supply chain, energy prices, rising interest rates, and labor issues have pushed costs for all building, and particularly turbine project building, through the roof. 

We wrote an article for Oil & Energy's September issue discussing the Vineyard Wind project and its current status. You can read that full article here: Construction Begins at Massachusetts' Utility-Scale Offshore Wind Project  

(For more articles & info on Climate & Carbon topics in general, go here: Climate Change)

 

Read More

Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, Massachusetts, offshore wind, decarbonization

Transportation DeCarbonization: Aviation

Posted by Kelly Burke on Sep 26, 2023 7:15:00 AM

As we have been discussing, the US National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization breaks the Transportation sector into seven categories, each of which has its own targets for emission reduction/elimination, and strategies for how those declines in emissions will be achieved. The next category address in the Blueprint is Aviation.

Jet fuel combustion from international & domestic aviation comprises approximately 10% of total GHG emissions in the United States, with domestic emissions roughly equivalent to the emissions from international flights in & out of the country.

The “United States Aviation Climate Action Plan” is a whole of government approach to a net-zero target for aviation emissions by 2050. A key factor for the aviation sector is new technology in new aircraft engines to combat emissions. The “Sustainable Flight National Partnership” is working to develop a suite of aircraft technology to hit a 30% improvement target over today’s premier aircraft.

Aviation is a heavy demand growth sector, so in addition to new technologies for fuel economy, the overall plan for the sector includes optimizing other factors involved, such as optimizing take-off and landing patterns and surfaces, and infrastructure changes to mitigate aircraft congestion that results in wasted fuel and increases noise and pollution for nearby areas.

Sustainable aviation fuels, versus electrification type efforts, will be critical. SAF would allow a move to decarbonize without impacting the fundamental infrastructure of air travel. While drop in solutions like hydrogen and electrification are seen as viable for short distance travel – even if that were to happen 100%, flights shorter than 500 nautical miles only make up 50% of air travel and only 15% of sector emissions. The real culprit for the sector’s emissions is long 1000 nautical mile flights (largely cargo shipping) that account for 65% of emissions, despite being only 20% of total operations. Given those numbers, it's not so surprising to learn that even a 100% move to hydrogen or other carbon zero systems across all shorter flights (under 500 nautical miles) would not be expected to lower sector emissions at all, according to the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization. As compared to this – the projected production and use of SAF (sustainable aviation fuel) across the segment could almost entirely decarbonize it by 2050, assuming the SAF industry production level of 35 billion gallons is met.

The steps outlined by the Transportation Decarbonization Blueprint are laid out for aviation as:

  • Policy & Regulation – the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) requires aircraft carriers to either use CORSIA eligible fuels or purchase carbon offsets. Because CORSIA is an international program, adherence to its regulations and rulings is critical to a global approach. Like vessels, the aviation sector is obviously international, which is a hurdle in terms of policy setting, as domestic application of new technologies and emissions regulations don’t necessarily translate into any impact on a global scale without buy-in and adoption from other nations and organizations.
  • Research & Innovation – development of new technologies and sustainable aviation fuels to lower emissions. The process will include SFNP flight simulations to enhance environmental efficiencies. Modernization of the National Aerospace System to support emerging technologies and optimize fuel efficient trajectories and patterns. Ongoing collaboration across government and private sector agencies with the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative.
  • Expand Stakeholder engagement and partnerships: much focus on this sector must deal with the international nature of aviation, as mentioned previously. Measures to lower emissions and mitigate climate impacts will need to be incentivized in a manner that encourages international adoption of, and adherence to multilateral, multinational agreements. This is obviously no small challenge and will be a critical factor in how we see changes across the segment over time.

 

              

 

 

Read More

Topics: Climate Change, Biden Administration, decarbonization

First Utility Scale Geothermal Network Launches Right Here in MA

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jul 6, 2023 10:36:46 AM

This June, Eversource broke ground on a new pilot program for Geothermal energy in Framingham, Massachusetts. This is the first utility scale networked geothermal network in the country, so it’s pretty exciting stuff.

The pilot program will encompass an estimated 40 homes, apartment complexes, businesses and even a fire station. The program will test if a networked geothermal system is able to meet the heating & cooling demands of grid users in a cost effective and reliable way.

