Backing Up to the Future

WHEN WASTE FLEET owners began purchasing trucks to meet the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) October 2002 truck emission regulations, the changes opened a window to their future. The rules mandated that new medium- and heavy-duty, on-highway engines emit no more than 2.5 grams per brake horsepower hour (g/bhp-hr) of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC), and no more than 0.10 grams of particulate matter (PM). But as the emissions requirements gradually get stricter in 2004 and then again in 2007, fleet managers are hoping new equipment won't have them jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

In 2004, the existing emissions regulations will be expanded to include medium- and light-duty diesel truck engines. And by 2007, emissions level requirements will be reduced another 90 percent. PM emissions levels will decrease to 0.01 g/bhp-hr, NOx to 0.2 g/bhp-hr and NMHC to 0.14 g/bhp-hr. The PM requirement will become effective in 2007, while the NOx and NMHC requirement will be phased-in between 2007 and 2010. However, fleet owners say they're already paying the price for cleaner air.

So far, they say the 2002 requirements have:

  • Increased a truck's purchase price by about $5,000;

  • Reduced fuel consumption by approximately 3 percent;

  • Increased vehicle weight;

  • Increased heat output and put additional demands on a truck's cooling system; and

  • Added $5,000 to $10,000 more to the operating cost of a truck over its life, according to EPA estimates.

To meet the 2002 and 2004 requirements, most engine manufacturers are using cooled ex-haust gas recirculation (EGR) technology. With EGR, the exhaust air coming out of the engine's combustion chamber is cooled to 350 degrees and reintroduced to “burn off” emissions. Anywhere from 5 percent to 30 percent of the exhaust is recirculated, with exhaust heat dispersed through the radiator instead of the tailpipe.

While this is beneficial for the environment, it can be detrimental to a fleet manager's bottom line. Consequently, just before the 2002 regulations became effective, there was a surge in pre-buy truck orders and then following the rule's implementation, there was a huge drop-off in truck sales.

In an EGR survey of more than 100 fleets, 76 percent said they did not purchase EGR-equipped vehicles in 2002; 21 percent purchased one to 10 EGR vehicles; 70 percent did not plan to buy any trucks in 2003; 73 percent planned to wait more than one year to purchase any EGR vehicles; and 23 percent of those that purchased EGR engines did not experience any service problems.

This means that waste fleets either experienced higher costs to purchase new trucks by or before the deadline, or higher maintenance costs for those who held off on buying trucks. Some fleets that did not delay purchases for various reasons, but did not purchase compliant trucks, bought used vehicles with pre-October 2002 engines.

Over-The-Road Fleets

Because there has only been limited field testing of the emissions-compliant engines in the waste industry, fleet managers also are looking to operators of over-the-road fleets for their evaluations before making purchases. The general consensus among fleet managers of for-hire carriers is that the engines are not flunking, but are not getting all As either. Most note they have lower mileage and maintenance is a concern.

At a recent trucking meeting, one fleet manager said, “We are basically in the break-in mode, but are suffering a loss of about 3 to 5 percent in fuel mileage [because of the new engines.]” Others said the engines have been flawless, but they have run only 20,000 miles. Yet others said there is no appreciable difference in mileage when trucks are lighter. But as one experienced manager concluded, “we are just not going to know [how the new engines will hold up] for several more years. Reliability and durability are still up in the air.”

Because of the limited information about the 2002 engines, Waste Management Inc. has decided to field test four trucks to fill in the gaps in waste industry field testing. “We are a stop-and-go operation, which is very different,” says one of the Houston-based company's fleet managers. “So we are concerned about how they will perform.”

Overall Performance

Today, waste fleet managers continue to watch the situation carefully. For instance, Jim MacKellar, maintenance manager for Waste Connection, Fresno, Calif., who is responsible for a majority of the national company's trucks, says, “We sat out the 2002 engines because we didn't have enough solid reports of their overall performance. And I'm watching to see if the SCR technology is able to be applied to older engines.”

