To battle emissions head on, California buys into truck design processes – literally

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | 11/3/2014

As California has ratcheted up ever-increasing emissions standards, the state’s environmental body has heard complaints from the trucking industry that new engines and technology haven’t been battle-tested enough to trust.

One example is the 3,600-acre fire at a Washington monastery that was famously fought by nuns after a California Air Resources Board-approved diesel particulate filter sparked the fire, resulting in $5.2 million in damage.

Equipment breakdowns and warranty repairs on trucks in the last 10 years have stunned executives at the CARB, who said Oct. 25 they would try to influence the lengthening of repair warranties for trucks. They would also pursue changes in the law to give the air quality agency legal clout to enforce better repair work on truck engines and parts.

Looking ahead to the future, CARB staff told the agency’s board during its October meeting that new emissions standards would be the driving force behind new types of truck technology – not the other way around.

“While the Phase One Greenhouse Gas Standards were based on off-the-shelf technologies, Phase Two standards are expected to be more technology forcing,” said CARB Staff Member Kim Heroy-Rogalski.

To put money where its press releases are, CARB and California have been spending millions of dollars researching alternative engines and other emissions devices.

Through a $270 million program funded partially by the U.S. Department of Energy, a team of truck manufacturers and designers, emissions experts at CARB, and others are working to achieve a 50 percent increase in overall tractor-trailer and engine efficiency by 2015.

Dubbed the Supertruck Engine Team, designers from Cummins, Daimler, Navistar and Volvo have signed on to the working group that’s examining every possible waste of energy for trucks and trailers rolling across America.

“Recently, the Cummins team demonstrated a 43 percent improvement in greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption rate,” Heroy-Rogalski said. “There are two multiple sources of energy loss – but the two main ones are engine and aerodynamic losses.”

Remaining energy losses stem from rolling resistance, auxiliary loads, drive train, braking and idling, Heroy-Rogalski said.

To meet California’s long-term air quality and emissions goals, CARB staff said the state is leaning heavily on the use of zero and near-zero emission technologies.

CARB and the California Energy Commission distribute a combined $200 million for vehicle research and technological demonstrations. CARB staff hopes the research will lead to more demonstrations, which will in turn spur pilot deployments and eventually the addition of infrastructure needed to make such technologies commercially viable.

In June, CARB approved up to $85 million to be spent funding hybrid, zero and near-zero emission technologies for trucks and buses.

CARB Board Member John Sperling noted the increased use of onboard diagnostic systems and said he wondered if regulations could be tailored to the state’s worst areas for emissions.

“We’ve got so much data available,” Sperling said. “It could be that if there is a high pollution area, and you need to send a truck through there, you pay a higher fee – and a fuel-cell based truck is sent into those areas. Are we thinking at all along those lines?”

CARB Chairman Mary Nichols said California’s emission issues require CARB to “explore every option out there.”

“I, of course, come at this from a different perspective,” Nichols said. “I can see the headline, ‘ARB adopts sacrifice zones for the areas that are not going to get the clean trucks.’ I start to worry about the opposite reaction.”

In addition to increased warranties, new technology and other options, CARB staff told the board it is considering stricter smoke opacity standards and ways existing over-the-road trucks can be lab-tested to ensure anti-emissions devices are functioning at the same level they were when new.

“Our existing heavy-duty programs have been effective, but further improvements are possible,” Heroy-Rogalski said. “And there’s lots to do to encourage the technologies that advance us along the path to zero emissions.”

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