Navistar study prompts EPA, CARB to consider SCR ‘loopholes’

Updated Aug 30, 2010

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board have presented preliminary proposals aimed at the alleged compliance loopholes found in current 2010 liquid-based selective catalytic reduction systems on diesel engines. SCR technology doses diesel engine exhaust with a urea-based diesel exhaust fluid (DEF). The resulting chemical reaction reduces emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) pollutants to levels mandated by EPA’s 2010 diesel emissions regulations.

Concerns about SCR’s environmental compliance were brought to CARB’s and EPA’s attention by truck and engine manufacturer Navistar International, which uses a competitive technology, exhaust gas recirculation, to meet EPA 2010 regulations.Navistar had sued both agencies over their acceptance of SCR technology without stronger measures to prevent engine operation without DEF or an operational SCR system. The truck maker settled both lawsuits by garnering a commitment for further review.

At an air resources workshop in El Monte, Calif., Navistar representatives contended that independent test findings show new commercial vehicles that must contain liquid urea to meet federal NOx emissions standards continue to operate effectively when urea is not present. At such times, Navistar said, the vehicles throw off levels of NOx as much as 10 times higher or more than when urea is present.

The research cited by Navistar was conducted by EnSight, an independent environmental consulting firm, using two long-haul vehicles and one heavy-duty pickup, all of which used SCR. According to Navistar, EnSight’s research showed that when liquid urea was not present, there was little or no effect on the vehicles’ operations; this included long periods of time when the vehicles’ urea tanks were empty or were refilled with water instead of urea. Navistar said one truck tested appeared to operate indefinitely with water and as a result without any functioning SCR NOx control; that truck has accumulated more than 13,000 miles with its SCR NOx emissions control turned off.

“Navistar first identified these loopholes to the agencies and also presented our concerns at the workshop,” said Jack Allen, president of Navistar’s North American truck group. “We will be working with the EPA and CARB to ensure full environmental compliance.”

“While others are saying there are ‘loopholes’ in the current 2010 regulations, we don’t agree with that terminology at all,” said Annette Hebert, chief of CARB’s mobile source operations division. “What we are doing is looking at tightening up SCR certification requirements and clarifying the guidelines so that manufacturers know exactly how to meet them.”

Hebert said CARB’s initial focus is on the time, speeds and mileage SCR trucks can operate once the DEF tank is empty. “We also want to make certain the trucks cannot operate when they are out of spec – if water has been placed in the DEF tank or the SCR system has been tampered with in any way,” she says. “Our goal is to minimize the time and speed a truck can operate and create driver inducements that are stringent enough to encourage them to keep DEF in the system and avoid any performance penalties.

“We’re looking at the information they (Navistar) have given us, and we need to add to that information,” Hebert said. “There are details missing, and CARB will certainly have to look into those issues for ourselves. For example, are drivers or fleets tampering with SCR systems? And if they are, at what level is this alleged tampering taking place? We simply don’t know the answer to those questions right now.”

John Mies, vice president of corporate communications for Mack Trucks and Volvo Trucks North America, responded strongly to Navistar’s claims. “Thanks to billions of dollars in investment, and millions of engineering hours around the world, SCR manufacturers have successfully introduced into the North American market the cleanest diesel engines in the world,” Mies said. “Despite all the technical challenges, the introduction is probably the smoothest the industry has ever seen. And every single thing we’ve done – including the DEF inducement strategy – was done with the full cooperation, knowledge and approval of both the EPA and the California ARB.

“In the midst of all this good news for our industry and the environment, we learned a few weeks ago – not even six months after the implementation date for the new technology – that the regulations we followed in good faith were to be reconsidered,” Mies said. “And why? In large part because of concerns being raised by a single competitor. A competitor that says it is concerned about the environment, but whose US10 engines will emit two-and-a-half times the 2010 NOx standard and are only certifiable with emissions credits.”

Mies openly questioned Navistar’s motivation in raising SCR compliance issues with EPA and CARB, noting that the “competitor” challenging current SCR standards:
• Said it was ready for the new standards, yet lobbied for a delay in implementation, and when that failed, resorted to lawsuits against the regulators;
• Apparently believes that most of its customers, and the trucking industry as a whole, are “hell-bent” on illegal circumvention of emissions controls; and
• Has only been able to compete in the market this year by selling thousands of pre-2010 engines.

“The fact is that a Mack or Volvo truck running at 0.2 grams is and will continue to be much better for the environment than a Navistar truck running at 0.5 grams – and no amount of changes to the inducement strategies will change that,” Mies said. “As we have always done, Volvo will cooperate fully with the EPA and CARB as you consider this issue. But let’s make sure that what we do is truly in the interest of the environment and the public. And let’s not penalize those who have worked with you in good faith, and reward those who are trying to manipulate the system for their own competitive advantage.”

Allen countered that truck owners are paying a substantial price to comply with 2010 NOx requirements. “They, and the public, deserve to know that the new equipment they are purchasing actually works as promised to curb pollution,” he said. “It’s obvious, however, that these trucks can operate effectively without liquid urea, and that under these and other conditions, SCR NOx emission control is turned off. We’re calling on the EPA and CARB to assure that all vehicles, not just ours, work when they are supposed to be working.”