Geothermal systems use water, wells, piping, and pumps to pull heat up in the winter and pump heat down through the same ground bores in the summer to cool the same structures. This is zero-emission technology that uses no fossil fuels to run. The infrastructure for geothermal setups is not insignificant, it involves boring deep holes in the earth to construct pump systems that tap into the warmer earth well below the surface. So despite being self-contained and not requiring fuel (and its associated costs) over lifetime use, geothermal is not a cheap source of energy in terms of upfront cost because of the engineering and drilling construction involved.

It is also somewhat location dependent – some areas are not particularly suitable, and even in areas that are suitable, the construction requires relatively substantial land available for drilling and building. This is part of what is exciting about the Framingham project – if geothermal, which is typically thought of as a more rural based option, is able to be networked such that it can handle the energy needs of a more urban area, that potentially opens up new avenues for projects overtime to move MA toward its clean energy goals.

The video below is from Eversource about how networked geothermal networks like the one being launched in Framingham work. It’s a very helpful, short overview.

You can read more about their project information at this link as well: Eversource - Framingham Geothermal Pilot Program

Read More

Topics: Massachusetts, geothermal, pilot program, eversource

Transportation DeCarbonization: Maritime Vessels

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jun 6, 2023 7:45:00 AM

As we have been discussing, the US National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization breaks the Transportation sector into seven categories, each of which has its own targets for emission reduction/elimination, and strategies for how those declines in emissions will be achieved. The next category addressed in the Blueprint by emissions % is the Maritime Sector.

The Maritime sector includes domestic, international, and recreational vessels under its umbrella. All in, there are an estimated 12 million privately owned recreational vessels, and 38 thousand commercial vessels including ferries, tugboats, container ships, etc.

About 20% of emissions in the sector come from recreational vessels, which primarily use gasoline. Domestic shipping and International shipping both contribute around 30% of the emissions share each. This segment primarily runs on diesel, with some percentage coming from heavier residual oils in large international vessels.

An important factor in emissions calculation for the Maritime sector, as well as for how effective efforts to curb them will be is the fact that its very difficult to get exact numbers on emissions given the complicated nature of international vessel traffic and fueling. Additionally, international vessels (including those flagged under the US) fuel up across the globe, often in areas that may not have the same options for less carbon intensive fuels.

The maritime sector, given its multinational presence, will require huge amounts of cooperation and agreement across nations in order to address the sector as a whole. Coordination amongst port owners, vessel operators and local and international governments will be pivotal to success. Part of this process thus far is the DOE “Mission Innovation Zero-Emission Shipping Mission” which aims to ensure that at least 10 ports on 3 continents can supply zero-emission fuel by 2030, and that 5%+ of the global fleet runs on those zero-emission fuels.

Ports are a huge factor in decarbonizing the sector, and international cooperation will be critical to movement forward.

The global nature of the maritime sector is a huge segment needing to be addressed as relates to Environmental Justice concerns, as well. Port communities in some areas are now and have historically been made up of disadvantaged groups that disproportionately bear the brunt of poor air quality and pollution sometimes caused by the industry. Resolving the emissions and pollution issues around port cities globally will need to be part of the long-term strategy on climate.

A major hurdle in addition to the global nature of vessel transport, is the long lifecycle of maritime equipment. When we think of upgrades in technology and emissions regulation adoption, we typically picture cars and trucks – both of whom have a much much shorter lifecycle than maritime vessels. The usual turnover time for large marine vessels is upwards of 30 years, and the cost associated with new vessels can be staggering. All of which is to say that advances likely won’t have substantial impacts in the near term unless they work with existing fuel types and refuel patterns.

Areas of focus include sustainable liquid/gas fuels that are drop-in replacements for the existing fossil fuels being used. This option is likely the most viable interim option, given the long lifetime cycle of the vessels and the existing port infrastructure that keeps them fueled and moving. On smaller boats, there are options for electrification that may or may not prove viable over time but again, where recreational/small vessels are not the major offenders, the offset by this solution seem minimal.

Two interesting and seemingly easily adoptable options for overall reduction in emissions appear to be the following

  • Cold Ironing – this is essentially “plugging in” or running large vessels off electricity during their time in port to offset emissions, particularly those that harm the immediate port city environment.
  • Exhaust Treatment and Carbon Capture – there is an idea that post exhaust emissions from vessels could be treated and neutralized (sort of like a reverse DEF process) to mitigate the ultimate CO2 impact. Logistically there seems to be some issues with how exactly the process would work, and what the options for storage and disposal would be in a marine environment.

