Air unclear at Summit

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“We’re just now ‘eating’ ’02,” said Joe Stianche, fleet manager, Sanderson Farms, Laurel, Miss. He was talking about the added cost and reduced fuel economy associated with new, lower-emitting diesel engines mandated by the EPA, which went into production last year.
Then, in a reference to the omnivorous kid of cereal ad fame, he quipped, “Mikee ain’t gonna eat this twice.”

The occasion was the Diesel Engine Emissions Summit, held last month in conjunction with the Technology & Maintenance Council’s summer meeting in Phoenix. The purpose was to help prepare the industry for 2007 and the ponderous changes to diesel emissions requirements mandated to start that year.

Fleet operators and OEM and supplier reps listened to experts from the industry and the government talk about what the ’07 emissions regs will mean for diesel engines and for those who purchase and operate trucks.

What they heard wasn’t good.

The EPA, the audience was told, has mandated a tenfold reduction in emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and particulate matter (PM). Such an extreme reduction will require extreme technology that will substantially increase cost, complexity and maintenance, and may further hurt fuel economy. “Engine manufacturers used to be able to compensate (for inefficiencies brought about by emissions regulations),” said Freightliner President and CEO Rainer Schmueckle. “Now, there is no magic bullet.”

And the big shocker of the meeting was admission by the engine manufacturers that they aren’t yet sure which technology they’ll use.

But they did explain the likely choices. One leading contender involves EGR (or Caterpillar’s ACERT), along with PM traps and NOx adsorbers. A PM trap, which resembles a muffler, extracts exhaust soot via a ceramic or metallic filter that’s continuously or periodically purged and/or regenerated. A NOx adsorber collects the pollutant on the outside of its internal element (as opposed to an absorber), then the system goes through a rich-fuel cycle to convert it to less harmful substances.

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The other leading contender is selective catalytic reduction (SCR). It uses ammonia provided by introducing a urea/water mixture from a vehicle-mounted tank into the exhaust, upstream of a catalyst.

SCR systems reportedly can reduce NOx, while allowing for an engine calibration with better fuel economy. However, there are concerns, such as additional tanks and an infrastructure for obtaining urea.

Whichever solution they choose – and it looks like not all engine manufacturers will make the same choice – all agreed that a decision must be made this year to avoid rushing engines into production without adequate testing, as was the case in ’02.

But even if the engines are ready early, another part of the equation for ’07 is that more expensive, ultra-low-sulfur fuel – 15 parts per million (ppm), down from the current 500 ppm – will be needed, since even relatively small amounts of sulfur add PM to exhaust emissions and will poison some aftertreatment devices. EPA already has issued a mandate for such low levels of sulfur.

“We prefer to test 24 months before changing engine specs,” said Glenn Brown, president, CFI, Joplin, Mo. “The fuel won’t be available until mid-’06. So even if the new engines are available in ’05, that only gives us six months to test them.”

And what about engine oil? Jim McGeehan, Chevron’s manager, engine oil technology, noted that, depending on the engine technology used, a new oil, PC-10, will likely have to be developed. “But we can’t start to formulate until the engine manufacturers decide on their technologies,” he said.

“We’re very concerned that there’s no clear direction yet,” said Joe Fleming, president of Falcon Transport in Youngstown, Ohio. He then called for an industry push to suspend the ’07 deadline. “We should do what’s best for the whole country,” he said, “not just for clean air.”
“We need the ’07 deadline softened,” agreed Kevin Knight of Phoenix-based Knight Transportation. “I believe, given time, the engine manufacturers could come up with a more cost-effective solution.”

While the engine makers insisted they can make the deadline, no one is happy about paying for it. CFI’s Brown probably spoke for the majority of attendees: “I felt better before I came to this Summit.”