IN DEPTH: New regs in California raise questions about APUs

| 8/10/2007

Friday, Aug. 10, 2007 – With 2008 fast approaching, one of the most frequently asked questions among many truckers is, “What is going on in California regarding APUs?”

Some operators who have invested thousands of dollars in generator sets and auxiliary power units have heard reports that starting in January 2008, it will be illegal to operate them in California.

Others are concerned about a new law that will make it illegal to idle your truck’s main engine more than five minutes, unless it is certified as an “ultra-low emissions engine.” That’s a standard created in and applicable to California. As of press time, no diesel engine has met it.

For those of you who invested in a gen set or APU – for simplicity’s sake, let’s call them all APUs for the remainder of this article – for any truck powered by a pre-2007 engine, rest easy. Your APU will remain legal to use, although your main engine idling time will be limited by the five-minute rule. The determining factor is when the truck engine was manufactured.

OEMs either bought or built engines for inventory right up to the end of 2006. Then they converted over to 2007 technology. A majority of the 2007 trucks delivered in the first half of this year were built with 2006 engines. For those trucks and all 2006 and older trucks, it’s business as usual as far as APU use in California – for now.

Buying a new truck? Here’s the skinny
If your current truck needs to be replaced and you’re considering a new truck with 2007 engine technology, here’s what you need to know.

CARB confirmed to Land Line that two DPF systems for APUs have been submitted for the air board’s approval, but neither had been OK’d as of press time. Rigmaster officials have said they are confident their DPF filter will be approved and ready for installation by Jan. 1, 2008.

Until the APU manufacturers can source or develop diesel particulate filters – DPFs – for small engines, you have only a few alternatives.

After Jan. 1, 2008, CARB will allow you to operate your APU on your 2007 or newer truck if you plumb the exhaust so it runs through your main engine’s DPF. That sounds simple enough, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has regulations that make it illegal to make any changes whatsoever to any system – including DPFs – once it has been EPA-certified.

Consequently, plumbing your APU exhaust through your main engine DPF may get you into compliance with CARB, but it will put you out of compliance with the feds.

The only time an APU can have its exhaust routed through the truck’s DPF is if the entire system – APU, engine and DPF – were certified together.

Cummins offers the ComfortGuard system manufactured by Cummins Onan. This may be the only APU to date certified to meet California requirements that also clears the EPA hurdles, but only when used with Cummins-powered trucks and ordered as a system from the OEM.

The ‘switch’
Another piece of California legislation, also adopted in 2005 and effective Jan. 1, 2008, requires that all new heavy duty trucks have an automatic engine shut-off device to limit idling to five minutes when parked.

So the question is: With the engine in mandatory shut down, what, with the exception of the Cummins ComfortGuard, is available that will meet California requirements and still keep drivers comfortable?

The folks at CARB seem to favor electric power sources, from either on-board or external sources. These include deep-cycle, battery-powered, on-board devices and shore power, including IdleAire.

Electric alternatives
Deep-cycle batteries differ from starting-lighting-accessory batteries – often called SLA batteries – in their ability to discharge a greater share of their capacity and accept multiple recharging.

Shore power gets its name from plug-in electrical systems used on boats when docked. The vehicle is internally wired to use household current for HVAC and hotel loads. Electricity is obtained by plugging into outlets on bollards or posts at assigned parking places, usually after payment of a time-based fee.

A side benefit of shore power systems is that they can be constructed relatively quickly and inexpensively in freight yards, terminals, rest areas and truck stops.

Shore power, or truck-stop electrification as it is sometimes called, contrasts sharply with IdleAire, which is a pay-as you-go service requiring almost no financial investment to equip your truck. Generally all you need to hook up to IdleAire is a $10 window template.

IdleAire does require a substantial investment in infrastructure at truck stops or other locations. It also requires dedicated parking spaces, which may or may not be occupied by paying IdleAire customers.

Hybrid solutions
Hybrid units that meet the California regs are also available. They use a combination of electric-powered air conditioning, inverters for hotel loads, cold storage and fuel-fired heaters. Electric climate control is considered low-polluting or zero-polluting, depending on the source of power generation.

Hybrid systems combine two or more energy sources for idle reduction, usually batteries or APUs for air conditioning and fuel-fired heaters for heat.

In California, fuel-fired heaters used on trucks with 2007 or newer engines must meet emissions standards specified in the state’s Low Emission Vehicle Program. To date, only Espar has been certified to meet that standard, but its competitors are expected to announce certification soon.

Thermal storage systems route cooled air through special ducts from the truck’s air conditioner when the engine is running. The cooled air chills chemicals that effectively store the A/C output. With the engine off, air blown over the units release heat to maintain cab temperature. The units absorb the heat from the cab air.

Seeking certification
Some APU manufacturers are working to develop units that meet California standards in stand-alone form. Others are trying to partner with engine makers to offer integrated, certified packages. However, engine builders may be reluctant to put a great deal of effort into third-party systems.

Truck OEMs such as Kenworth, Peterbilt and Mack offer HVAC devices that, because they are powered by deep cycle batteries, will be legal for use in California after the new rule for ’07 models and newer trucks goes into effect in January 2008.

Bergstrom’s NITE system using deep cycle batteries for air conditioning and Espar’s California certified fuel-fired heaters will also meet regulations. Drivers have expressed concerns, however, that batteries may lose sufficient power to cool effectively at extreme temperatures in the California desert.

The California regulations will apply to all trucks – but not RVs or motor homes – operating in the state. It won’t matter whether you’re picking up, delivering or just passing through, if your truck has an ’07 or newer engine, the rule will apply to you.

Previously, California regulations applied only to vehicles sold or registered in the state.

Questions have been raised as to whether this new approach violates the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution because California is mandating equipment on trucks from other states. If a truck can legally operate in all other states, can California put additional restrictions on it when it enters, even if it is driving through and not doing business there?

That will be a challenge for the lawyers to handle.

– By Paul Abelson, senior technical editor