Current US EPA Regulations, and Engineering Challenges in Automotive Industry

Engineers all over the world are trying to invent new technologies for designing fuel efficient cars. Both fuel efficiency and emissions rely heavily on the performance of the engine, therefore, designing better engines seems the best way to go about it. Technologies like Variable Valve Timing, Cylinder Deactivation, Turbocharging and Supercharging, Start/Stop , and advanced transmission technologies are some of the recent and advanced topics that are being exploited and have already started contributing to better performing cars.[1] While all such advancements are admirable and gratifying, design engineers do not seem to have any respite.

EPA regulations for automotive emission standards help keep an eye on harmful gaseous emissions from filling up and polluting our environment. Every year, our population grows and our cities are getting bigger, which means more people with cars driving longer distances. This leads to increased emissions and fuel usage. Therefore, US EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) has to change their regulations based on current statistical data periodically. Since cars have to meet these standards before they can be sold, they have become progressively clean, and fuel efficient over the years. However, this makes it harder for design engineers to design engine for vehicles and they face engineering challenges that pile up every year. In addition, it is a big issue for car companies because they have to produce efficient cars which means they have to invest in and invent new technologies, not really a cheap option for them especially when the regulations are becoming more stringent every year.

Just to give you an idea, the chart in figure 1 given below shows how the emission standards for NOX (oxides of nitrogen) and PM (particulate matter) have changed over the last few decades for diesel engines. [4] The smaller the box, the more strict the emission regulations are. It is clear that the requirements have increased exponentially.  For instance, the NOX regulations have gone up from 1988 to 2007 by about 100 times.

blog 1 picture 1

Figure 1: Heavy duty diesel emissions standards since 1988 [4]

In addition, figure 2 displays how the corporate fuel economy standards which are required by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, have changed over the years. [4] The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) is the harmonic mean fuel economy in miles per gallons(US), of all the cars or light trucks produced by a manufacturer in a year. [5] Similar to emission regulations, CAFE standards are set in order to improve the fuel economy of the vehicles being sold in US. If the average fuel economy falls short of the standards, the company has to pay a penalty accordingly. As shown in the table, it is predicted that CAFE for each automotive company in 2025 will have to meet a standard of 54.5 mpg. Looking at our history and how car companies have kept up with these standards, it can be said that it is a surmountable task, nonetheless, challenging.

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Figure 2: US CAFE standards (in mpg) [4]

There is no need to panic though. While EPA sets these strict regulations, its aim is to protect the environment. Therefore, it is actively involved in finding ways and helping engineers and car companies meet such regulations. For example, EPA’s SmartWay is a collaboration between the EPA and the freight transportation that helps improve fuel economy and save money. [2] EPA also provides competitive funding for programs and projects related to air quality , transportation, climate change, indoor air and other related topics. [3] There is definitely a constant need for research and development. It will be interesting to see how the regulations change and if our technology is able to meet those standards or not.

1.  http://www.money-zine.com/Financial-Planning/Leasing-or-Buying-a-Car/Fuel-Efficient-Car-Technologies/

2. http://www.epa.gov/otaq/climate/solutions-vehicle.htm

3.  http://www.epa.gov/oar/grants_funding.html

4. Internal Combustion Engines and Automotive Engineering by Ronald Matthews, 2011

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_Average_Fuel_Economy

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Current US EPA Regulations, and Engineering Challenges in Automotive Industry

