Renewable fuels: The bridge between now and net zero

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Darren Tasker, vice president of industrial sales at Volvo Penta of the Americas, discusses renewable fuels as a resilient and sustainable solution for backup power generation systems, helping to bridge the gap between now and net-zero emissions.

Renewable fuels

Darren Tasker, vice president of industrial sales at Volvo Penta of the Americas

Energy and climate challenges plague the globe. Electrical grids manage more complexities as more distributed energy resources go online. They deal with multiple sources of energy coming from many locations at varied times, which only adds to the complexity.

When managed well, electricity is available when and where it’s needed. When it’s not, consumers and businesses lack the power they need.

There are also escalating societal and institutional pressures toward more sustainable solutions and reduction of carbon footprint. Emerging policies are accelerating the transformation from current fossil fuels to alternative renewable fuels and technologies for a more positive environmental impact.

How can microgrids reconcile these challenges?

Using Tier 4 Final engines — which reduce exhaust emissions by up to 99% compared to previous tier levels — inside generators powering microgrids will address these concerns. These engines deliver dependable and resilient sources of power in a smaller carbon footprint that meets stringent standards for lower emissions. The engines deliver powerful performance when needed most, with limited maintenance, maximized uptime and enhanced fuel efficiency.

When used in a generator that powers a microgrid, they also offer operational flexibility and package density to make the best use of space. Volvo Penta uses engine technology proven in off-road and on-highway applications in microgrids.

Today’s Tier 4 Final engines largely use fossil fuel diesel, a reliable, low-emission solution for standby power, base-load power generation or built-in redundancy for critical assets. The proven technology meets the lowest EPA emission levels, with extremely low NOx and particulate matter levels.

But it’s not enough.

The transition to net zero will require a mix of energy solutions. There will be no single source of energy that will work across the board to meet the expectations of sustainability and dependability.

New microgrids will rely on renewable energy, including wind and solar, and renewable fuels, such as those produced from vegetable oil, hydrogen and other renewable sources.

Embracing renewable fuels will enhance a microgrid’s ability to reliably deliver power while addressing sustainability and dependability.

And combining renewable energy sources will help downsize generator sizes in microgrids. Where before we might have needed a 1- or 2-megawatt generator to provide energy, by blending in renewables, fuel cells and energy storage systems, you might only need a 200- or 300-kilowatt generator. To be clear, we are not disposing of internal combustion engines. We are downsizing them.

A certain amount of energy can come from renewable energy such as wind or solar, but it must be combined with an internal combustion engine in a microgrid. Diesel engines provide instant energy when renewable sources are unavailable.

However, diesel engines can derive their power from renewable fuels instead of diesel fossil fuels.

Volvo Penta is part of the Volvo Group, which has committed to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and net-zero emissions by 2050. Though these targets are decades away, our company’s strategy has already started.

All Volvo Penta Tier 4 Final solutions can now operate on fossil fuel free renewable fuels or hydrotreated vegetable oil. Compared to most conventional diesel fuels, renewable fuels reduce soot and are sulfur free. Applications can use renewable fuels wherever they use fossil fuel diesel today without modifying Volvo Penta engines.

When our engines use renewable fuels, they operate without a change in performance.

Even with these engines available, obstacles remain to widespread adoption of renewable fuels including:

  • Cost: Renewable fuel costs can be higher than conventional diesel fuel.
  • Availability: While renewable fuels are readily available in places like the West Coast, distribution challenges and availability limit its adoption. Policy and incentives will help drive renewable fuel adoption.

There are some incentive programs for on-highway vehicles that use renewable fuel. This is something we must lobby for in the off-highway segments. We need to collaborate with local authorities to promote the benefits of renewable fuels to help secure funding.

Though this has yet to happen, companies need not wait to transition to renewable fuels. This is a drop-in solution and companies interested in making the switch today can work with local fuel suppliers to address supply and drive change.

Darren Tasker is vice president of industrial sales at Volvo Penta of the Americas.

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