Finding alternate power

By now, fleets should be well aware of the stringent emissions regulations governing new heavy-duty diesel engines that went into effect last October, as well as an even tighter set of rules due to take effect in 2007. Since the federal rules apply only to engines made after October 1, 2002, many fleets have avoided the issue by holding on o older vehicles rather than purchase new ones. Regulatory

By now, fleets should be well aware of the stringent emissions regulations governing new heavy-duty diesel engines that went into effect last October, as well as an even tighter set of rules due to take effect in 2007. Since the federal rules apply only to engines made after October 1, 2002, many fleets have avoided the issue by holding on o older vehicles rather than purchase new ones.

Regulatory on state and local levels, however, may make that strategy less viable. State policies are driven by the federal Clean Air Act (CAA), which has targets reducing reduce air pollution in major urban areas.

The Houston-Galveston region in Texas, for example, has been given until 2007 to meet the standard for ground-level ozone smog as proscribed by the CAA. If it fails to do this, it could lose about $1 billion annually in transportation funding.


“Local governments can lose highway funds under the Clean Air Act if they don't reduce air pollution, [creating] a pressure cooker for fleets,” explains Allan Schaeffer, executive director of the Reston, VA-based Diesel Technology Forum (DTF). “That's why fleets in areas with air quality issues like Houston will feel pressure to reduce vehicle emissions.”

Fleets should be worried because EPA believes much of the pollution choking major cities comes from trucks. The agency estimates that diesel exhaust from heavy-duty on-road vehicles makes up 63% of the particulate matter (PM) and 42% of the oxides of nitrogen (NOx) that cause air pollution.

According to Schaeffer, the issue facing states right now is that air quality improvements from clean diesel technology introduced last year and in 2007 accrue over time. And time may not be something state and local governments have in terms of meeting CAA-mandated air quality levels.

“Hundreds of counties could wake up one day in the near future and find that they are considered ‘non-attainment’ areas for air pollution,” Schaeffer notes. “Many states are going to need nearer term emissions reductions before 2007; they may not be able to wait for the slow replacement of older trucks with '02 and '07 low-emissions engines.

Eighteen states now have some form of retrofit program for diesel-powered trucks. According to Tracy Embree, product manager for Fleetguard Emissions Solutions, the retrofit market to date has primarily been targeted at captive municipal fleets since they have access to federal and state funding - mostly affecting transit buses, refuse haulers, school buses and the like.

“For example, Texas has launched one of the country's most aggressive retrofit programs, called TERP (Texas Emissions Reduction Program),” she says. “TERP will provide $130 million a year for several years to owners and operators of equipment to take action to clean up their equipment.”

Another is the $40 million Clean Cities/Clean Vehicle Program, a national effort designed to help area businesses and local governments convert their fleets to more environmentally friendly vehicles.

Clean Cities/Clean Vehicles funds up to 75% of the incremental cost of the purchase price of an OEM vehicle, and up to 75% of the total cost of a conversion that involves either use of a clean fuel, catalyst or other technology that effectively reduces vehicle emissions. It also covers up to 75% of the costs of establishing publicly owned, on-site fueling facilities and other infrastructure needed to fuel clean vehicles, says Jack Steele, executive director of the Houston-Galveston Area Council.

Fleets are now faced with the challenge of finding economically feasible solutions for reducing emissions from older trucks. Options include switching to an alternative fuel such as natural gas, propane, etc., or retrofitting older equipment with clean diesel technology such as particulate traps, etc.

Some fleets may ultimately find it cheaper and simpler just to replace their old equipment with new, albeit more expensive, trucks equipped with low-emissions '02 or '07 engines.

The Clean Cities program will provide funding for the following options:

  • Purchasing new low-emissions vehicles;

  • Re-powering existing high-emitting diesel vehicles with emissions-compliant engines;

  • Retrofitting existing vehicles with aftertreatment systems to lower emissions;

  • Building or upgrading a “clean fuel” infrastructure, such as adding a natural gas pumping station.

