For most people, the term “clean diesel” is an oxymoron; the two words seem incompatible. This is soon to change.
At least that is the hope of many in the diesel business, who believe that the upcoming push for cleaner diesel engines which comes into force October 1 is a pivotal time for the reputation of the compression-ignition engine.
October 1 is the date when heavy-duty truck engine manufacturers have promised to sell engines with greatly reduced emissions. While the new standards were to come under the force of law in the U.S. as part of the Environmental Protection Act–hence its “EPA02” nickname–the Canadian market will not be immune to its influence.
The Canadian government announced that it had decided to mirror U.S. lawmakers and is imposing tight limits on emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and particulate matter (PM), in addition to calling for ultra-low sulphur diesel by 2007.
The Clean Air Action Plan, which was officially unveiled by Environment Minister David Anderson earlier this year, lays out Canada’s regulatory road map toward protecting the health of all Canadians.
Anderson promised that all new vehicles built and sold in Canada will be under the same stringent emissions standards starting in 2004 south of the border. In this phase, NOx levels are to be cut to 50 per cent of current levels.
The following deadline, 2007, will see diesel sulphur levels drop to 15 parts per million (ppm) by mid-2006. Currently, the sulphur content of diesel sold in Canada averages 320 ppm. This is timed to coincide with a further rollback of NOx levels to 95% of present levels and a 90% cut in particulate matter emissions.
Engine makers such as Detroit Diesel, Cummins, Volvo, and Caterpillar are required by their own consent agreement to meet 2004 standards two years early or face significant penalties. That Consent Decree was an agreement by several engine makers to pay substantial fines for allegedly fudging their emissions.
Most foreign builders did not violate emissions laws and were not pushed into the Consent Decree, so do not have to lower their NOx emissions by October of ’02. Isuzu of Japan and its General Motors partner are not affected by the decree, so engines such as the 6.6- and 7.8-litre DuraMax diesels are unaffected.
Nevertheless, for those builders who are affected, the standards will lower the emissions of these engines by significant amounts: nitrogen oxide, or NOx, is being cut from 4 grams per brake hp/hr to 2 to 2.2 grams of both NOx and CO, a decrease in NOx of almost 50%.
The next stage is set to come in 2007, when standards will require on-highway trucks to have emissions 90% cleaner than even the new limits.
The changes this October, in January 2004, and in 2007 are expected to have a dramatic impact on the diesel technologies employed, and on the aftermarket.
The two key technologies to be employed are the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) valve, and a type of catalytic converter designed to clean up the unique elements of diesel exhaust. These, and what will surely be a variety of other components, have been collectively termed “aftertreatment” components. These are not new to the automotive industry, but they are just making their way to the heavy-duty diesel business.
“I guess I can sum it up in one word: opportunity,” says Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, a diesel advocacy group based in Maryland, whose interests in promoting the benefits of the diesel engine are not restricted to the heavy-duty sector.
“There is going to be an intense focus on addressing emissions from vehicles already out there. There is already the regulatory vise on the technologies for 2007, but from now until then state and local governments are looking for ways to reduce emissions [of existing vehicles].” He offers by way of example the fact that California is looking to have some 1.25 million vehicles retrofitted with emissions reduction devices.
At the original equipment level, heavy-duty diesel manufacturers have been vying for the attention of truck specifiers and customers as the October 1 date approaches.
“Cummins will be ready for October 1. Our programs are on schedule. Cummins is not only committed to staying in the heavy truck engine business; let me assert now, we intend to be the undisputed leader in heavy duty engines, and will do so profitably,” said Joe Loughrey, executive vice-president and president of Engine Business for Cummins Inc. this past spring.
“Design changes in the turbocharger and fuel injection system, as well as the addition of a fuel temperature stabilization system and proven aftertreatment technology, will lower emissions while maintaining the exceptional performance and operating costs truck owners require,” said John Campbell, director of Caterpillar On-Highway Engine Products, also earlier this year.
Detroit Diesel has been the most visible in the debates. Some reports claimed that it was not going to be able to meet the standards with its popular Series 60 engine. The company fired back recently, saying it will meet tougher emissions regulations, and that its technological readiness had been mischaracterized. The company says it is committed to meeting the new requirements, without penalties or aftertreatment devices.
It’s all in the interim, of course, because 2007 limits will push the emissions limits even further downward. Schaeffer says that it is the start of a trend in the heavy-duty business that will require a different mindset.
“There is going to be a lot of emphasis on this whole area. For the aftermarket, there really are opportunities for those companies that are going to think a bit differently. Customers and folks that you have dealt with for a long time are going to be looking at opportunities. Governments may offer money–grants or vouchers–to take emissions from where they are today to this other level.
“This may be from cleaner fuel or retrofits, but those are the kinds of challenges just around the corner.”
Challenges, of course, breed concerns. The truck industry has been regulated for three decades, but this brings the impact of regulation to a whole new level.
“What’s different now is that previously, manufacturers had been pretty much able to solve their emissions on their own with the internals of the engine. That will continue for 2002 to 2004, but by 2007, because the standard is so stringent, they are going to have to incorporate an emissions treatment device as well as having a much cleaner fuel to allow that device to operate,” says Schaeffer. That’s a challenge for the engineers, but it doesn’t end there.
“There is also cost. For many years, the incremental improvements in diesel have not been without cost, but it has been often offset by better fuel mileage or other savings. People didn’t really have a sense of how much the engine price went up on emissions alone. What’s different now is that all this new stuff is new stuff. It’s not there today and it’s going to be there tomorrow. Clean air is not free and for the first time this is going to become incredibly apparent.
“That mindset isn’t necessarily in place just yet, and people are still coming to terms with those issues,” says Schaeffer.
“The aftermarket companies and the people who do service on engines and fuel systems are in the position of having long relationships with customers who are scratching their heads wondering what to do. The company that is able to help them think through that process is going to be in a very interesting position. We are already seeing this to some extent as heavy-duty dealers are looking at it as a separate business. Engines that were going to be out there forever are now going to have to have something done to them.”
It’s not just about technical issues, though; it’s also about the regulations. The regulatory structure may end up as a maze of agencies that could drive truck owners to the point of frustration. Companies that view the whole issue as more than just sales of parts and services, and learn how to provide guidance and business services will likely
be a welcome relief.
“If you’re in that mindset,” says Schaeffer, “perhaps you’ll be the one to benefit.”