Editorial: Preparing for 2010

Just as the first new heavy-duty trucks equipped with engines that meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2007 emission standards are hitting the road, EPA reminded us of what’s to come in just a few years: another new generation of diesel engines.

The agency on March 29 released its “guidance” to truck and engine manufacturers as to what it will expect from companies that offer engines that employ selective catalytic reduction (SCR) to reduce emissions when the new standards go into effect with 2010 models. (Click here for related coverage.)

EPA told the manufacturers they must ensure there are adequate supplies of urea available to drivers. Urea is injected into the exhaust stream of SCR-equipped engines to break down nitrogen oxides in the exhaust stream.

The agency has made no secret of its concerns about urea availability, should SCR become the technology of choice here, as it has in Europe. EPA also warned the manufacturers that it expects them to devise systems to both warn drivers when they are running low on urea and to degrade the truck’s performance in the event the driver fails to refill the urea tank and tries to continue operating.

While EPA doesn’t have the authority to specify technology paths, its officials have been skeptical of SCR for some time, at least in part because of concerns that drivers will fail to refill urea tanks.

The agency earlier had urged manufacturers to explore other technologies, such as NOx adsorbers, and had discouraged SCR development.

However, Volvo Trucks North America and Freightliner LLC — the U.S. divisions of the two largest truck makers in the world — have decided to employ SCR in their 2010 models, and already offer the technology in the trucks they sell in Europe.

It’s a good sign that these guidelines are being published while the new engines are still being designed. It gives us hope that EPA and the OEMs will be ready well before the new emission rules go into effect.

The manufacturers and EPA need to make sure the phase-in of the new rules does not disrupt the flow of commerce. And an orderly transition to a new technology would go a long way toward calming the concerns of the fleets that will be operating these vehicles for years to come.

This editorial appears in the April 2 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.