Next stop: just as equipment makers adjust to EPA Tier 3 emissions standards, Tier 4 deadlines will begin to hit.
Deadlines for Tier 3 compliance have been phasing in throughout this decade, with 2005 and 2006 having been the deadline dates for some of the common horsepower engine ranges.
But just a few years after the Tier 3 deadlines have been met, equipment makers and their engine-making suppliers will need to offer engines that meet the even more stringent Tier 4 standards.
COMMENT CARDS. The mandated levels of emissions reduction for Tier 4 were announced by the EPA in 2003, with the required comment period taking place in June of that year.
Industry trade groups were among those who provided such comments to the EPA, including the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), a Milwaukee-based trade group representing manufacturers of construction, agricultural and other off-road equipment.
During the comment period, the group expressed support for the clean-air goals of the EPA, but also spelled out the "regulatory implementation challenges which equipment manufacturers face," relative to "technological feasibility and cost-effectiveness," as well as their preference for global alignment of the EPA regulations with those in Europe and Japan.
"Our members are committed to meeting the market's demand for off-road equipment that also has reduced emissions," stated then-AEM President Dennis Slater. "The EPA rule builds on the excellent progress achieved between industry and government but will require continued collaborative efforts to ensure that fuel, engines, emissions controls systems and equipment all come together to provide value to the owners and users of equipment."
The group also trumpeted its success in working with the EPA up to that point, noting that between 2001 and 2003 "there has been an estimated 93 percent combined reduction in nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) emissions for some equipment types."
In a presentation at a spring 2004 Joint Technical Liasion Meeting held between AEM and two European machinery trade groups, then-AEM Standards Coordinator Stan Mullins reported that the U.S. EPA showed genuine interest in the comments it received relative to Tier 4 emissions. "However, to the best AEM has been able to determine, the proposed rule is basically staying in tact.
LEAD TIME. In another presentation at the 2004 European meeting, Gene Kielb of Bobcat Co., West Fargo, N.D., noted that the amount of lead time required to meet emission standards is often a concern for equipment makers.
On its Web site, AEM comments upon "concerns with the direct transferability of on-road technologies to the off-road industry, resource issues and timeframes for adoption."
In a news release that accompanied the final version of the rules, issued in May of 2004, then-EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt expressed confidence that manufacturers would be able to meet the Tier 4 standards and presented the final rules as representing a partnership between government and the private sector.
"We are going to make that burst of black smoke that erupts from diesels a thing of the past," Leavitt said. "We're able to accomplish this in large part because of a masterful collaboration with engine and equipment manufacturers, the oil industry, state officials and the public health and environmental communities.
The stricter standards will ultimately help the environment of the United States and the health of its people, the agency has stated.
The positive effects will cumulate over time as the newer, cleaner-burning engines replace the older ones that have been powering America's off-road equipment during the previous decades, according to the EPA news release.
"When the full inventory of older non-road engines has been replaced, the non-road diesel program will annually prevent up to 12,000 premature deaths, 1 million lost work days, 15,000 heart attacks and 6,000 children's asthma-related emergency room visits," the agency calculates.
CLEAN CONSCIENCE. Although the improvements will come at a cost to equipment buyers, the EPA has estimated that ultimately that cost will be minimal. "The anticipated costs vary with the size and complexity of the equipment but are in the range of 1 to 3 percent of the total purchase price for most equipment categories," the agency's news release states.
New fuel formulations will play a part in that, although in 2004 the EPA was not touting alternative fuels as playing a potential role.
But subsequently, with the escalating cost of diesel fuel and the air quality scrutiny in such heavily regulated states as California, the introduction of plant-based biodiesel fuels has begun to attract attention.
In agriculture-heavy areas in particular, a biodiesel infrastructure could be coming together if oil prices remain aloft, thus ensuring that buyers of such engines have access to fuel.
In mid-May, two investment firms commissioned an engineering study to examine the feasibility of building a biodiesel plant in Cavalier County, N.D., where some 20 percent of that state's canola crop is harvested.
According to an AP news item, such a biodiesel fuel facility would join another one in North Dakota already underway that is being constructed by agri-business giant Archer Daniels Midland Co.
Traditional oil companies are also staking claims in the biodiesel market. According to a Reuters report in early May, Chevron Corp. has purchased a stake in a Texas-based company that is building a large-scale biodiesel plant in Galveston, Texas. That facility, according to Reuters, will be completed in 2007 and will be able to produce up to 100 million gallons of biodiesel per year.
For engine makers such as Caterpillar Inc. and Cummins Inc., which will ultimately have to ensure that cleaner burning diesel technology becomes available by the 2011 and 2012 deadlines of EPA Tier 4, the biodiesel option could be ideal.
The establishment of a clean-burning fuel network may help the engine makers produce engines that can meet low emissions standards by not only modifying engine designs, but by simply accepting the cleaner bio-based formulas as their fuel.
The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at email@example.com.