Now it’s official. Since September 1st this year, all new diesel vehicles sold in the European Union must comply with the EURO 6 standard. EURO 6 is by any measure the most severe limitation of nasty pollutants that are allowed out of the exhaust shaft of a vehicle in and around the European Union and it sets new worldwide lows in certain respects.
Never before have vehicles become so clean and inoffensive to humans. That should be a moment to celebrate for us but wait – it is not. Why?
Because as so very often – letter and spirit of the new rules diverge enormously.
EURO 6 sets new and lower limits for Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and for some types of vehicles also for Particulate Matter (PM) emissions. However, diesel engines are by nature producers of enormous amounts of exactly those things so EURO 6 is, in fact, trying to make a diesel engine that does not look and feel like a diesel anymore.
It’s a bit like having a dog without the barking, the panting, and the running after wood sticks. Yes, that’s right. It can’t be done and one should start looking for another animal if the old one does not work anymore.
So far, engine builders took comfort in the fact that emissions limits would only be tested in carefully controlled laboratory conditions. They assumed that priming the new EURO 6 engines to a set of artificial parameters would be enough to get a pass and hence the nod from EU policy makers.
However, EURO 6 was not designed or negotiated for its limits to be met in laboratories. Those rules were made to make people’s lives better. If the very machines which are supposed to become cleaner, as a result, must not show those qualities in real life, what is the rule good for then?
This is why as of September 1st, 2017 rolling tests will be performed under real world conditions in order to verify if the limits are really being met. Here is where disaster strikes.
Because engine builders the world over agree on one thing. Diesel cannot be made that clean. At least not without making it economically unfit for this world. The diesel engine is at a point today where so much technology has been added in order to clean the exhaust stream that the entire system is permanently bordering breakdown.
Sub-systems have also been pushed to the point where not only improvement becomes virtually impossible but also where even the slightest change in one parameter produces nasty results somewhere else. So, no matter what control knob you try to turn, something else is going to squeak very loud.
In German, we say that we are at the point where the cat bites into its own tail.
By fine tuning engine performance in order to narrowly meet the required conditions in the test-bed, engine builders and logistics companies believed that they would sail through one more time. Already before the rolling tests were decided it was clear to them that diesel would not make it to EURO 7 whatever this might turn out to be in the end.
Current on the road tests show that although NOx emissions have gone down from EURO 5 to EURO 6 in the real world, they are still about 5 times higher than the allowable maximum limit. As they are already in the ropes when it comes to filtering out stuff, there are strong doubts if the diesel engine can be tuned any further. Let’s just assume that they manage another 50% cut after lots of fine tuning (what is there still left to fine tune on a machine that has been tuned for ages), we would still be way above what’s allowed.
We must come to the realization that we are hitting a dead end here.
But it gets worse. In order to meet PM limits, already before EURO 6 engine builders have successively increased pressure and temperature during the fuel burn. This was done because a hotter burn under more pressure produces more of the smaller particles and much less of the bigger ones. With smaller particles, I mean anything that’s less than 2500 nanometers in diameter.
That’s the lower limit for fine particulate matter and below that there is very little in terms of measurement and hence no control. Experts say that current measuring methods make it hard to measure anything below 500 nanometers and below 60 nanometers becomes really challenging.
But it’s exactly those ultra-small particles that are the most dangerous. In a sense, modern emissions legislation has pushed engine builders to produce less of the dangerous micro stuff and much more of the ultra-dangerous Nano stuff. I have written on the danger posed by name PM so please read up on that.
Besides, not only is every single particle of Nano-PM more dangerous, there are also many more of them as well. If you take an apple, you have one unit. Cut it up into pieces and suddenly this one item gives you a lot of units. Plus – as we have seen – each of the smaller particles is significantly more dangerous than the one bigger particle has been before.
The reason for doing so is that the smaller PM is not measured correctly as the incentive to do so is limited at best. It is just measured as a part of the total volume of PM produced but as measuring get challenging below certain thresholds that does not matter very much. Besides, we are comparing apples to oranges here. One gram of normal PM is much less toxic than one gram of corresponding Nano-PM. But by EURO 6 they are taken at the same value.
But that’s not everything. Read a quote from my friend Henrik Domanovszky:
IMPORTANT: this is a straight quote. Not one single word was altered from the original.
Rudolf, and as you know, the dangerous PM2.5 is just one of the no way problems. The highly complicated and expensive diesel technology got increased consumption/CO2 emission, ammonia emission and the most tricky one; the N2O which has an extreamly increased part in the NOx emission, what is a badly news for global warming, since it is counted to the GHG gases by a multiplier of 300.... But for the owners the increasing service costs will threaten most! Let's go for the affordable LNG/LCNG/CNG!
The formula for vehicle makers has hence become – hack it to pieces. PM becomes more dangerous by doing that but that’s hard to measure and besides, it counts for far less than the bigger particles. It’s a real nasty practice and it will ultimately kill us but we cannot blame the vehicle makers.
They simply look for wiggle room to serve to the markets what it wants. A subterfuge that allows our policy makers to pretend that they are doing something to protect us from toxic fumes, the logistics industry to soldier on and the general public to gently forget about the very thing that kicks us to death.
We are still able to pretend that we can go on doing what we have done since the dawn of time. This is at least what it must feel like for the majority of us as those who remember the time before vehicles must be all living in hermetically closed societies like the Amish today. My father has clocked his 80th full tour on planet earth and he has known the principle of the combustion engine as a kid. This story is real old now.
The diesel engine has run its course and we must come to the realization that we cannot continue building our transport world on it. It’s the 21st century so we should leave this 19th-century technology behind us. Time for LNG to come before the curtain as it reliably takes care of all the above and much more in terms of a clean exhaust.
And we can have it right now without paying a premium. How serious are we with getting EURO 6 to life?