Cleaning the air by lowering diesel’s impact on it

Back on Oct. 23, 2012, Monte Morin in a Los Angeles Times newsstory reporting on the health implications of diesel exhaust, wrote: “A chemical analysis of air samples taken from California’s San Joaquin Valley and an Oakland traffic tunnel show that diesel fuel emissions are more polluting than previously thought, according to researchers.”

The European Environment Agency (EEA) cited similar findings. In the press release “Reducing the € 45 billion health cost of air pollution from lorries” the EEA stated: “Diesel, used by most [heavy goods vehicles], causes more air pollution per kilometre than other fuels such as petrol.”

How much more?

Morin in citing a University of California at Berkeley study pointed out that, “In the UC Berkeley study, authors wrote that diesel exhaust is seven times ‘more efficient’ at forming aerosol than gasoline exhaust.”

And according to the European Environment Agency in the aforesaid EEA release, diesel engine exhaust emissions were only recently labeled a carcinogen as determined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

So, a big challenge is how to effectively reduce dependence on diesel.

Three blog posts I wrote covering this aspect are:

  1. EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction program is showing promise
  2. CATS: Controlling NOx emissions levels with diesel aftermarket technology
  3. Team player working to clean California air

DSCN4436 (340x255)There was also the post about the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway’s plan to test the use of liquefied natural gas in company locomotives later this year.

Basically hot off the presses and detailed below is news regarding lessening the carbon dioxide (CO2) impact of big rigs.

Volvo Trucks, Safeway, Inc., the North American food and drug retailer, and Oberon Fuels, are joining forces to test in “heavy-duty commercial vehicles” dimethyl ether or DME “produced from biomass,” declared Brandon Borgna in “Volvo Trucks and Safeway to Test Bio-DME-Powered Vehicles in North America,” a “Volvo Trucks – United States” press release. “The project received $500,000 in funding from California’s San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD) and will be the second customer field test conducted by Volvo Trucks in the U.S.”

Also according to information brought out in the Volvo release, Oberon Fuels is planning the commercialization in North America of the production of DME fuel by 2015, and as Borgna wrote, “has developed skid-mounted, small-scale production units that cost-effectively convert biogas and natural gas to DME.”

So, what is it that makes DME special?

DME can lower CO2 by 95 percent compared to diesel, according to Volvo Trucks North American Sales & Marketing President Göran Nyberg, as also brought to bear in the Volvo release.

The relative ease with which DME can be produced is another of its aspects that makes it attractive.

“One of the most significant benefits of DME is that it can be made from a variety of sustainable biomass feedstocks like food, animal and agricultural waste, as well as from natural gas,” Borgna wrote.

Just so you know, Morin in the L.A. Times, meanwhile, pointed out that the authors of the University of California at Berkeley study previously mentioned, noted that, nationwide, 21 percent of all on-road fuel used in powering motor vehicles in the U.S. is diesel. The use of diesel in on-road application in California varied, ranging from a low of roughly 10 percent in coastal communities to greater than 30 percent in areas where agriculture is a predominant industry such as in the state’s San Joaquin Valley region, for instance.

The outcome of the joint Volvo, Safeway, Oberon test could very definitely have positive implications should it prove successful.

“Volvo has already been successfully testing trucks in the U.S. powered by DME, and is the first OEM [Original Equipment Manufacturer] to announce plans to offer DME-powered vehicles in the North American market,” Borgna wrote.

– Alan Kandel

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