SCR, or selective catalytic reduction, is an aftertreatment technology that also can be used to cut NOx emissions from diesel engines. The technology adds a chemical, called urea, to the exhaust stream to separate NOx's oxygen and nitrogen elements. The high heat of the exhaust stream causes urea to react with NOx, creating ammonia gas, which contains nitrogen and hydrogen. The hydrogen then bonds with oxygen within the exhaust catalyst, allowing nitrogen and water to leave through the tailpipe.

MacKellar, who also is a member of the newly formed Vocational/Specialty S.15 Study Group of the American Trucking Associations' TMC group, Alexandria, Va., is zeroing in on spec'ing and maintenance matters that affect waste industry vehicles. “I haven't made up my mind yet on the 2007-compliant engines,” he says. “Detailed information is slow coming out; the engine manufacturers so far have only ‘suggested’ how they might meet the 2007 regs.”

On the other hand, Bennie Anselmo, vice president of equipment, maintenance and construction responsible for San Francisco-based Norcal Waste Systems' 1,200 trucks, says he has been satisfied with the nine 2002-compliant engines he has been operating for about eight months. “Performance so far is fine, reliability and durability are still ‘open,’ obviously,” he says. “There are very little operational differences, although they burn a tad more fuel.”

Despite the trucks' higher fuel consumption, Anselmo says he feels comfortable with the trucks so will be purchasing 10 more.

Into The Fire

Whatever fleet managers decide, they could be facing additional problems head-on very soon. With 2007 quickly approaching, compliant engines will have to be fully designed, field-tested and ready by 2006. And everyone agrees that the industry will need to approach 2007 smarter than it did 2002.

The 2007 regulations will require a tenfold reduction in both NOx and PM from 2002 engines. Because traditional methods of lowering NOx tend to raise PM, and vice versa, some extreme technology will be necessary. Trucks, for example, will need PM traps and NOx absorbers to meet the new standards.

The options being discussed include:

  1. Doing more of the same to refine combustion and/or use exhaust gas recirculation, heavy exhaust gas recirculation (HEGR);

  2. Using selective catalytic reduction (SCA), which requires the injection of a urea-water mixture into the exhaust before a catalytic converter; and

  3. Using an adsorber for oxides of nitrogen that relies on platinum or other precious metals.

However, none of these options are viable yet, and engine manufacturers expect them to be costly.

It seems the only option for waste fleet managers is to stay abreast of as much 2007 truck testing information as possible and take precautions. Fleets that extend their normal vehicle replacement program should have a sound maintenance program to handle older trucks. Waste operations also can aggressively pursue warranties, guarantees and buy-back arrangements. Because no matter what their decision, fleet managers still need to make sound purchasing decisions to avoid getting burned.

Bob Deierlein is Waste Age's truck editor.


Another concern when examining new emissions-compliant truck engines is ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD), which the trucking industry must switch to by June 1, 2006. The consensus among truck manufacturers is that ULSD plus an aftertreatment will be the main ingredients necessary to reach the 2007 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., emissions regulations.

Currently, the maximum sulfur content of diesel fuel is 500 parts per million (ppm). By 2006, the limit will be 15 ppm. But among the concerns involving the two fuel grades that are expected to be offered through 2010 are their cost and characteristics. The new grade with 15 ppm ULSD is estimated to cost 10 to 14 cents more at the pump. The existing fuel grade at 500 ppm (for older engines) has the potential to create fueling problems. For example, if a driver puts just one tank-full of the wrong fuel, he could wipe out a truck's $5,000 converter.

Other questions involving the new fuel are whether there will be: adequate supply; consistent product integrity because the fuel will require separate ULSD terminals, pipelines, racks and trucks; a change in fuel economy, which in some tests dropped by about 1 percent; and a change in the need for additives to compensate for the loss of natural fuel ingredients.

The good news, however, is that the new fuel does not appear to act any differently than regular diesel fuel in terms of lubricity and oil change intervals. This alleviates what industry veterans initially thought would cause cold flow problems at higher temperatures. In tests, the new fuel also reduced wear metal deposits in the engine oil, so change intervals may be extended.
Bob Deierlein