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August 26, 2015   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

Trucks Available Today Can Improve Air Quality by 70 Percent

If there are enormous clean air benefits that would accrue from vehicles sitting on dealer lots, shouldn't California's policymakers consider policies to encourage greater adoption of these vehicles? It seems like an easy answer, but California's policymakers seem to be betting on future and unproven technologies to provide these clean air benefits.


A new working paper out from California's South Coast Air Quality Management District that includes most of the Los Angeles region estimates a substantial increase in clean air benefits from new heavy-duty clean diesel trucks. The only trouble is these benefits won't be realized until 2023. California's policymakers should get the message that new clean trucks available today can provide substantial clean air benefits while also contributing to climate and petroleum reduction targets. Policies to encourage the purchase of more of these vehicles will not only provide immediate term clean air benefits, but also greatly contribute to petroleum reduction and climate goals newly established for California.

The working paper estimates that a 70 percent reduction in NOx emissions, an ozone precursor, is at hand if all of the medium- and heavy-duty diesel vehicles on the road in the region came with an engine that meet the latest emissions milestone, namely the model year 2010 standard. Engines that meet or exceed this standard, established jointly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board, reduce both particulate matter and NOx emissions by 98 percent relative to a truck engine manufactured in 1988. The working paper estimates that NOx emissions from medium- and heavy-duty trucks would fall from 122 tons per day estimated for 2014 to just over 36 tons per day if all trucks came with, at least, a model year 2010 engine. 

While this is great news for South Coast residents, the problem is the working paper estimates that these benefits will not accrue until 2023 when all trucks must meet the model year 2010 emissions standard.  Unfortunately, California appears to be a slow adopter of new technology clean diesel vehicles.  Nationwide, almost 21 percent of the fleet of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles come with a model year 2010 engine. Indiana tops the list at almost 40 percent and California is almost at the bottom of the list at just over 13 percent.

2015 Top 10 States of Heavy Duty Drivers

If there are enormous clean air benefits that would accrue from vehicles sitting on dealer lots, shouldn't California's policymakers consider policies to encourage greater adoption of these vehicles? It seems like an easy answer, but California's policymakers seem to be betting on future and unproven technologies to provide these clean air benefits. Just this week, the California legislature is debating proposals to use funding to put into service zero-emission and low emission heavy-duty vehicles. These are policy buzzwords for electric vehicles and trucks that meet ultra-low NOx standards that result in NOx emissions 90 percent below the model year 2010 standard. 

This sounds terrific, except there is currently not an engine that can meet these standards for the wide variety of heavy-duty application. There may be a few electric-drive package delivery or smaller box trucks, but these do not come close to representing the vast majority of heavy-duty vehicles on the road in California.  Still yet, about 75 percent of all the petroleum consumed by medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are consumed by the largest Class 7 and 8 tractors and electric drive and ultra-low NOx engines are currently not available.

While an enormous amount of public resources may be available for the purchase of technology that has not been commercially developed, clean air technologies are literally sitting on dealer lots. Perhaps a wiser policy would see some funding be made available to encourage commercial vehicle owners get into a new model much sooner while providing clean air for all Californians.

Enormous Co-Benefits Thanks to Clean Diesel Today

As California sets out to meet its ambitious petroleum reduction and climate initiatives, policymakers are expected to prioritize those initiatives that meet these targets along with on-going clean air targets.  Here, widely available new technology diesel vehicles can greatly provide these co-benefits, as they are known in policy circles.

Diesel engines developed to meet the model year 2010 engine emission standard also come with advanced fuel savings capabilities. According to research commissioned by the Diesel Technology Forum, 1.4 million barrels of crude oil and 580,000 tons of carbon emissions have been saved thanks to the new technology diesel engines found in California's fleet of Class 3-8 vehicles between 2010 and 2014. In the context of co-benefits, these vehicles have already reduced NOx emissions by 1.45 million tons and 39,500 tons of particulate matter.

We are already 1 1/2 years into the first ever fuel economy rules for these vehicles that are estimated to save, nationwide, 270 tons of carbon emissions and 530 million barrels of crude oil between 2014 and 2018. California stands to benefit the most from these rules as it is home to one of the largest medium- and heavy-duty fleets in the country. It will be the diesel engine that will meet these strict emissions and fuel savings targets. Today, a diesel engine is found in 98 percent of these vehicles and consensus industry forecasts see a diesel engine in 95 percent of these vehicles in the future. 

While California's policymakers consider future technologies to meet the state's clean air, climate and energy priorities, we hope that widely available and proven technologies are considered. Hopefully, elected leaders in the state will understand the enormous potential of clean diesel technologies to provide immediate term benefits and support policies to get more of these vehicle on the road.



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Key Contact

Ezra Finkin
Director, Policy
efinkin@dieselforum.org
301-668-7230

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