By Mike Pankonin, AEM Senior Director, Technical and Safety Services 

Counties above ozoneThe California Air Resources Board (CARB) has a problem on its hands.

A very large portion of central and southern California does not meet the 2015 air quality standards for ozone. While there are geographic and population causal factors at play, after decades of work, many areas remain non-compliant.

To meet these challenges, CARB has led the country in implementing the most stringent of exhaust emissions regulations. I have personally heard CARB staff proudly boast that their requirements have driven innovation in engine design and after treatment technologies. While engine and equipment manufacturers have met those challenges and made great strides in emissions reductions, challenges remain.

Under the current political climate, it’s unlikely that we will see national regulatory changes coming from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, CARB continues to work on initiatives focused on lowering greenhouse gas emissions, including preliminary work on “ultra-low” NOx engine emissions. While much of this work is directed toward the heavy duty trucking industry, history indicates that the non-road mobile equipment often follows closely behind and “benefits” from lessons learned.

Existing California in-use off-road diesel regulations are aggressively reducing the emissions output of equipment fleets. Another restriction is being placed on large and medium fleets in January of 2018, after which those fleets “- - - may not add a vehicle with a Tier 2 engine to its fleet. The engine tier must be Tier 3 or higher.” In short, this regulation sets targets that are driving the average in-use off-road fleet to eliminate older equipment and replacing it with newer, cleaner running machines, or to clean up their existing fleet by installing after-treatment systems to meet their fleet goals.

Recently, CARB has been making headlines with announcements concerning the complete elimination of the internal combustion engine. While these goals are laudable, there are a number of technical barriers that need to be overcome for these goals to become reality. One of my favorite “tech nerd” books, “Physics for Future Presidents” by Richard A. Muller, provides a fascinating narrative on fuel density and why gasoline or diesel power is so attractive. A few points from his book:

  • Gasoline has 1,000 times as much energy as an equal weight of flashlight batteries.
  • Gasoline has 100 times as much energy as an equal weight of expensive computer batteries.
  • Liquid hydrogen has 4.5 times less energy per gallon than gasoline, and we only recover about 30-40 percent of the energy it takes to make it through electrolysis. (The volume and hazardous nature of liquid hydrogen has its own host of challenges.)

From this data, we can see why the energy density of gasoline or diesel make it very desirable for high-powered mobile equipment when compared to battery powered or hydrogen fueled equipment. This is somewhat confirmed since the “Hydrogen Economy” that California pursued a number of years ago has all but died.

However, should California be successful and the internal combustion engine become extinct, all is not lost. Muller explains that chocolate chip cookies have about half the energy of gasoline per pound, they taste good, and walking is good for your health.

If we consider solar energy, Muller points out that the sun delivers about 1 horsepower per square yard on a sunny California day. If there are solar cells that convert 100 percent of that energy to electricity, my truck would need about 2,700 square feet of solar cells to operate at full power. Maybe it would fly with that big of a wing? 

On a more serious note, the VW scandal has been a windfall for California, and the state is using funds to invest in “zero-emissions vehicles.” Elements of this plan include the following:

  • VW is expected to invest $800 million in California over a 10-year period to support the increased use and availability of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). VW will implement these investments in four $200 million, 30-month cycles.
  • VW is expected to introduce three additional battery electric vehicle models in California from 2019 through 2025.

Also, VW has agreed to pay about $153 million in civil penalties to California. What will CARB do with those funds? (I doubt they will be applied to the California state debt.)

Several years ago, I heard a highly placed CARB official describe the board’s 25-year plan. At that time, it included the replacement of as many internal combustion engines with electric power as possible, with a conversion of those machine forms that could not be electrified to steady state internal combustion engines, optimized for efficiency and cleanliness. The current headlines seem to be consistent with that plan.

Imagine the energy required to move the vast California economy. How many gigawatts of energy will be required to replace the diesel and gasoline consumed each day in the state? If California continues down this path, they need to start wholesale development of electric generation facilities, wind turbines, bio-digesters -- or maybe -- chocolate chip cookie bakeries.