The buzz around the diesel truck industry these days concerns the new pollution regulations set to go into effect in October 2002. Although many engine manufacturers and fleet operators remain unsure of how they will meet the new requirements, the general assumption has been the incorporation of exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) units, which would recirculate a portion of the exhaust to the engine’s combustion chamber to incinerate pollutants. But although EGR units would seriously reduce levels of nitrous oxides and particulates in diesel exhaust, they would also significantly increase the amount of soot in engines, possibly forcing fleet operators to cut back on oil drain intervals.
With the goal being to “meet the needs of EGRequipped engines while maintaining current oil drain intervals,” the American Petroleum Institute (API) is working on the next category of heavy-duty engine oils, PC-9. However, because of widespread belief that the new oils will not be ready by October 2002, trucking companies are faced with either developing their own internal specifications or using current CH-4 diesel oils. Unfortunately, the use of petroleum CH-4 diesel oils would likely force fleet operators to backtrack on drain intervals, something the industry has been working to lengthen over the past few years.
Another concern facing fleet operators is that the new oils will not be compatible in earlier model years, creating a huge logistical problem. “Our biggest fear is that the new oils will be non-backward compatible,” said Lou Stumpp, technical services manager for Budget Truck Group. “If that happens, you have an inventory and storage issue. It becomes a management issue because you have to keep the right stuff in the right engines and you may have different intervals for new and old vehicles. And what happens if you put the wrong oil in the wrong engine? Because you know that’s going to happen at some point.”
While fleet operators have been assured everything will work out in the end, worries over emissions regulations have just begun. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has scheduled even tighter regulations to take effect in 2007, including a 95 percent reduction in nitrous oxides and particulates and a 90 percent reduction in soot. In order to help meet these new goals, the EPA plans a 97 percent reduction in the sulfur content of diesel fuel in 2006.
The 2007 mandate will be much more difficult to meet, probably impossible unless major changes are made in diesel systems. “Until now, we’ve been meeting regulations by tweaking engines – doing things like exhaust gas recycling or turbo-charging,” said Joe Suchecki, director of public affairs for the Engine Manufacturers Association. “But we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns for those kinds of fixes and we’re going to have to turn to things like ultra-low sulfur fuel and exhaust aftertreatment.
Those are bigger undertakings.”
Danny Larkin of Detroit Diesel believes 2007 engines will boast a very advanced design, featuring advanced combustion properties and designs that will make the soot problems of 2003 engines a thing of the past. The corresponding diesel oils will also be formulated much differently than today’s oils, with an emphasis on deposit control.
If such solutions come about, it could negatively affect the trucking industry in a variety of ways. New after-treatment systems could add $2000 to the price of new vehicles, and reducing the sulfur content in diesel fuel would undoubtedly raise fuel prices. Of course, there’s also the previously mentioned issue of non-backward compatibility in diesel motor oils to consider.
The trucking industry has time on its side. With six years in which to work, many operators hope engine makers will find a workable, affordable and easily implemented solution. Of course, there’s also the possibility the 2007 regulations will be amended before going into effect.
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