Much like the other sectors we have discussed, investment in infrastructure will be a huge critical piece of the puzzle. Part of the underlying requirements for success of new regulations is that people are able to access the things that make complying with them possible, whether that is a fuel type or charging station, etc. In the Maritime sector this is more complicated, as discussed. There are however, options being made available through the Inflation Reduction Act (funding for ports to purchase zero-emission equipment, resources for climate planning), and the Port Infrastructure Development Program (grants for terminal infrastructure improvements).

 

Read More

Topics: Marinas, Emissions, Biden Administration, Carbon Capture, decarbonization

Solar & Wind Production Ramps up Over 2022

Posted by Kelly Burke on May 3, 2023 12:43:00 PM

Independent research organization Climate Central published a report recently that showed how the national capacity for solar and wind generated power shot up in 2022. The report comes just as the Biden Administration begins rolling out billions of dollars to renewable energy projects as part of its commitment to decarbonizing the grid completely by 2030 and getting the US to net zero emission by 2050.

Here are some of the key points from the report:

  • The US generated over 680K of electricity from solar & wind (combined) in 2022, which equates out to about $82 billion of revenue generation. 
  • Solar & Wind capacity increased by 16% year over year from 2021 - that's enough of an increase to cover the electricity generation needs of approximately 64 million American homes. 
  • Texas, Oklahoma, and Iowa let the nation in wind production
  • A myriad of State incentives helped encourage different states to up production, including a California's mandate on solar panels for new buildings, Iowa's tax credits for wind generation, etc. 
  • Larger States had more impressive gains than smaller, more densely populated ones. Smaller, more dense areas are less able to take advantage of space for larger scale generation projects - a good example of this is the growth we see in Texas or Iowa versus New England States, which haven't made similar gains despite also having incentives. 

We wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that goes further into the points, the holdups to progress on renewables, and what the future looks like it might hold. If you are interested, you can read that article in its entirety here: Solar and Wind Growth Soars in 2022

shutterstock_1928779172

 

Read More

Topics: Solar, Carbon Emissions, renewable energy, Biden Administration, offshore wind, decarbonization

Transportation DeCarbonization: Rail Transport

Posted by Kelly Burke on Apr 3, 2023 10:50:32 AM

 

In recent political cycles, we’ve heard a lot of talk about Rail transport in the United States. Most of that talk has been in the context of the US needing more rail accessibility, so it may surprise some to discover that the United States actually has the largest rail network in the world. The catch is, this network is used primarily for freight, not passenger transport, and generally when we speak about rail (at least in politics and on the news), we mean for passengers. Freight made up 91% of all rail-use energy in 2019, so we almost exclusively use it for freight transport, in fact.

Rail accounts for 28% of freight transport by ton-miles, but only resulted in 2% of total transportation emissions. So, given that rail is astonishingly more efficient than both trucking and single vehicle passenger transport (cars), part of the focus on rail is an effort to expand its accessibility, particularly on the passenger side. This would have a two-fold impact on emissions because we would see both an increase in utilization of a lower emission intensive mode of transport, and a simultaneous impact on decreasing traffic related emissions from more intensive transport methods.

Freight rail transport in the US uses diesel locomotive engines almost exclusively, where passenger rail has a mix of diesel and electric. Most intercity transport is diesel, where some light rail and streetcar transport is electrified (think Commuter Rail versus Green Line MBTA lines). Full electrification looks like a near impossible hurdle for US freight transport, because of both the long distances and low traffic levels on most rail lines. Additionally, the current electrification modes in use like overhead lines, or third rails are obviously not at all conducive to long rail lines – emission reductions in this segment would most likely have to come from renewable fuels, hybridization, or new technologies. However, electrification of commuter lines may offer an avenue for further sector emission reductions.

The goals and steps outlined by the Federal Government in the Transportation Blueprint for rail include:

  • Infrastructure Investment: electric locomotives and electrification corridors investment, as well as investment in facilitating the availability of clean/renewable fuels.
  • Multi-stakeholder Collaboration: enhanced partnerships amongst those in government and industry with a vested interest, in order to accelerate the pace of technology development, adaptation, and accessibility.
  • Research & Innovation: investment in research to determine the best and most viable strategies for decarbonization of the sector, particularly through the use of pilot programs to optimize the gathering of real-world data and allow accurate analysis of all the vehicle and environment factors involved to accelerate development in the best clean technologies.

Again, as with the other segments being discussed, a successful pivot away from primarily diesel based rail transport in the United States would have longer term impacts on the market in terms of supply & delivery demands for diesel fuel and associated lubricants.

