'Near-zero' diesel cheaper way to cut NOx than electric cars, says diesel lobbying group


2014 Peterbilt 579

2014 Peterbilt 579

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A prominent lobbying group believes environmental remediation funds from Volkswagen diesel settlements should be spent on new "clean" diesel vehicles.

The settlement for 2.0-liter TDI cars approved last year requires VW to pay $2.7 billion into a trust, managed by a third party.

Volkswagen agreed to put an additional $225 million into the trust under a separate settlement for 3.0-liter TDI vehicles.

CHECK OUT: Road for electric trucks with trolley-like catenary opens in Sweden (Jul 2016)

This money is to be used to mitigate the environmental impact of the excess emissions from its diesel cars, which used illegal "defeat device" software to cheat on emissions tests, and consequently exceeded emissions limits in real-world driving.

The Diesel Technology Forum believes replacing older diesel engines in commercial vehicles with new "near-zero"-emissions versions would be the most efficient use of that money.

Upgrading older diesel vehicles is the "fastest and most proven way to reduce NOx [nitrogen-oxide] emissions and achieve the objectives of the settlement," Ezra Finkin, Diesel Technology Forum policy director, said during a recent presentation at the National Association of State Energy Officials' 2017 Energy Policy Outlook Conference.

1992 Peterbilt 379 used to depict Optimus Prime’s vehicle mode in Transformers movies

1992 Peterbilt 379 used to depict Optimus Prime’s vehicle mode in Transformers movies

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The argument for funding new diesel engines in vehicles such as heavy-duty trucks, ships, and railroad locomotives included several jabs at electric cars.

Investments in lower-emission diesel engines "do not rely on costly and sometimes nonexistent fueling infrastructure," Finkin said.

The Diesel Technology Forum cited a recent U.S. Department of Transportation report claiming that one ton of NOx emissions reductions could be achieved at a cost of $13,000 to $77,000 with new diesel engines in commercial vehicles, or $1.4 million with electric-car charging infrastructure.

ALSO SEE: VW diesel settlement details: buybacks, payments, modifications, fines, more (Jun 2016)

The group also claimed that replacing a pre-2000 model year tugboat engine with one that meets current Environmental Protection Agency "Tier 4" emissions standards would eliminate 96,000 pounds of NOx emissions, equivalent to replacing 74,000 gasoline cars with battery-electrics.

Tier 4 is the latest and strictest level of emissions standards for large diesel engines, and took effect in 2015.

The use of environmental-remediation funds to upgrade commercial vehicles is not without precedent.

Two BNSF locomotives hauling coal trains meet near Wichita Falls, Texas

Two BNSF locomotives hauling coal trains meet near Wichita Falls, Texas

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The Diesel Emissions Reduction Act was a smaller program that sought to remedy environmental damage by retiring older diesel trucks and also retrofitting older transit buses with the latest emission after-treatment systems.

But regardless of how the environmental-remediation trust fund is used, Volkswagen will likely spend money on electric-car charging infrastructure.

MORE: How to turn long-haul trucking all-electric? Tractor swapping! (Jun 2016)

The 2.0-liter diesel settlement requires VW to pay $2.0 billion to fund zero-emission vehicle technology, and the 3.0-liter settlement adds $25 million to do the same within the state of California.

The majority of those funds are expected to go toward the expansion of public charging infrastructure.

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