Diesel demand projected to soar on economic growth

HOUSTON — Economic growth in the United States will cause demand for diesel to rise over coming decades, even as regular gasoline use continues a steady decline, according to a federal analysis released this week.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that growth in miles traveled by heavy-duty vehicles — such as buses, big rigs, and large pickup trucks — will outweigh improvements fuel economy, pushing demand for diesel higher. Heavy-duty vehicles will consume 41.5 percent more energy in 2040 than in 2012, the agency forecasts, a faster rise than any other mode of transportation, including aircraft and pipelines.

The rising demand is “a result of increased demand for travel as economic output grows,” the EIA wrote. “In contrast to the projected decline in gasoline use, a strong increase in heavy-duty vehicle miles traveled leads to an increase in consumption of diesel fuel.”

For the transportation sector as a whole, the agency projects that energy use will decline 4.5 percent between 2012 and 2040. That reverses the historic trend — energy use for transportation grew an average of 1.3 percent per year from 1973 to 2007.

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Rapid improvement in the fuel economy of passenger cars and other light-duty vehicles will slash gasoline demand. Energy use from small vehicles will fall 24 percent between 2012 and 2040, to 12.1 quadrillion British thermal units, the agency forecasts.

The higher fuel economy is driven largely by stricter federal standards finalized by the Obama administration in 2012. The EIA noted that those rules effectively require automakers to boost efficiency of light-duty vehicles to an average of about 49 miles per gallon in model year 2025, compared to about 33 miles per gallon for model year 2012. Those improvements more than offset a projected increase in miles traveled by light-duty vehicles in coming years.

But that won’t be the case for heavy-duty vehicles, whose energy demand will reach 7.5 quadrillion British thermal by 2040, according to the EIA.

But the agency cautioned that its projections are based on current policies. President Obama has called on the Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Department to develop for stricter fuel standards for heavy-duty trucks by 2016.

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