The Emissions Dilemma

The dilemma for China, India and other densely populated, developing countries was starkly illustrated as my plane landed in Beijing on November 5. The smog outside was so thick that it looked like dusk when there were still hours of daylight left. The regulators in China and India know what is required to dramatically reduce vehicle emissions. In fact, China has embarked upon the most rapid decrease in tailpipe emissions that any major country has attempted. But, that poses a dilemma.

Vehicles, cheap gasoline and unregulated industries are to blame for China’s air pollution.

There are two negative consequences of decreasing engine emissions. The first is that fuel economy will suffer. Tony Greszler, vice president of government and industry relations at Volvo Trucks, has a chart (see below) that he has presented several times, illustrating the fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks in the U.S. Efficiency improved steadily until about 1999, when it regressed to accommodate tougher emissions standards. His chart suggests that heavy-duty fuel economy is 11% worse than it would be if the emissions standards stayed at 1999 levels. The tradeoff that results in better air quality at higher transportation costs is entirely reasonable, but it does not make it any easier to bear in developing countries like China and India.

Volvo’s Tony Greszler demonstrates that heavy-duty fuel economy is 11% worse than it would have been had emissions standards remained at 1999 levels.

The second negative consequence of decreasing engine emissions is the substantially higher cost of engines and trucks equipped to meet the lower emissions standards. Advanced technology like exhaust gas recirculation, diesel particulate filters and selective catalyst reduction are added to very substantially reduce tailpipe emissions. But, these technologies can cost around $10,000 in a new truck—another significant burden in developing countries.

3rd Aachen Colloquium China

Larry Fromm, Achates Power vice president of business and strategy development, presenting at the 3rd Aachen Colloquium China in Beijing.

I was in China to speak at Beijing’s 3rd Aachen Colloquium, a subsidiary of Germany’s famous Aachen Colloquium, and Shanghai’s SAE 2013 International Energy Savings and Emission Reduction Forum on a way out of this dilemma. In my presentation, I described how the opposed-piston, two-stroke engine that Achates Power has developed combines inherently low emissions with inherently high efficiency—all at considerably less expense than conventional engines.

The case for adopting the Achates Power opposed-piston engine in developed countries is very strong. And if anything, it is even stronger in developing countries.

One thought on “The Emissions Dilemma

  1. Once it was commonly acknowledged that the power and performance of modern IC engines already reached its limit and exhaust emission will be the main development target. Now we have achieved a point where the emission standard is already near zero, people have to look back and pay attention to fuel consumption again (For example from Jan 1st 2014, the U.S. will have its first Green House Gas (GHG) emission regulation). That means you have to think out of the box of traditional engine structure, the opposed-piston, two-stroke has inherent advantage in thermal and mechanical efficiency, and I fully support the idea of your company investing more in developing countries like my own, China.

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