US EPA aims to boost ULSD availability with school-bus, construction retrofits – ultra-low-sulfur diesel

US EPA aims to boost ULSD availability with school-bus, construction retrofits – ultra-low-sulfur diesel – Brief Article

Jack Peckham

Atlanta — U.S. EPA’s voluntary diesel emissions retrofit program adds two more sectors for special emphasis this year: school buses and construction equipment.

Both of these initiatives aim to boost demand for ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) well in advance of EPA’s mid-2006 mandatory deadline for highway diesel fuel, and potentially could help open doors of opportunity for refiners accelerating their ULSD conversion projects, as EPA program coordinator Jim Blubaugh explained at a retrofit workshop here.

Part of EPA’s special emphasis on school buses follows release of two widely-publicized reports on potential health threats to children from diesel emissions.

Besides BP, Phillips/Tosco, and Shell, other upcoming new-entrants in early U.S. ULSD markets include Chevron (from Louisiana and California), Murphy (Louisiana) and Valero (California). Refinery desulfurization projects in preparation for EPA’s low-sulfur gasoline program (starting 2004) might prompt other refiners to take the early-ULSD investment plunge simply as a matter of engineering/construction project consolidation and (in some cases) certain capital efficiencies. If EPA loosens its diesel sulfur credits trading program, that might incentivize early ULSD even more.

Meantime, new sources of funds for school bus retrofits potentially could emerge from a pending U.S. House-Senate conference committee on the national energy bill. In the original House and Senate bills, these funds were dedicated for the purchase of new “green” buses – and to the dismay of cash-strapped school districts, most of those funds are for very costly “alternative fuels” rather than clean-diesels. That means far fewer “clean” buses can be bought to replace the old “dirty” buses.

But there’s still some chance that an amendment including clean-diesel retrofits (first pushed by Sen. Edward Kennedy D-Mass.) could emerge from the House-Senate conference, Blubaugh explains. This could allow the clean-up of many more buses, rather than just a handful of high-cost alt-fuel buses.

It’s still unknown whether some of these new funds (if finally approved) eventually would be channeled through EPA’s retrofit program, or administered (perhaps in part) by some other federal agency. But in any case, having new federal funds would help EPA incentivize the national school-bus clean-up initiative, Blubaugh explains.

Aside from new funding programs, EPA is also urging school districts to adopt diesel bus idling restrictions and is distributing leaflets explaining what vehicle operators can or must do.

“Because some buses may meet EPA standards ahead of [2007 emissions limits] schedule, ask the manufacturer before purchasing a new bus to see if you can acquire one that meets these standards,” EPA’s leaflet says. “In addition, many new buses come equipped with devices that minimize idling and warm-up time.”

EPA’s region 2 (New York/New Jersey) for example recently began urging public agencies to retrofit buses (from 1990s to current model year) and “encourage retirement of 1980s buses still in use.” This initiative also aims to “facilitate the availability and use of ULSD for school bus fleets statement in New York and New Jersey before 2006,” especially in “targeted communities” with unusually high childhood asthma rates and where large numbers of children might be at risk from air pollution.

This public-outreach plan will include presentations to parent-teacher association (PTA) meetings, bus garages, school bus fleet supervisors, public-health advocates, Diesel Technology Forum and others. It aims to include everything from school bus windshield visor reminders to reduce idling, to discussions with more fuel providers about how to encourage wider availability of ULSD.

Contractors On Board

On a related front, EPA is working with Associated General Contractors (the U.S.’s largest highway construction trade association) on ways to encourage emissions reduction on diesel construction equipment.

Much of the pioneering work on construction machine retrofits comes from the Boston “big dig” project, with some of the key development work by Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), a regional governor’s air-quality advocate. EPA’s own diesel retrofit “verification” program traces its origins to NESCAUM’s early efforts.

Other retrofit initiatives EPA aims to encourage include truck-stop electrification (TSE) that can reduce idling emissions, promotion of low-emissions auxiliary power units (APUs) on trucks, and locomotive APUs (see Diesel Fuel News 5/27/02, pl0). A related “green freight initiative” aims to reward shippers that employ freight carriers taking steps to reduce emissions and conserve fuel.

Between now and 2010, EPA sees strong growth potential in diesel retrofits on the roughly 30 million diesel engines in the U.S., plus the 2 million diesels added every year.

When ULSD becomes universal in 2006, this should accelerate retrofits until around 2010, when sales of new catalyst-equipped diesels will begin to replace older engines.

New technologies that not only reduce particulate matter (PM) but also nitrogen oxides (NOx) will spur these retrofits, as will state implementation plans (SIPs), emissions “conformity” requirements and emissions offsets from new source emissions, Blubaugh explained here. Potentially, this could lead to a new “fuel-neutral discussion” about clean-diesel versus alternatives such as compressed natural gas (CNG), he said.

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