Dr. Walter G. Copan is executive vp-North American operations & CTO for Clean Diesel Technologies (CDT), a company that focuses on the development of solutions to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy, including urea injection systems for selective catalytic reduction of NOx, diesel particulate filters and biofuels technologies. Prior to joining Clean Diesel Technologies, he was the principal licensing executive at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. Dept. of Energy. Dr. Copan also worked for many years at Lubrizol and is the author of numerous professional articles and papers. Fleet Owner recently had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Copan about the rapidly changing world of emissions control — from new technologies to new regulations.
FO: How do you see emissions reduction today?
Copan: It is a very emotional and confusing time for the transportation industry. Fleets are worried about their operating costs, the demands of the stakeholder community and compliance with changing emissions regulations. More and more fleets are going to be looking at their “carbon footprint” and making long-range plans to reduce that.
I joined Clean Diesel Technologies because I thought, “Now is the time to be in the emissions reduction space.” This is such an exciting and challenging time because absolutely nothing is standing still — not technology, not regulations, not our understanding of the impact of emissions on the planet. CDT is an unusual company, solely focused on energy efficiency and emissions reduction. We develop new technologies and license them to OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers. Our job is to do the higher risk investment and technology development up front, even before there is a market. We deal with a very broad range of technologies here, and we try to take a very holistic view of engine emissions and fuel efficiency to create optimal systems using all the technologies available to us.
FO: How is that holistic perspective expressed when it comes to reducing diesel engine emissions?
Copan: If you want to reduce the emissions from a diesel engine, especially without sacrificing fuel efficiency or performance, there are three “levers” you can turn: You can make changes to the fuel; you can make changes to the combustion process; and/or you can look at exhaust treatment opportunities. Our goal is to optimize each of these systems, separately and as an integrated whole. The question is how best to do that with the technologies available, including new low-carbon fuels, new ways of delivering fuel to improve the combustion process and the use of catalysts and filters.
FO: Will we see one “best solution” emerging in the near term?
Copan: The short answer is no. There is no one-size-fits-all clean energy solution just waiting in the wings. Instead, we are moving toward a time of energy diversity. That brings with it problems, of course, but it is one step forward toward a clean, renewable energy future. On the plus side, fleets do have some options available to them that might not have made sense even five years ago.
FO: If that is the case, are fleets better off taking a wait-and-see approach rather than jumping in now to try new fuels, hybrids and other emerging solutions?
Copan: Actually, there are far more reasons for fleets to get involved now rather than wait. Today, they have an opportunity to get an early view of what emerging technologies can do, and there are numerous financial incentives available to make that easier to do.
Fleet competitiveness is going to play out in new ways going forward, and one of those ways is in the area of environmental responsibility. Taking an environmental leadership role now can be part of a strategy to gain market share, for instance, a tiebreaker in a bid for new business. It is time for fleets to look around and understand the new forces within the marketplace and make decisions to position themselves to thrive in that new environment.
We have been very impressed with the number of fleets that are stepping up and taking a leadership role and becoming part of the growing environmental stewardship movement. Peer groups are really leading by example now.
FO: Is there a role for regulation when it comes to achieving the renewable energy vision?
Copan: In this case, change has to be driven in part from the regulatory side, but it requires more of a partnership approach. We all have a big problem to be solved. We need economic and/or regulatory incentives to cause change to solve that problem. People will not change their habits unless there is a reason to do so.