Diesel wants to be your friend

Okay, folks, if you drive a car, ride in a bus, consume anything ever carried in a truck or ship, or simply are interested in questions about energy supply and greenhouse gases...pay attention.
Written by Harry Fuller, Contributor

Okay, folks, if you drive a car, ride in a bus, consume anything ever carried in a truck or ship, or simply are interested in questions about energy supply and greenhouse gases...pay attention. I have an acronym for you to memorize: ULSD.

That's Ultra-low Sulphur Diesel. It's a cleaner-burning fuel than oil-fashioned diesel and any fangled version of gasoline you can name. Talking to Allen Schaeffer, head of the Diesel Technology Forum, he's convinced that the future will bring us diesel that's not just new but better. The Forum is based in the heart of the beast: Washington. It members include vehicle and parts-makers and a couple petroleum companies.

Already Schaeffer can point to diesel's higher efficiency as fuel when compared to gasoline. And, he adds, diesel is an earlier distillate when derived from petroleum. Thus it requires less energy and expense to produce. The European Union has long recognized diesel as a more efficient fuel, taxing it at a lower rate than gasoline. The result: last year E.U. new car sales were 50% diesel. In the U.S. that figure was less than 4%. Schaeffer's confident there's a diesel surge in America's future. A combination of new tech and new federal EPA regs will kick in. By 2010 diesel and gas-burning cars and light trucks will have the same mileage and smog standards.

Further, with new-tech diesels burning ULSD, the new cars can meet the tougher air pollution standards in California, New York State and three other states. He mentioned that Mercedes sold no diesels in the U.S. from 1998 to 2004. Yet they've long sold huge numbers elsewhere. Soon new diesels will be sold in California and New York. Yes, Schaeffer sees more diesels when he looks down the road.

Checki it out. Our ZDnet reviewer got a chance to drive one of Mercedes' new diesels that burns ULSD. Schaeffer says nearly every domestic and foreign car-maker will be in the diesel race in America by 2010. That means more ads and more public awareness. Picking a car while more consumer awareness and interest on fuel type or mixes. Schaeffer says there'll be numerous diesel/gasoline hyrbids to choose from.

Already nearly all American tractor-trailers are diesel powered. At that size and level of energy-use diesel is too efficient compared to other currently available fuels. So are many of the machines built by Caterpillar and John Deere, and most of those portable electricity-generators hauled out for the latest hurricane or flood.

So here are things to expect, according to Schaeffer: More car makers selling diesels in various sizes and models, including SUVs and light trucks. The SUV/truck portion of the new passenger vehicle market is still nearly 50% in the U.S. And hs says, "Buyers are going to be a darker shade of green." Influenced, he says, by both economic and environmental concerns. He sees diesels making inroads (sorry) into all levels of the truck market. Soobn you'll rent a diesel U-Haul.

Currently a diesel powered car costs $1,000-2,000 more because of engine manufacturing costs. If fuel costs continue to rise that may seem unimportant in the future. Plus the U.S. government is going to be offering a tax rebate on new diesels, similar to what's being offered right now on gas/electric hybrids.

Schaeffer was kindly toward bio-diesel. Essentially wishing the industry well, saying current technology requires mixing bio-diesel with petrol-diesel. New developments could make bio-diesel content better and distribution easier in the future. He pointed to the fact that rapeseed biodiesel was the fuel of the very first diesel engine over a century ago. The inventor, German Rudolf Diesel.

Rapeseed is still a common source of biodiesel fuel. Each spring fields of yellow blossoms cover the rolling hills of northeastern France and the Loire Valley. Diesel's native Germany now buys a lot sf rapeseed oil from France. France will produce almost a milion metric tons of rapeseed oil this year.

One other talking point in favor of Schaeffer and dieselites: It's an Audi diesel that's been winning the LeMans race recently. The past two years the 24-hour long race was won by the AudiAG R10.

The photo above: 2007 Mercedes-Benz ML320 CDI. This is the car covered by the review I linked to.

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