“It comes down to incentives,” says DTF's Schaeffer. “No state so far has said [fleets] must switch only to natural gas or another alternate fuel. The fleet's decision, however, rests upon how much underwriting cities and states with pollution issues will give them for either alternate fuel or clean diesel options.”

An example of how the program works is Silver Eagle Distributors, a beverage delivery fleet based in Houston. It received $267,750 from the Clean Cities program to retrofit 31 of its trucks with clean diesel technology. It cost the fleet $6,800 per tractor to recalibrate its engines to reduce NOx emissions, add particulate filters and make other modifications, says vp-fleet management Ed Pritchard. The extra 12c/gal. it costs to operate on ultra-low-diesel fuel is not covered.


Another path fleets can explore is avoiding petroleum-based fuels altogether. Such is the case with SunLine Transit Agency, Thousand Palms, CA. According to Bert Kronmiller, SunLine's marketing coordinator/alternative fuel projects, SunLine converted its 170 buses overnight to compressed natural gas (CNG) buses in 1994.

SunLine has since expanded its options to include liquefied natural gas (LNG), hydrogen, and HCNG — a blend of 20% hydrogen and 80% CNG.

While SunLine's bus fleet operates very differently from most trucking carriers, its experience with alternate fuels can be useful in giving fleets an idea of how to approach switching to a non petroleum fuel in the most economical manner.

“It has been our experience that, over the long run, it is more cost-effective to purchase OEM dedicated alternative fuel vehicles,” says Kronmiller. “Retrofitting old technology generally leads to higher maintenance costs, both short and long term.”

He adds that SunLine ultimately believes hydrogen will be the fuel of the future for use in internal combustion engines and vehicles powered by fuel cells.

In reality, though, fleets must focus on finding the most economic technological solution for reducing diesel emissions. And some believe alternative fuels just aren't cost-efficient enough for most truckers.

“Alternate fuels would result in higher overall operating costs for several reasons,” says Tom Freiwald, vp-marketing for Detroit Diesel Corp. (DDC) “The first is the cost of the fuel itself. In addition, product maturity of most, if not all, alternate fuel engine designs is not at the level of diesel engine maturity. As a result, they typically require more frequent maintenance intervals.”

DDC thinks going with low-emissions diesel engine technology, and in particular switching to ULSD fuel for all diesel-powered trucks, is the most economical option for reducing engine emissions.

“The use of this fuel in all on-highway heavy-duty diesels will have a significant impact on particulates from all engines, not just the 2007 models,” Freiwald says. “Our overall recommendation would be to place the newer vehicles in the highest mileage use and phase the older units out naturally, which of course is the way the market already works today.”

“Re-powering an existing diesel vehicle to a natural gas engine is generally not practical or economically feasible,” says Carol Lavengood, director of communications for Columbus, IN-based engine maker Cummins. “Items such as fuel tanks, particularly [those for] CNG, require significant space on the vehicle. They can also have an impact on structural considerations, such as roof-mounted CNG cylinders.”

Vehicles powered by LNG, however, can be an exception because the LNG tank fits in the same space as that used by a diesel system.

Lavengood explains that most fleets are making the decision about which emissions-reduction solution to use based solely on cost effectiveness. Factors that impact the choice include: the availability of ULSD, accessibility to a natural gas refueling infrastructure, and the eligibility requirements for accessing funding sources.

“Economics becomes a more visible factor for non-government fleets,” she says. “Trucking fleets that operate in non-attainment and maintenance areas are eligible for funds when they form public-private partnerships.”

Fleets can also be eligible for funds in certain areas, like Texas, where programs have been implemented to meet the requirements of State Implementation Plans (SIPs), which are required for any state with non-attainment areas within its borders, Lavengood points out. “That means more efforts are under way to develop programs that will help make retrofit more affordable for non-government fleets.”

The key to remember, warns DTF's Schaeffer, is that fleets themselves may soon be dealing rules that used to be reserved only for engine makers.

“The states are not just going to target truck engine OEMs anymore to cut emissions,” he says. “They're going to be looking at owners and operators of trucks too.”

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