  1. The good news about these EPA standards is that materials and combustion engineers will be in demand for quite some time. However, it must really suck to be a car company trying to make money. All these regulations and standards set by the EPA on a yearly basis make me pity car companies, because they have to spend inordinate amounts of money to pull through.
    This is kind of a tricky subject, because it boils down to environmental and national security concerns versus the free market. There is no doubt that there are environmental and national security concerns derived from the fact that we go through so much fuel as a country; the extent of those concerns can be debated. Because it takes a lot of money to research technologies to produce more fuel efficient cars, the car companies would be reluctant to spend that extra money if the environmental and national security concerns are somewhat detached from the company’s operations and concerns. In a free market, the car companies would be willing to spend that money on research if enough of the consumers demanded it. I would argue that over the past decade, companies would have spent more money to develop more fuel efficient cars, just because the public’s interest in environmental concerns, because that is what the consumer was demanding (although maybe not as much as was needed to pass the EPA standards). Commercials in decades past didn’t really care about the gas mileage of the vehicle. This past decade, car commercials tout their product’s fuel economy constantly. So car companies probably would have gotten to more fuel efficient cars on their own – the EPA standards are just forcing them to get there more quickly. Deciding whether or not you think the EPA standards are a good thing is therefore dependent on the level of your concern about the environmental and national security concerns.
    In my opinion, the CAFE standards are terrible. Car companies must really not be a huge fan of them. If a car company wants to focus solely on making the best SUVs or Heavy Duty Vehicles (HDV) possible, they would have to pay the CAFE standards fine. Or they would have to expand their market to make Light Duty Vehicles (LDV) to balance the bad fuel economy of the HDVs. Companies like Ferrari or Porshce focus on making the best performance luxury cars possible, and for that they have to pay heavy fines, money which could have gone to more useful purposes like making better performance cars (or cheaper ones, as they probably pass on that cost to the consumer) or, perhaps, even making more fuel efficient performance cars. For these reasons, the CAFE standards are antithetical to capitalism. Car companies like Ferrari and Porsche and other specialized car companies operate under a concept similar to the division of labor, a concept that has been discussed by many philosophers such as Adam Smith. They operate under the division of labor but on a larger scale, for car companies. Because they focus on a narrower set of goals, it can be argued that those goals will be better achieved than if those goals were amidst a sea of other ones. Tesla has a narrow set of goals. However, they just happen to have picked the right side of the spectrum with those goals, goals that align with government policies, and the CAFE standards that punishes HDV and performance car companies do not even concern Tesla.
    The CAFE standards state that fleets must average 54.5 mpg by 2025, an 80% increase in fuel economy compared to today’s standards. If the consumer wants any car performance whatsoever, for example the ability to outrace your lawn mower while it’s on the self propel cycle, there are thermodynamic limits that prevent internal combustion cars from getting to that 54.5 mpg mark. At a certain point, it cannot be done. That means that regular car companies like GM and Ford who produce HDV and LDV will get hit with fines as a result of them still producing HDV. To get to that average mark, they will most likely have to implement alternatives to fuel on a large scale, like batteries, which right now do not economically make sense for the consumer. So there will probably be a huge rush to make batteries for their cars in order to meet those CAFE standards, and I would have concerns about companies trying to rush new technology out to market on a mass scale.

  2. bradleonhardt

    I think the increase of fuel efficiency is important, both at a national level (not just for pollution alone, but also for our dependence on petroleum imports to fuel our cars) and at a local level (Austin is extremely close to exceeding federal limits on pollution such as ozone, which would add cost penalties to future transportation funding). I fully understand the difficulties involved in improving fuel efficiency, but lost in this debate is the fact that global car manufacturers have a habit of placing only the largest, least efficient engines as the only option in the United States, reserving the more efficient, but more expensive, engines for European markets. A lot of these difficulties could be mitigated if the US government and automobile manufacturers worked together to shift consumer expectations to be more in line with these goals.

    As an example, I want to look at the subcompact car sold by Ford, which retain the same branding and body in the USA and in the UK-the Ford Fiesta. Overall, Ford has been relatively proactive in the USA, offering their Eco-Boost engines (code for a basic turbocharged engine) for several years now, while other manufacturers rarely offer turbocharging on commodity vehicles. Even so, looking at these cars on the corporate websites (in the UK, http://www.ford.co.uk/Cars/Fiesta/BrochureAndPriceLists ; in the USA, http://www.ford.com/cars/fiesta/) stark differences emerge. First, the Fiesta only brings one engine to the USA, the 1.6L Duratec (naturally aspirated) gasoline engine. This the most powerful naturally aspirated, and least efficient, option at 120 horsepower and 33 combined miles per US gallon (mpg). Europe, however, 6 gasoline engines and 3 diesel engines-a 1.0L gasoline with 80 hp/55 mpg, a 1.0L Ecoboost gasoline with 100 hp/55 mpg, a 1.0L Ecoboost gasonine with 125 hp/55 mpg, a 1.25L Duratec gasoline with 60 hp/45 mpg, a 1.25L Duratec with 82 hp/45 mpg, a 1.6L Duratec with 105 hp/40 mpg (the only USA engine), a 1.5L Turbodiesel with 75 hp/63 mpg, a 1.5L turbodiesel with 95 hp/65 mpg, and a 1.5L turbodiesel with 95 hp/71 mpg. This is quite a list to absorb, but my main point is that Ford has already designed these engines! However, the market in the USA does not support their use. In light of those fact, I wholeheartedly support emission standards that encourage the use of these modern engines.

    Sources: Ford corporate sites in the USA and the UK: http://www.ford.co.uk, and http://www.ford.com

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