Three Ways to Curb Carbon Emissions in Construction Vehicles and Equipment

Sustainable solutions exist to protect the planet without hindering development.
By Don Owens
September 13, 2022

The construction industry has seen its share of challenges in recent years. Supply chain bottlenecks and building materials scarcities have driven up costs and reduced profit margins, while labor shortages have led to project delays and lost bids. Now, the industry faces a new challenge.

As the United States takes unprecedented steps to reach its climate goals, all industries are charged to take action. For the construction industry, in which 98% of power comes from diesel fuels, this charge might seem out of reach. After all, construction firms are heavily invested in their equipment, which is necessary to build roads, bridges, homes and commercial buildings; and the nation’s aging infrastructure is in dire need of improvements, which require construction equipment to complete.

Yet, the construction industry is responsible for 35% of global greenhouse gas emissions and these emissions contribute to global warming and negatively impact human health and wellbeing, particularly for people who live near the site. Fortunately, there are ways for the construction industry to cut carbon emissions that don’t require a huge investment and may even cut costs.

1. Diesel Fuel Alternatives

The slow combustion of diesel fuel makes it ideal for heavy machinery, enabling better efficiency and higher torque power. When burned, diesel fuel produces emissions that pollute the air, damage human health, harm plant life and contribute to global warming. Natural and synthetic alternative fuels exist that produce fewer emissions than diesel, including the following.

Liquified Petroleum Gasoline (LPG)

  • Pro: Despite its name, LPG burns relatively clean, producing 15% less fine dust, 15% less carbon dioxide and 95% less nitrous oxide than its diesel counterpart—and emits virtually no black carbon.
  • Con: LPG can take a toll on machinery, shortening the lifetime of valves and increasing the engine’s weight significantly, which impedes performance, so construction executives should weigh the advantages and disadvantages before choosing this option.


  • Pro: Biodiesel is a renewable synthetic fuel that mimics diesel but with up to 78% fewer greenhouse gas emissions. It helps engines run smoother.
  • Con: Biodiesel costs significantly more than diesel (about 1.5 times more) and its production currently requires copious energy and resources.

Hydrogen via Hydrogen Fuel Cells

  • Pro: Hydrogen is used to power fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV). FCEVs emit only water vapor and are more compatible with large construction vehicles than are the lithium batteries used in electric vehicles due to their high output.
  • Con: They are a costly alternative to diesel and, as with electric passenger vehicles, concerns abound over the lack of infrastructure to support vehicle charging.

2. Electric Vehicles

Diesel engines are durable, efficient and safe, which makes them ideal for the construction industry, but they come with a hefty environmental cost; across all industries, diesel engines produce 66% of the world’s black carbon emissions. With the growing popularity of electric passenger vehicles and commercial EVs, construction executives will likely need to consider transitioning their fleets to this planet-friendly alternative in the future.

Most EV options available in the construction industry today are smaller and more compact machinery. In addition to lower emissions, these can work in narrow spaces and can be easier to store and transport.

As with passenger EVs, concerns over range and charging downtime will apply. Construction executives will want to ensure performance doesn’t diminish when they abandon diesel. Still, the industry will undoubtedly benefit from the lower operating costs, less noise and fewer maintenance requirements of EVs.

3. Retrofits for Diesel Engines

Hydrogen generators can be retrofitted to diesel engines, where they act as a catalyst to help fuel burn more efficiently. Hydrogen-enriched air enters the combustion chamber and allows the diesel fuel to burn more completely, which improves fuel economy and reduces emissions. The hydrogen combustion process results in 50% to 85% less unburned fuel. This means fewer emissions, greater cost savings and longer engine life.

Most importantly, these solutions are already on the market today to help the construction industry lower carbon emissions while the green energy sector works to find and perfect alternative sources to power heavy machinery. For example, products like a dual-fuel bladder can be retrofitted in construction vehicles at far less capital investment than an entirely new fleet. This keeps the vehicles in service, helps to immediately curb emissions and allows progress to continue simultaneously with the production of other green solutions.

Carbon Offsets

Carbon offsets allow businesses to counteract the carbon emissions of a construction project by purchasing carbon credits. Companies invest in projects that sequester carbon from the atmosphere––such as forestry or agricultural projects––equal to the greenhouse gases emitted from their project.

Because they arguably permit businesses to continue actions that are harmful to the environment, the environmental benefit of carbon offsets is sometimes questioned.

Meeting U.S. climate goals necessitates all industries to take action. While this will pose a challenge for construction and other diesel-reliant industries, construction executives don’t have to halt economic progress and delay needed improvements to an aging infrastructure until a viable diesel alternative comes along.

Progress doesn’t have to come with a hefty environmental cost. Construction executives should know that solutions exist now to protect the planet without hindering development.

by Don Owens
Don Owens is the chairman of HNO International and author of the revolutionary book, "Burn Fuel Better." A leading expert in hydrogen-related engine and energy technologies, Don has dedicated the last decade to researching and developing industry-leading and patented hydrogen technologies and custom solutions needed to enable industries and communities to transition to clean electricity. A critical player in the global effort to transition to truly clean energy, HNO International believes it is uniquely positioned as a change-maker to help businesses stay ahead of government regulations, save on operational costs and provide environmental benefits. 

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