Cutting Pollution, One Diesel Engine at a Time

April 30, 2013

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Credit: Bill Longshaw.

Credit: Bill Longshaw.

In 2012, the U.S. burned about 43 billion gallons of diesel fuel. Diesel has long been regarded as one of the worst sources of pollution in the world. The good news is that technology exists to reduce volume and severity of diesel emissions. The bad news is that only a small percentage of diesel-powered vehicles utilize this technology today.

A Michigan group is looking to change that. The Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV), in collaboration with NextEnergy and other partners, is leading the Michigan Clean Diesel Collaborative by replacing aging fleet vehicles throughout the state.

Back in 2009, SDEV worked with the community to uncover one of the biggest areas of environmental concern. According to Sara Lang, clean diesel program manager with SDEV, the No. 1 concern was pollution from “mobile sources.” She said, “In our area, we have so much truck traffic, as well as trains, freighters, etc. that all run on diesel.”

The project is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Clean Diesel Funding Assistance program, as well as other sources both public and private. In total, SDEV has secured more than $10 million in investments to reduce diesel-related pollution. The collaborative is using the funds to help subsidize the upgrades of existing diesel-powered vehicles and equipment to incorporate newer technologies, which, according to Lang, “results in a 90 percent reduction in the amount of toxic pollution” emitted from diesel engines.

“The primary goal is to get old trucks and buses off the road and replace them with new trucks and buses,” she said. The most recent project plan, which will run through Sept. 2014, will see 31 total vehicles retired and replaced. “The old engine and chassis are disabled and sold for parts. We provide between 20 to 25 percent toward each new purchase.”

For those that can’t afford all new fleets, the collaborative will assist in retrofitting some existing vehicles. Lang explained, “We started out in some earlier projects retrofitting oxidation catalysts. Those are a lot less expensive. But they don’t have nearly as big as an impact. There’s also anti-idling equipment. We put on auxiliary power units and heaters that will heat and cool the vehicle without it running [the engine]. There has been interest in this because companies are saving money on fuel.”

Since the collaborative was first formed in 2009, Lang said that more than 250 engines have been impacted, cutting more than 36,500 tons of CO2.

Businesses that offer relevant services or products are encouraged to reach out to Lang to participate in the collaborative. “Anyone can bid on any part of the replacement,” she said. For example, she told me that one recent upgrade was to a municipal sewer cleaner and another for a street cleaner. “Those require several different suppliers -- one for the chassis, and one for the vacuum part of the machine. We accept bids from anyone interested in being part of the project as long as their engine and technology meets the EPA’s standards.”

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