The future of emissions regulations

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 European engine manufacturers and truck builders will be very familiar with the European Union’s recent Euro 6 emissions regulations, which were introduced at the start of the year to reduce the levels of harmful emissions from commercial vehicles. Other legislative standards around the world, such as EPA regulations in North America and Post NLT in Japan, have similar ambitions, and are slowly beginning to come together to agree not just on the levels of pollutants in the exhaust, but also in the way that the standard is achieved in the first place.

Euro 6 represents a 99% reduction in Nitrous Oxide (NOx) emissions compared to Euro 1, which was introduced in 1991. This shows an impressive rate of change for the industry, but what of the future? How will emissions regulations change in the coming years?

Despite only becoming a legal requirement since 1 January this year, Euro 6 engines have been on the marketplace for some time, as manufacturers competed to get early sales as customers tried to ‘cash-in’ on local financial incentives that were in operation in many areas. This means that the powers that be in the European Union are already working on the next generation of emissions regulations. ‘Euro 7’ (which one can assume it will be called) is expected to shift its focus slightly onto different particulates in exhaust gases. Until now, Euro 1-6 have focused their attentions on NOx emissions to the extent that, as mentioned previously, the presence of them in exhausts today is practically non-existent. This means the manufacturers are now going to have to focus their attentions on carbon dioxide – the so-called ‘greenhouse gas’. The easiest way to reduce CO2 emissions is to burn less fuel in the engine, so Euro 7 would not just help reduce emissions, but also preserve valuable fossil fuels as well.

The trouble is, there is no definitive way of physically measuring CO2 particulates in commercial engines. While car engines’ emissions can be easily measured in terms of grams per kilometre (g/km), the vast number of applications, duty cycles and configurations of commercial means you can’t use the same catch-all formula as with cars. Ideally, there needs to be a different formula – something that reflects what commercial vehicles actually do, such as ‘grams per tonne per kilometre’ or ‘grams per person per kilometre’ for buses. This is something the EU will have to cover when developing the legislation.

Any CO2 data surrounding Heavy Goods or Public Service Vehicles (HGVs and PSVs) will need collating. ACEA, the European vehicle manufacturers’ association, has mooted the idea of a central commercial vehicle efficiency database, into which different trucks and buses could be placed according to their CO2 outputs and operating parameters. This could be used to finalise any future emission standards, as well as providing customers the opportunity to compare the efficiency of different types of truck based on their CO2 output. Any potential database will, of course, take a massive amount of work and will need to be agreed on by all the vehicle and engine manufacturers.

Something like this would represent a massive change from previous emissions legislation. If a database comes into effect (some say this may happen within as few as five years), then the next step would be an emphasis on ‘in-service’ performance. Already, Euro 6 legislation includes an in-service requirement of seven years or 700,000 kilometres for commercial vehicles 16 tonnes. Also, engine makers will have to continue to provide proof of ‘whole-life’ compliance of their products with any future emissions regulations. Indeed, this is already the case with many current standards. The job of ensuring that vehicles live up to these regulations while ‘on the road’ will fall on the relevant type-approval authorities in the various EU countries, such as the VCA (Vehicle Certification Agency) in the UK.

Thanks to Euro 5 and Euro 6 regulations, Engine On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) have become increasingly important in ensuring in-service compliance with the regulations. OBD alerts the driver or operator to a fault in the emission system when it’s not performing properly, and logs the fault within the vehicle’s OBD unit. This puts an incentive on getting the problem fixed quickly. It stands to reason that OBD will remain important in any future emissions regulations.

Finally, as previously mentioned, emission test cycles in the US, Europe and Japan are becoming more and more harmonised and intertwined. This is gradually leading towards the ultimate goal of a universal ‘World Emission Test Protocol’ for diesel engines around the world. The next logical step after this is a ‘World Diesel Engine Emission Standard’ for commercial vehicles, but this may be some way in the horizon.

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