Happy Thursday friends! Here’s my weekly take on the five most interesting developments in low carbon fuels and vehicles trends over the last week:
The California Legislature this week enacted legislation that would extend the state’s climate change program. AB 197 and SB 32 were approved by the legislature and sent to Governor Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign it into law. The legislation would:
The refining industry had lobbied to drop the Low Carbon Fuels Standard (LCFS) program in exchange for supporting the legislation extending the overall program, but the governor and other legislators would not agree. The climate program legislation had been in danger of not passing, but an all-out effort by the legislation’s supports ― including the White House worked.
Left unresolved is the future of the state’s cap and trade program, which is currently being litigated over whether it constitutes an unconstitutional tax. The uncertainty produced by the litigation has slowed revenue from the program.
It appears EPA is going to look at the issue of raising octane in gasoline after it implements fuel economy standards for the years 2022-2025. Some automakers have argued for raising octane so that they can increase the compression ratio of engines and power output, which allows a reduction in engine size and consequently, vehicle weight. Read more about it here.
Researchers this week are presenting work at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Philadelphia showing that the best way to reduce emissions from cars going forward is to focus on cold start emissions. The goal of the project was to find out how effective gasoline vehicle emissions regulations have been at reducing the formation of smog and anticipating how cars that meet future emissions standards will lead to reductions in air pollution. Researchers on the project represented the University of California, Berkeley; Carnegie Mellon University; the University of California, San Diego; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The researchers rented 25 gasoline-powered cars, including two hybrids, from residents in the Los Angeles area, ranging from 2-20 years old. Using a proton-transfer reaction mass spectrometer at the Haagen-Smit Laboratory, they were able to measure a wider range of compounds coming out of tailpipes more rapidly. They detected a cocktail of chemicals, including fuel components such as benzene, toluene and xylenes, and incomplete combustion products including acetaldehyde, formaldehyde and acetonitrile.
But overall, the concentrations were very low for the newer cars, and new vehicles less than 2 years old emitted as little as 1% of the total amount of organic gases that a 20-year-old vehicle emitted. The researchers also found that almost all emissions in properly functioning, new vehicles came out immediately after starting the cars when their engines were cold.
But once new cars warmed up, they had to be driven 100 to 300 miles to match the levels that came out in the first 30 seconds of the engine turning on. Even malfunctioning and older cars would have to travel 50 to 100 miles, respectively, to release the same amount of emissions as they would within the first minute of a cold start, according to the study.
So the upshot is that vehicle emissions are extremely low these days, but could be lower if cold start emissions were addressed. It is expected that EPA’s Tier 3 program will do exactly that. But it won’t be easy. EPA noted in the final regulation that:
Vehicles already have made significant advances in controlling cold start emissions and maximizing exhaust catalyst efficiency (e.g., improving warm-up and catalyst light-off after cold starts and maintaining very high catalyst efficiency once warmed up) in order to meet Tier 2 and LEV II emissions standards. There are no ‘‘low-hanging fruit’’ remaining for additional NMOG+NOX reductions from light-duty vehicles from a technology perspective, meaning that vehicle manufacturers cannot merely change one aspect of emissions control and thereby achieve all of the required reductions.
Instead, compliance with light-duty Tier 3 exhaust emissions standards will require significant improvements in all areas of emissions control—with further improvements in fuel-system management and mixture preparation during cold start, improvements in achieving catalyst light-off immediately after cold start, and improved catalyst efficiency during stabilized, fully- warmed-up conditions. Manufacturers will need further improvements in each of these areas with nearly every vehicle in order to comply with the fleet-average Tier 3 standard.
A first-of-its kind study from researchers including MIT featured in The Guardian this week measured population activity patterns of several million people to evaluate population-weighted exposure to air pollution on a city-wide scale. A premise of the study is that the true impact of air pollution has not considered people’s exposure as they move about during the day. A researcher told the paper:
Air pollution is linked to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses but we have previously presumed that people exposed are at home all the time. We know that’s not a true assessment of exposure as more people are exposed as they go from home to work and when they are socializing. We found that lots of people are being exposed in central Brooklyn and Queens and lower Manhattan, where people work and recreate. But that’s not the way cities are typically regulated for air pollution – they just look at highly polluted areas rather than the amount of time people spend in them.
Mobile and wireless devices yield information to the researchers about where and when people are present, and collective activity patterns were determined using counts of connections to the cellular network. Population-weighted exposure to PM2.5 in New York City (NYC), herein termed “Active Population Exposure” was evaluated using population activity patterns and spatiotemporal PM2.5 concentration levels, and compared to “Home Population Exposure”, which assumed a static population distribution as per census data. This is shown in the figure below.
The lead researcher, Marguerite Nyhan of Harvard University, told The Guardian that the research could be used if New York wanted to follow London and create “low emissions zones” in the city thus maximizing health benefits. She added:
“In the last 100 years, air quality has certainly improved but we are still seeing problems in larger cities. We are seeing a transition to electric vehicles but it’s not quick enough – more and more people are residing in cities, which means more people are contributing to and being exposed to pollution in urban areas.”
So far, it has been European, Latin American and Asian cities beginning to establish these kinds of zones or even outright banning vehicles on certain days and in certain parts of cities ― could we see U.S. cities follow suit?
nuTonomy launched the first ever self-driving taxi (robo-taxi) service in Singapore’s one-north business district, inviting residents to try the company’s ride-hailing app to book a no-cost ride, and beating Uber, which is going to unveil a similar program, by mere days. The rides will be provided in a Renault Zoe or Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric vehicle that nuTonomy has specially configured for autonomous driving. An engineer from nuTonomy will ride in the vehicle to observe system performance and assume control if needed to ensure passenger comfort and safety.
Throughout the trial, nuTonomy will collect and evaluate valuable data related to software system performance, vehicle routing efficiency, the vehicle booking process, and the overall passenger experience. This data will enable nuTonomy to refine its software in preparation for the launch of a widely-available commercial robo-taxi service in Singapore in 2018. The goal is also to introduce the public in Singapore, but really all of us, globally to self-driving vehicles and get us all comfortable with it. Are you ready?