The challenges of diesel bans, restrictions, and regulation

Brussels, Belgium: Laurent Débias, product management and marketing leader, Thermo King in Europe, Middle East and Africa reflects on the technical and legal challenges operators face.

Open a newspaper today, and chances are you’ll come across a story on diesel. The fuel, once encouraged as a cleaner, more efficient alternative to petrol, is now seen as the chief culprit for harmful levels of pollution in many European cities – and policymakers are responding. In this article, we set out to uncover what it all means for transport professionals.

As “European” as the current anti-diesel sentiment might feel, its origin can actually be traced back to California. Or rather, the University of California, where in 2014 a group of five scientists found discrepancies between laboratory and real-world NOx emissions of diesel cars. What followed was a cascade of public institutions calling out the involved car brand, resignations, and lobby groups teaming up to compel city governments to act.

This is when the European Ambient Air Quality Directive really took effect. Introduced in 2008 and written into local law in 2010, it set a goal for European cities to work towards cleaner air and a better environment for all. But whereas the original targets were general greenhouse gases and CO2, public scrutiny soon turned to diesel – provoked by stories of the harmful health effects attributed to the fuel’s high Particulate Matter (PM) and NOx exhaust. The heat was further turned up by various organisations arguing that cities are accountable for the protection of their citizens, and that they have a clear responsibility to act. The stage was thus set.

Most experts agree that urban anti-diesel policies are now irreversible, amid calls from both sides of the political spectrum for the fuel to face restrictions. Indeed, many cities are now siding with the environmental lobby groups – with the city of London emerging as an important leader in this debate. Incorporating a citizen count that exceeds most EU member states, the city is proving to be the perfect laboratory for road-testing new guidelines and stipulations. Transport professionals would therefore do well to keep a close eye on the English capital.

Rising to the challenge

No matter the pace of change, the current diesel ban trend will be a challenge for transport professionals to navigate successfully. Especially since the industry already has a plethora of other rules to comply to, ranging from PIEK noise limitations to regulations dealing with refrigerants and separate performance requirements for Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) that affects the transport refrigeration units.
European Commission controls on the of discharge of Nitrous Oxide (NOx) and Particulate Matter (PM) for non-road mobile machinery (NRMM) were first adopted in 1997 under the Directive 97/68/EC with amending Directives and more stringent tiers and requirements for emission limits implemented over the years.

As of January 1 2019, new emission limits for gaseous and particulate pollutants for engines of non-road mobile machinery – known as Stage V – are in effect and all new engines placed on the market must meet this new standard.

The NRMM Stage V – Regulation (EU) No 2016/1628 [3478] – specifies emission requirements for all categories of compression ignition (diesel) and positive ignition mobile non-road engines, replacing Directive 97/68/EC and its amendments. While previous stages limited the overall mass of particle emissions, Stage V places more stringent controls on emissions and widens the scope of applicability, also adopting the particle number (PN) emission limits for several categories of NRMM engines.

Laurent Débias, product management and marketing leader, Thermo King

As a leader in transport temperature control solutions, Thermo King, already in 2018, has made the choice to anticipate and comply with the Stage V regulation deadlines by continuing to innovate and keeping the same market leading performance. The transport refrigeration unit manufacturer took proactive steps to ensure that all its truck and trailer refrigeration units feature the upgraded, lower-emission NRMM Stage V certified GreenTech™ engines, which are fully compliant with the letter and spirit of the regulation.

Yet at the end it’s the transport and fleet managers who have to rise up to the challenges of complying with the EU and local regulations to keep their fleets and business operations future-proofed.

Future implications for transport

While industry players are pressing for a coordinated, well-defined approach from city authorities, can we accurately predict how things will turn out for the transport sector? One relatively safe assumption is that things won’t change as drastically as some voices would have us believe. And while full-electric light commercial vehicles are gradually making their long-awaited entry into the market, the high cost of full-electric heavy trucks is proving a significant barrier to adoption in the tight margin transportation business. In addition, we are yet to see the public infrastructure that would enable an industry-wide switch anytime soon.

Rather, we’re more likely to see a gradual development with each engine technology establishing its own unique place in the supply chain. The choice between diesel, hybrid or electric will come down to a host of operational factors: the proximity to residential or densely populated areas, and whether you’re transporting long haul or within city centres. It’s what is already happening today, only that the boundaries for each technology will become more strictly enforced.

When the focus shifts to refrigerated transport, things get a little more complicated. Here, transport businesses need to consider which cooling technology works with which type of vehicle – as well as the specific regulation that would apply to that type of machinery.

For now, transport professionals can have a higher degree of certainty that their transport refrigeration investments will not become obsolete overnight, but a forward look on the available engine and transport refrigeration technologies will prove to be crucial.

As the leading providers of transport temperature control solutions, Thermo King and Frigoblock empower transport and fleet managers to rise up to these critical challenges. By continuing to innovate their transport temperature control solutions, both brands are committed to building a future of transport and goods delivery in a city without smog, congestion or extensive noise. We envisage a future, where transporters save money by running their operations more efficiently, consuming less fuel and reducing exhaust emissions, CO2 emissions, and noise. Thermo King’s newest full-electric unit, the E-200, already stands as a testament to that ambition.


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