Assessing Zero-Emission Alternatives to Diesel in Alberta

Sep 18, 2019

Alberta Innovates provides support to CESAR to explore alternatives to Diesel

Calgary, Alberta, Canada – Long-haul freight transportation is crucial to the Canadian economy, particularly in western Canada where hundreds of kilometers separate major population centres. Electric drive vehicles are vying to take the place of diesel in the heavy-duty vehicle marketplace.

To meet Canada’s 2050 climate change commitments, viable alternative energy systems will need to reduce GHGs by about 84% reflecting an 80% reduction of 2005 level of freight diesel emissions. With the majority of emissions coming from the vehicles, an alternative, zero-emission fuel is required.

Canada Energy Systems Analysis Research (CESAR) released a report to provide industry and policy makers with insight into the feasibility, costs and emissions implications of alternatives to diesel fuel.

Electric-drive heavy-duty trucks come in two ‘flavours’: battery-electric (BE) such as those from Tesla and hydrogen fuel cell electric such as those from Nicola and Toyota.

Battery electric HDV powertrains are considerably more efficient than the internal combustion engine of a diesel vehicle (68% as compared to 35%). CESAR concludes that in Alberta, the grid to battery electric energy system is not a climate change solution for freight transport. GHG emissions would be higher than that of the existing energy system. Other problems include the weight of the battery system.

The hydrogen fuel cell electric (HFCE) heavy-duty vehicles are another option for an electric powertrain that has sparked the interest of the freight sector. Unlike the battery electric alternative, fuel cells on board the vehicles convert stored hydrogen gas into the electricity needed for the electric drive axels. In this hybrid-electric system, the fuel cells charge the batteries when their output exceeds the demand for moving the vehicle.

CESAR concludes a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle using hydrogen from natural gas or water electrolysis could meet GHG emissions targets set by Canada’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and produce other benefits such as higher torque and lower maintenance costs.

The wholesale, per kilometer cost of producing a zero-emission transportation fuel (i.e. ‘blue’ hydrogen) is only 41% of the wholesale cost of producing diesel, a fossil fuel renowned for its contributions to air pollution and GHG emissions.

Given the importance of North American diesel demand to the oil-dependent Alberta economy, CESAR will produce another report exploring the resource and economic implications for Alberta should any of the alternative energy systems become the dominant energy system supporting the heavy freight sector or other sectors that are currently reliant on diesel.

Read the full report for additional details.


CESAR (Canada Energy Systems Analysis Research) is an initiative of David Layzell, a professor at the University of Calgary, to encourage and communicate research and critical analysis around the transformation of Canada’s energy systems. The primary author is Jessica Lof of CESAR, a specialist in low carbon transition pathways for Canada’s transportation systems.

The primary goals of CESAR are to elevate the conversation across Canada around energy systems choices and to inform policy and investment decisions regarding the transformation of Canada’s energy systems towards sustainability.  Visit CESAR online for more information.


Media inquiries:

Dwayne Brunner
Media Relations Manager
Alberta Innovates (587) 572-4091