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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Nov/Dec 2006 : Cleantech

Cleantech: Changing the Way We Drive
Through clean-technology initiatives, diesel fuel is leading
the way in America's path toward cleaner air.

by Dennis Walsh

The benefits of clean diesel technology are expanding diesel’s economic and industrial contributions. Through the use and development of new clean technologies, the diesel industry is crossing a historic milestone in 2007—one that is putting this famous workhorse on par with some of the most advanced, clean and energy-saving solutions of the future.

In January, U.S. truck and engine manufactures will begin producing the most advanced, clean technology ever produced for heavy-duty trucks and buses. And in October, the first milestone on the Road to 2007 took place when Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) fuel arrived at fueling stations nationwide. Clean diesel will play a leading role in helping cities and states meet strict new air quality goals set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Today’s trucks and buses already produce only one-eighth the tailpipe exhaust compared to those built in 1990. New engines will be even cleaner: It would take 60 trucks built in 2007 to equal the soot emissions of one truck sold in 1988.

The diesel industry is leading the way in America’s path toward cleaner air and energy conservation. Recently, the EPA unveiled the first-ever series hydraulic hybrid diesel urban delivery vehicle, which will provide dramatic improvements in fuel economy and emissions reductions.

The development of the hydraulic hybrid is the result of a partnership between the EPA, U.S. Army, International Truck and Engine Corp. (International), Eaton Corp. and UPS. The EPA and UPS plan to evaluate the vehicle’s fuel-economy performance and emissions during a series of tests. In laboratory testing, the EPA’s patented hydraulic hybrid diesel technology achieved a 60- to 70-percent improvement in fuel economy, and more than a 40-percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, compared to a conventional UPS vehicle.

“ EPA and our partners are not just delivering packages with this UPS truck—we are delivering environmental benefits to the American people,” said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. “President Bush is moving technology breakthroughs from the labs to the streets. We are doing what is good for our environment, good for our economy and good for our nation’s energy security.”

The EPA cited laboratory tests showing that the technology has the potential to dramatically improve the fuel economy of urban vehicles used in applications such as package delivery, shuttle and transit buses, and refuse pick-up. It estimated that when manufactured in high volume, the added costs of the hybrid components could be recouped in less than three years through lower fuel and brake maintenance costs.

In the series hydraulic hybrid diesel, a high-efficiency diesel engine is combined with a unique hydraulic propulsion system, replacing the conventional drive train and transmission. The vehicle uses hydraulic pumps and hydraulic storage tanks to store energy, similar to what is done with electric motors and batteries in hybrid electric vehicles. Fuel economy is increased in three ways: Vehicle braking energy is recovered that normally is wasted; the engine is operated more efficiently; and the engine can be shut off when stopped or decelerating.

Diesel engines have become the powertrain of choice for heavy-duty pickup truck buyers in the United States because they provide more torque for maximum towing and hauling with improved fuel economy. Industry-wide diesel heavy-duty pickup and chassis sales from 1994 to 2006 grew at an average rate of nine percent per year, according to R. L. Polk & Co. In 2006, 69 percent of these trucks sold were diesel-powered.

UPS, International and Eaton have been working with the EPA and the U.S. Army’s National Automotive Center on the hydraulic technology for several years. So what exactly are Green Diesel Technology® Vehicles? Let’s take a closer look.

What is the technology in Green Diesel Technology vehicles?

This new technology utilizes the benefits of a catalyzed diesel particulate filter and ULSD fuel in combination with an exclusive International engine performance design that significantly lowers the emissions and odor of diesel-powered buses and trucks.

Are Green Diesel Technology buses and trucks currently available?

International manufactures Green Diesel Technology school buses and trucks, and provides Green Diesel Technology retrofit kits for late-model diesel vehicles. Green Diesel Technology school buses have been in service in California since 2000. International’s no-smoke, no-smell diesel vehicles and retrofits are available to customers in markets in which diesel fuel with sufficiently reduced sulfur content is available.

How does this new technology work?
International’s modern, highly efficient engine with advanced hydro-electronics is the heart of the technology. Engine combustion is optimized to lower nitrogen oxide emissions by approximately 25 percent. The vehicle is fueled with ULSD fuel. A catalyzed diesel particulate filter replaces the ordinary muffler. This three-level technology system makes it possible to cut gaseous hydrocarbons and particulate emissions by 99 percent from previous levels, to near-zero levels. International’s Green Diesel Technology vehicles, using this system, will comply fully with 2007 federal rules.

Will this technology affect the life of the engine?
The service life of the engine will not be compromised in Green Diesel Technology vehicles.

What does the California Air Resources Board (CARB) say about Green Diesel Technology school buses?
The California regulatory board in 2001 certified the clean-air Green Diesel Technology school bus for inclusion in its program to retire older buses from school districts. Under the CARB’s current rules, the Green Diesel Technology school buses are qualified to share in state funding of new bus purchases by school districts.

What is the federal regulatory position on Green Diesel Technology vehicles?
The Green Diesel Technology system has been certified by the federal agency. At an official ceremony in Washington, D.C., International was recognized by the EPA for producing a diesel engine that meets standards for particulate and hydrocarbon emissions six years earlier than a proposed federal deadline.