Something to keep in mind, and that we will keep an eye on as the process continues.

Read More

Topics: EPA, Carbon Emissions, railcar regulations, renewable energy, Biden Administration, decarbonization

Transportation Decarbonization: Off-Road Vehicles and Mobile Equipment

Posted by Kelly Burke on Feb 6, 2023 12:48:53 PM

As we have been discussing, the US National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization breaks the Transportation sector into seven categories, each of which has its own targets for emission reduction/elimination, and strategies for how those declines in emissions will be achieved. The next category addressed in the Blueprint by emissions % is Off-Road Vehicles and Mobile Equipment.

The Off-Road Vehicles and Mobil Equipment segment includes a LOT, from heavy mine drilling equipment and excavators to dirt bikes and lawn mowers. The off-road segment is accountable for approximately 10% of emissions, but where 79% of the segment uses diesel, the changes that would be applicable to the medium and heavy duty (on road) sector would carry over fairly cleanly to the off-road sector, which is why they make sense to address in tandem. We saw a similar approach to this with the transition to ultra low sulfur diesel – the initial priority was on road vehicles, as they are more uniform in fuel technology requirements and also contribute more on emissions. Once the tech is there for on-road, its fairly simple to adopt it down into the off-road sector for diesel fueled equipment.

However, the caveat to the “ease” of transferring the technology is that unlike on road equipment, most off road equipment is multi functional – i.e. a combine harvester both needs to be propelled forward, and work at threshing or harvesting the area it works through simultaneously. That is a lot more difficult equation to account for in terms of optimizing power in a sustainable way than say accounting for a simple weight times distance on-road vehicle requirement. It is likely that the solution on heavier off-road equipment will involve some hybridization to offset emissions, more so than other segments will ultimately see in the final picture.

There is however, a lot of variance within the off road segment and some portions of the market will be a lot less demanding in terms of ability to pivot toward more renewable power. The segment breaks out as follows in order of energy use:

  • Construction & Mining Equipment – 36%
  • Industrial Equipment – 23%
  • Agricultural Equipment – 21%
  • Lawn & Garden Equipment – 15%
  • Recreational Vehicles – 4%

The smallest two segments (lawn & garden equipment, and recreational vehicles) should be the easiest to pivot, at least in theory, as they are more easily moved to EV power. We are already seeing this in the consumer level equipment for lawn care, etc. The hurdles for larger scale adoption on landscaping equipment is mainly power and length of run issues with electric power. Equipment needs to be reliable through the entire job. The hurdle on the recreational vehicle segment is largely performance and preference related. Like it or not, an electric dirt bike isn’t very appealing, and an electric snow mobile seems like a non starter given both the conditions the battery would be anticipated to perform in, as well as the potential for being stranded in the event of a drained battery.

The stated goals of the Blueprint on this segment are:

“Increase Targeted research and innovation efforts” – this involves both understanding the depth and breadth of off road equipment and its functional goals, and developing targets for battery and fuel cell technology based on understanding more about the performance levels required.

“Implement Policy and Regulations” – as mentioned earlier, off-road regulations and standards generally seem to mirror the standards on on-road vehicles to a large degree. It’s likely safe to assume that what we start to see come out regarding trucks and busses will eventually be applicable to your off road equipment in terms of fuel and emissions requirements.

“Invest in strategic demonstration” for this segment, this portion of the plan is essentially a doubling down on the focus in the on road vehicle portion, which is to say it focuses heavily on infrastructure for EV charging and availability of technology to coincide with regulatory requirements. It goes without saying that clearly the infrastructure for on road EV would be essentially useless for most off-road applications, given sheer geographic factors. Clearly then, they are also looking at options outside what we typically picture as the EV charging network options, but it isn’t clear yet what that might look like. There is an acknowledgement in the blueprint that hydrogen fuel and renewable diesel options may be necessary for the foreseeable future because of the logistical difficulties with both continuously operational off road equipment, and the tendency of much of the sector to be remote, rural, and/or difficult to access.

There is less clarity in this section of the blueprint, as it hasn’t been a major focus of the push to EV and renewable energy as much in recent years as have on road vehicles. We will have to keep watch on this in terms of presumably forthcoming EPA guidance and proposed regulations on the off road equipment markets.

Read More

Topics: EPA, Carbon Emissions, Biden Administration, decarbonization

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all