Now who’s blowing smoke?
The Environmental Protection Agency’s unswerving assault on heavy-duty trucks continues. States and municipalities have taken the agency’s cue and continue to impose idling prohibitions, making them even more restrictive. However, heavy-duty trucks have evolved since 2002 from dirty dogs of the highway to big green machines. Trucks coming off the line today emit so few pollutants that, in some cases, they actually clean the air. Continuing to portray trucks as the big polluters and the environment’s downfall …

By Paul Abelson, senior technical editor
with Jami Jones, managing editor

There was a day when 18-wheelers belched black smoke and were labeled as the big polluters on the road. But that day is long gone.

Since 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency has implemented regulations and standards that have decreased the pollution emitted from the stacks to a level that is almost non-existent.

The progress that has been made in reducing pollution in trucking has been evident for some time.

How clean is clean?
Nearly a decade ago, Navistar demonstrated that exhaust was virtually free of soot.

Company officials held a white handkerchief over a school bus exhaust. Its tailpipe was at the right height to capture the exhaust without climbing to reach stacks or crawling to a “weed-burner” exhaust.

The handkerchief was perfectly clean, even after being held in place for a few minutes. Particulate material had been reduced to no more than one-one hundredth of a gram per horsepower hour (0.01 g/hp-hr). That’s as clean as the air in most parts of the country and cleaner than in most of the EPA Non-Attainment Areas.

Since 1998, truck engine makers have reduced particulate matter in exhaust to just 10 percent of what it once was. NOx has been reduced by 95 percent. As aging trucks are being replaced by newer, cleaner ones, average truck emissions will continue to fall. Cleaner models make up an ever increasing share of the truck population.

“These new trucks are so clean it now takes more than 60 of today’s clean diesel trucks to equal the emissions from a single 1988 truck,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum.

The Diesel Technology Forum released a report in early July proclaiming that 33 percent of all trucks on U.S. highways in 2013 were clean diesel trucks with near zero emissions. Indiana, Utah and Oklahoma have the highest percentages of clean diesel trucks. Indiana leads with 50.4 percent of all trucks on the road being clean diesel trucks. Utah and Oklahoma come in at second and third at 45.4 percent and 44.8 percent.

The national average of clean diesel trucks has grown at a steady pace since 2007, according to the Diesel Technology Forum. In 2007 – at the boom of idling restrictions – only 9.4 percent of the trucks on the road were clean diesel trucks. Last year, that number had grown to 33.5 percent.

‘My truck runs cleaner than your car.’
Drivers argue that the laws are unfair and out of date. Cars, they say, emit more pollutants than today’s trucks. These are valid claims.

It is difficult to compare gasoline-powered car and diesel truck emissions because trucks are measured in grams per horsepower hour and cars in grams per mile. Nonetheless, cars emit pollutants that trucks do not, such as formaldehyde.

In a recent video seen on the Internet, a Volvo driver made the claim that “my truck runs cleaner than your car.” A company that size wouldn’t state it unless they could support it.

No free pass on idling
Even though trucks are getting collectively cleaner, governments and environmental regulators still enforce anti-idling rules. Some states have even allowed previous exemptions to expire, and Massachusetts is considering reducing idling time from five minutes per hour to just two minutes.

There was some false hope instilled in the industry in 2007 and 2008 that trucks would once again be able to idle when the California Air Resources Board rolled out its Certified Clean Idle designation requirement.

CARB requires that trucks traveling on California highways with 2008 model year engines and newer have software activated in their electronic control modules that will shut the engines down after five minutes with the parking brake engaged or after 15 minutes without the parking brake engaged. Those trucks certified with clean idle engines must have the sticker on the hood.

The stickers are issued to each individual truck based on its emissions test. Results are shown on the emission control label on the engine itself if the tests show that the truck emits 30 grams/hour of nitrogen oxides (NOx). It must also have a diesel particulate filter to control soot. With the test passed and the stickers in place, idling in California is allowed. But that just covers California.

CARB at one point – in attempts to smooth ruffled feathers – called trucks meeting their standards the 50-state truck. The implication being you could idle these super clean green machines in any state. Sadly, that did not come to pass.

Regardless of where you are, you need to be familiar with local regulations and restrictions. Most states with anti-idling laws do not recognize the California certification. Some states have no idling regulations, but certain municipalities within those states may have their own rules. New York City was one of the first of those years ago.

The payoff to key-off
Let us assume that, except for rare occasions, you operate only where there are no idling restrictions. Or perhaps you run in California and you do have clean idle certification. Idling becomes a decision based on economics and preservation of your equipment.

If you idle, you’ll save the up-front cost of idle-reduction equipment. That can range from around $4,000 for a basic, not-allowed-in-California generator set to upwards of $10,000 for a full auxiliary power unit with a DPF and the latest APU emissions controls.

In between are units combining fuel-fired heaters for winter heating, battery-powered air conditioning for summer cooling, or a combination of the two. Heaters can be purchased individually from Espar or Webasto.

Twelve-volt air conditioners are made by Dometic and Bergstrom, and they can be powered by any of the deep-cycle or absorbed glass mat battery suppliers. Complete idle-reduction systems are available from Bergstrom, Carrier Transicold and ThermoKing.

Perhaps the least expensive idle-reduction equipment is wiring for truck stop electrification, but until there are tens of thousands of readily accessible electrified parking-spots, TSE without a backup is impractical.

To lessen the burden of up-front costs, many manufacturers have financing programs with financial institutions. The manufacturers demonstrate that the savings from reducing idling more than cover principal and interest payments over several years, immediately increasing the trucker’s cash flow net of payments. After the payment period ends, the trucker realizes all the savings. If you have good relations with your bank, you may get an even better rate than the manufacturer offers.

Idle-reduction equipment runs on one-tenth of a gallon per hour. Fuel-fired heaters can consume half that. Contrast that with an idling engine – even a Certified Clean Idle engine – burning from 0.8 gallons per hour to as much as 1.2 gallons per hour at high idle in extreme heat or cold.

If the average difference is 1 gallon per hour, the cost for fuel alone is about $4 per hour. Idle for your 10-hour rest period alone, and spend $40 per day. Assuming you’re out six days and five nights, you’ll burn $200 of diesel per week. That can buy a whole lot of idle-reduction equipment. You can do the math for your own schedule.

Those calculations are for fuel alone. It doesn’t take into account the wear and tear on your engine that is operating while taking you nowhere.

So between the cost-savings of idling alternative equipment and the wear and tear spared on your truck, regardless of how clean your truck burns, it’s tough to literally send thousands up your stacks just because you can.

Political pollution
All of the advancements in clean diesel trucks, idle-reduction equipment and the sheer fact that truckers want to actually make money isn’t enough for the EPA to leave well enough alone.

The next rounds of fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards are already in the works – before the full benefit of what’s already in play can be realized. The gains in pollution reduction that just one-third of the trucks on the road have made has to be acknowledged.

Instead of more regulations, the agency needs to tap the brakes, slow down and take a breath of cleaner air. Let the current regulations further infiltrate the industry and see how much more things improve in another five, 10 years before charging hard at another regulation that’s likely not needed.