Can Green Diesel Technology school buses be delivered to customers outside of California?
Patrick Charbonneau, International’s vice president, regulatory and technology affairs, stated, “Schools can continue to rely on the power and fuel efficiency of diesel buses, while helping to make their clean air goals. We can deliver these Green Diesel Technology buses not only to California, but to other parts of the country where the fuel is available.”

How has International achieved this clean-air diesel breakthrough?
The Green Diesel Technology vehicle breakthrough is the next step toward diesel power without pollution. International has taken its high-performance, low-emission engine and fitted it with a special converter that runs on ULSD fuel. The results: Particle emissions are reduced by more than 90 percent, which exceeds the stringent truck-emissions standards proposed by the EPA. And it is better than the emissions of the next best alternative—compressed natural gas.

Can older vehicles be retrofitted to meet new requirements?

Yes. It is feasible to retrofit recent model diesel vehicles with filters to reduce particulate matter. Factors that affect retrofitting include geographic location, duty cycle and engine type. International is examining the best way to provide retrofit options to its customers.

What about diesel exhaust and health effects?
No scientific study demonstrates a causal link between diesel emissions and health effects in humans. One set of studies, involving coal miners, focused on diesel as the primary particle source to which individuals were exposed; it found no adverse health effects.

There have been stories in the media covering the alleged effects of diesel exhaust on children who ride school buses. Are these stories accurate?
Two reports stimulated media publicity in 2001 and 2002. Independent scientists, including the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), said the reports were unreliable. One study used diesel buses that were at least 15 years old, one of which was likely in serious disrepair. The studies used questionable methods to collect the data and draw inferences about the results. A more reliable study by public school officials in Fairfax County, Va., using more accurate and reliable investigating techniques, found no risk to bus drivers or to student passengers.

What about fire and safety hazards associated with diesel fuel?
Diesel has the clear advantage. Compared to gasoline or natural gas, diesel fuel is safe, stable and easy to use, and requires no special handling or storage. Since natural gas is highly flammable, the possibility of fires and explosions is always present, so it must be stored and handled extremely carefully.

What can be done to reassure customers about diesel and health effects?
Sound science is needed to make rational judgments. International is a leading supporter of scientific research, working with the EPA, the Health Effects Institute and others. Customers should know the following fact: No scientific research has ever shown that exposure to diesel emissions causes increased health risks.

Air pollution in the form of particulate matter has been associated with increased health risks. However, diesel engines are only one of a great many possible sources of particulate matter; others include gasoline, natural gas and electric power plants, just to name a few. Also, since today’s new diesel engines already show at least a 90 percent reduction in particulate matter emissions since 1988 and are heading toward zero emissions—it’s pretty clear that diesel particulate matter emissions are a decreasing factor in particulate air pollution.

New research by California government regulators indicates that low-emitting diesel vehicles may have significant environmental advantages over comparable natural gas vehicles. The study conducted by the CARB produced the following findings:

• In eight of 11 categories tested, a low-emitting diesel bus powered by low-sulfur fuel and equipped with a particulate trap produced lower levels of pollutants than a similar transit bus powered by natural gas.

• Natural gas vehicle exhaust was eight times more mutagenic than diesel exhaust. (Mutagenicity measures the degree of mutation in a cell or organism and is used as a potential health-risk indicator for cancer and reproductive health effects.)

• The natural gas bus discharged more particulate mass, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide than the low-emitting diesel bus.

These new findings are supported by other comparative studies of clean diesel and natural gas, including a comprehensive study conducted by Ecotraffic of Sweden, which found that diesel vehicles have lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than natural gas, thanks to diesel’s superior fuel efficiency. Similarly, a fuel comparison study conducted by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis in 2000 noted that, “The use of natural gas as a motor vehicle fuel may exacerbate the greenhouse gas effect because methane will escape into the atmosphere during refueling operations and at natural gas storage facilities.” The Harvard study also noted that methane is approximately 20 times more potent as a GHG than carbon dioxide.

All things considered, the partners behind the hydraulic hybrid technology are optimistic about its potential.

“ The hydraulic hybrid technology is quite promising and we’re eager to see how the vehicle performs in a real-world setting,” said John Beystehner, chief operating officer of UPS.

As for Eaton Corp., the company has been working with the EPA since 2001 under a cooperative research and development agreement involving hydraulic hybrid systems. As part of the company’s role in designing and developing hybrid technologies, Eaton engineers have been co-located at the EPA’s Ann Arbor, Mich., facility. Eaton is also working on a number of other hybrid vehicle initiatives with UPS, International and others.

“ Eaton sees the series hybrid as a natural and exciting progression in the development of hydraulic hybrid systems,” said Craig Arnold, Eaton senior vice president and president, Fluid Power Group. “We are continuing to develop a number of hybrid hydraulic and hybrid electric vehicle technologies with wide-ranging customer applications. We are committed to working with the EPA, our industries and our customers to create a cleaner, brighter future.”

Hal Morgan is the director of research and education for the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association.

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