Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Around the Bend: Stricter emissions regs? It could hinge on a nanometer (or several)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The University of California Riverside mobile emissions lab during testing in the high desert of California near Los Angeles. Some of the lab’s research findings have been used as a basis for California Air Resources Board (CARB) air quality rules. (Photo courtesy KEN JOHNSON)
The University of California Riverside mobile emissions lab during testing in the high desert of California near Los Angeles. Some of the lab’s research findings have been used as a basis for California Air Resources Board (CARB) air quality rules. (Photo courtesy KEN JOHNSON)

It was at first amusing then a little frightening to see a story on the University of California Riverside website the other day about research to better measure “particulates from diesel trucks and buses.”

Current measuring methods don’t have “enough sensitivity to measure the low emissions from new diesel trucks,” it said.




Hello. That’s because heavy-duty diesel engines are so much cleaner now.

The article said the scientists in question, who are from UC Riverside and who do a lot of research for the California Air Resources Board or CARB, “expect that diesel particulate regulations can become stricter as more robust measurement methods are developed.”

So let’s get this straight. They can’t measure the particulates from Diesel Particulate Filters or DPFs now on emissions-compliant vehicles so they’re working on a new measuring technique in order to come out with even stricter emissions regulations for the trucking industry?

Kent Johnson Ph.D, an assistant research engineer for UC Riverside, was the designer and builder of the nifty mobile emissions lab that houses UC Riverside’s testing equipment and which is contained in a 53-foot trailer.

They just hitch it up to a tractor they want to test and away they go.

“What drives the regulations,” Johnson told The Trucker, “are health effects. If people are dying they ought to regulate it. People in our industry don’t know if there are fine particles coming out of the DPF and we’re looking at how to measure it.”

Apparently from what Johnson said, European researchers are also dealing with better ways to measure the cleaner diesel engines. What had originally been done was to count solid diesel particles using “particle instruments in addition to weighing them after collecting them in a filter.” This is called the gravimetric method.

“However,” the story stated, the gravimetric method doesn’t work on cleaner emissions vehicles so European scientists launched the “PM regulation method,” which counts particles above the size of 23 nanometers.

What is a nanometer you may very well ask? I didn’t know so I looked it up.

A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. A meter is about 39 inches long. When you divide a meter into one billion pieces you get a measurement so small you can’t see it unless you use a very powerful microscope like an atomic force microscope. I’m glad that’s settled.

Are you still with me, or are you nodding off to sleep?

Long story short, the European researchers, according to Johnson, concluded that by using this method they “could discriminate between emission levels 20 times lower” than the “gravimetric” method.

“While counting only solid particles may not be indicative of all the diesel PM components of interest from a health effects perspective, this still represents an advancement in measuring particles at the low emission levels of current wall-flow DPF-equipped engines,” Johnson wrote in a paper appearing last year in the scientific publication, Aerosol Science and Technology.

Why should you as truckers care?

Researchers used by CARB are straining to measure diesel emissions at the teensy-tiniest level in case they’re harmful to breathe. They’re dead serious about it and they’ve spent a lot of money doing it.

At the end of July, a team of UC Riverside researchers from the Bourns College of Engineering and the Center for Environmental Research and Technology conducted testing for CARB using a heavy-duty vehicle chassis dynamometer, a computer-controlled set of motors and analyzers that mimic driving conditions, road grades and cargo loads and gives emissions readings. Following that they took the testing on the road with the mobile testing equipment from UC Riverside described above and traveled 14 miles around California measuring truck diesel emissions.

In the past 10 years this mobile lab has completed more than $10 million worth of research and collected more than 24,000 analytical samples.

And, most importantly, “Those samples have helped establish benchmarks and the scientific basis for state and federal air quality standards and regulations,” the article on the UC website said.

Yikes. It seems to me from this statement that more and tougher diesel emission regulations could be coming from CARB. Scarier still is that they could end up as federal rules.

If researchers strain at a nanometer will trucking have to swallow the whole darn camel?         

Dorothy Cox of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at dlcox@thetrucker.com.

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