Let’s play dominoes

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By now, most folks know that heavy-duty diesels designed to be compliant with 2007 EPA emissions regulations will be more expensive to buy and operate than current engines. But, at the annual meeting of the Technology & Maintenance Council, which included the Emissions Summit II, downstream effects were noted.

For starters, ’07 engines will need to be operated exclusively on ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel (15 parts per million), which should become widely available in 2006. The reason is that the new engines will be equipped with particulate filters or traps (DPFs) that would quickly become plugged with combustion byproducts of the sulfur in today’s fuel.

For refiners, distributors and fleet operators, that means special fuel handling, at least initially, since contamination with standard diesel poses the risk of equipment damage.
At the distributor and fleet level, all tanks and piping will need to be purged, cleaned and segregated from those used to dispense today’s fuel.

Then there’s the issue of engine oil. According to Jim McGeehan, chairman, American Petroleum Institute Oil Classification Board, and chief engineer, ChevronTexaco Global Lubricants, a new oil is being developed for use in ’07 engines. Code named PC-10, the new oil will need to have reduced ash content, since blowby from today’s higher-ash oils can – you guessed it – plug DPFs.

But, since ash is useful as a lubricant, a balance will have to be reached between engine protection and DPF life. “We’re working on a “chemical box” for the oil,” says McGeehan, with parameters that cannot be exceeded in any direction. The design of that box should be frozen in June, and the new oil should be available in the third quarter of ’06.

Finally, there will be maintenance issues. Ed Eaton of Amalgamated Laboratories revealed that the testing his company has done on hotter-running, low-emission engines indicate that the anti-corrosive ingredients in coolants are degrading more quickly, and the engines require more frequent top-offs.

But the big maintenance deal is the DPF, which will need to be periodically removed, purged and reinstalled. This, according to Glen Blythe of Engelhard Corp., will need to be done about once a year, but intervals will vary by vehicle and application.

The reason is that DPFs will eventually become plugged, creating engine backpressure, which will sap power and increase fuel consumption.

The cleaning process, he says, should take about two hours, and involves “back-flushing” the units with compressed air.

Clearly, ’07 engine feasibility is a high-stakes game, and players will have to have a concrete plan. They can ill afford to let the chips fall where they may.