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The deadline for applying for a Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grant or loan just passed for this year, but EPA will issue requests for proposals for the 2012 fiscal year between September and November. Look under “Requests for Proposals” in the “News & Events” box on the right-hand side of www.epa.gov/cleandiesel. Photo: iStock.com | Jon Patton
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Credit: Source: EPA

By Stephanie Johnston

No one's quite sure how recently proposed fuel efficiency standards will affect the sticker price of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. Theoretically, getting more miles to the gallon should be a net-sum proposition. But because reliability affects the overall cost-effectiveness of a fleet operation, the question is how well the vehicles will perform.

Last November, the U.S. EPA and Transportation Department provided details of the nation's first fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks. Similar to 1975's Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) fuel standards for cars, the “HD National Program” focuses on the second-largest source of the transportation sector's greenhouse gas emissions: large pickup trucks and vans; semitrucks; and truck and bus types including refuse, utility, dump, transit buses, shuttle buses, school buses, and emergency vehicles.

The proposed standards exclude sp sport utility vehicles, vans that hold 13 or fewer passengers, half-ton pickups, an and trailers; and apply not just to the en engine but the entire vehicle.

The program breaks vehicles into three regulatory categories with separate fuel consumption and emissions go goals for each:

  • Tractor-trailers.
  • Pickup trucks and vans. Goals for vehicles weighing 8,501 to 14,000 pounds would be based on gram per mile for emissions and gallon-per 100 miles for fuel consumption using a “work factor” formula that combines payload, towing capabilities, and whether or not a vehicle has four-wheel drive.

The standards would phase in from the 2014 model year until 2018, at which point a separate standard to control air conditioning system leakage will be introduced.

Estimated payoff by 2018: Diesel emissions 17% lower than 2010 levels and gasoline emissions 12% lower.

  • Vocational vehicles, including tires. The standards would apply to three classes of chassis manufacturers: Light Heavy (Class 2b through 5), Medium Heavy (Class 6 and 7), and Heavy Heavy (Class 8), which is consistent with the engine classification.

Estimated payoff by 2018: 10% reduction in emissions and fuel use.

The agencies claim that, using technologies commercially available today, owners of most vehicles would recover their investment in technology upgrades within two years.

“Most of us are playing wait-and-see,” says Chris Amos, commissioner of equipment services for St. Louis and president of NAFA Fleet Management Association. “We may end up with higher-horsepower, smaller engines that do the same amount of work as larger engines with the same horsepower.

Retrofit funding extended another five years

In January, the federal program for retrofitting the 11 million pre-2007 diesel trucks, buses, and pieces of equipment that are still on the roads was reauthorized.

Included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act provides $100 million in grants and loans annually for five years for a total of $500 million. (In 2005, the program provided up to $200 million annually.)

Most of the funds — 70% — are disbursed through national competitive grants:

At least half of the National Funding Assistance Program is for cities and counties and metropolitan planning organizations that have jurisdiction over transportation or air quality. Public agencies can use the monies to upgrade vehicles of private contractors like refuse haulers.

The Emerging Technologies Program requires manufacturers to partner with a public agency to receive funding. Current and former participants include Engine Control Systems, which makes a particulates filter called Actifilter SG that's used in transit buses; and EcoPower Hybrid Systems Inc.'s engine generator sets for non-road, rubber-tired gantry cranes.

The SmartWay Clean Diesel Finance Program provides low-cost loans to retrofit used pre-2007 highway vehicles and non-road equipment, and is available to public agencies that have jurisdiction over transportation or air quality.

The remaining 30% goes to the states to set up grant and loan programs of their own. Base funding is distributed using a specific formula based on participation, and incentive funding is available to states that match that allocation 100%.

EPA estimates the efforts made possible by these grants and loans will remove 110,000 tons of soot and 2.6 million tons of nitrous oxide emissions from the nation's air, the equivalent of taking 13 million trucks off the road.

“With gasoline engines, you can add a turbocharger like Ford's EcoBoost, which uses exhaust as a free energy source to increase horsepower with a smaller, more fuel-efficient engine. But diesel engines are already fuel efficient. If I had to guess, I'd say manufacturers will downsize engine displacement and increase blower size to increase horsepower.

“The result will depend on the quality of materials. Turbochargers have been problematic because they overheat. I understand the new turbo-chargers are ceramic, which is expected to prevent metal fatigue. It remains to be seen if new and better materials reverse the trend.”

The public comment period ended Jan. 31. In May 2010, when President Barack Obama ordered that efficiency and emissions standards be developed specifically for heavy-duty trucks, they were expected to be finalized by July. The Republican-dominated Congress may delay that a bit, says Diesel Technology Forum Executive Director Allen Schaeffer, but manufacturers continue to work on lowering fuel consumption and emissions.

“The industry's already moving in that direction anyway,” he says. “For example, 2010 and 2011 model vocational vehicles show efficiency gains of 5% and more.”