CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
December 17, 2017
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Commentary: Do-it-yourself diesel

Comment
Although diesel-powered trucks are our best option right now, it makes sense to develop other fuel sources—even if it means manufacturing it ourselves.

The news that BP has capped its leaking underwater well in the Gulf of Mexico is welcome indeed, but the oil-spill saga reminds us of our continued dependence on fossil fuel. As any supply chain executive can attest, the movement and manufacture of goods depend to a large extent on fossil fuels like gas, coal, and diesel.

This environmental tragedy has reignited debate about abandoning fossil fuels for some alternative form of energy. It's an important discussion to have, but we need to accept the facts: although truck manufacturers are working on hybrid-electric vehicles, diesel remains the best way to power big rigs carrying 80,000-pound shipments. Until there is some technological breakthrough that will be as efficient and reliable as diesel, we have no choice but to continue using fossil fuels to keep our supply chains moving.

That's not to say that there are no other solutions to consider. One is a type of biofuel made from genetically engineered bacteria that feed on the sugar in plant waste and excrete diesel as byproduct of digestion. Sound far-fetched? At least one company, LS9 Inc. in San Francisco, is already producing it.

LS9 claims that its microbe-made fuel meets the U.S. government's standard for the ultra-clean diesel fuel required in truck transportation. The company plans to open its first production plant, a demonstration facility in Florida, later this year.

It will probably be a decade or more before LS9 and other companies like it can produce enough biofuel to make a dent in our nation's demand for diesel. Still, manufacturing fuel to power supply chains may carry less risk than trying to extract fossil fuels from the farthest reaches of our planet.

That’s not to say that there are no other solutions to consider. One is a type of biofuel made from genetically engineered bacteria that feed on the sugar in plant waste and excrete diesel as byproduct of digestion. Sound farfetched? At least one company, LS9 Inc. in San Francisco, is already producing it.

LS9 claims that its microbe-made fuel meets the U.S. government’s standard for the ultra-clean diesel fuel required in truck transportation. The company plans to open its first production plant, a demonstration facility in Florida, later this year.

It will probably be a decade or more before LS9 and other companies like it can produce enough biofuel to make a dent in our nation’s demand for diesel. Still, manufacturing fuel to power supply chains may carry less risk than trying to extract fossil fuels from the farthest reaches of our planet.

James A. Cooke is a supply chain software analyst. He was previously the editor of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly and a staff writer for DC Velocity.

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