Euro 6's sobering outlook

As Euro 6 looms on the bus industry horizon, BusVic Maintenance Conference delegates heard some sobering words from Volvo’s David Mead

Euro 6's sobering outlook
Euro 6’s sobering outlook

By Ian Porter | July 7, 2011

The Federal Government should think hard about automatically adopting the proposed tough new Euro 6 emissions standards because it may be better for the environment if new standards are not adopted, BusVic conference delegates were told this week.

Operators will be faced with a considerable capital cost on new buses if Euro6 is introduced, but that money could be better used to get old buses off the road, Volvo Bus Asia-Pacific Region Director David Mead says.

Mead says this conundrum arises because Australia has one of the oldest bus fleets in the world, with buses allowed to be up to 25 years old – more than twice the age of the typical fleet in Western Europe.

"If you look at the benefits to the environment, there may be more achieved by replacing older Euro 1 and Euro 2 vehicles with Euro 5 vehicles (than adopting Euro6)," Mead told delegates.

"If you want to make a genuine environmental change, then that may be a better path to go down."

He says it could be argued the environmental gains from introducing Euro 6 standards would be marginal compared to the extra cost of between 5 and 10 percent that operators are going to have to bear on new buses.

The Euro 6 standards are still being finalized in Europe, although the main targets are already known. The standard is expected to be introduced from 2012.

Australia usually lags by around a year, but as the responsible Federal department has not started work on the issue yet, estimates suggest that the Australian adoption of Euro 6 may lag by two years this time, if adopted at all.

To achieve the proposed Euro 6 standards, engine manufacturers are going to have to combine a range of technologies, increasing the complexity of engines.

"There’s going to be a mix of technologies," Mead says.

"There’s particulate traps, EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) and SCR (selective catalytic reduction) all being used in combination on vehicles," he told the conference session looking at the future of emissions regulation.

"And the impact of doing that includes an increased weight of chassis," says Mead.

"There’s also going to be a very heavy onboard diagnostic requirement and monitoring requirement in terms of monitoring the various systems on the vehicles," he says.

Perversely, some of the systems will require more fuel to be burned if some of the non-carbon emissions targets are to be met.

This is because the particulate traps required to reduce soot emissions will be cleared of particulate build-up by increasing the richness of the fuel mixture. This will raise the temperature of the exhaust to a point where the accumulated particulates are burned off and released as carbon dioxide (CO2).

That requires more fuel and creates more CO2 emissions.

"Potentially there’s more fuel," Mead says.

"There will be more carbon emissions, in terms of generating the burn. That’s one of the potential outcomes, and maybe the way we package the engines in the chassis may require some change."

Given these downsides for the relatively small environmental gains, Mead says the extra capital cost required by going to Euro6 – and which is passed on to Governments through school bus and route bus contracts – may be better used on retiring older, dirty buses.

"If we replaced the oldest buses in the fleet, the environmental benefit would be lager than moving to Euro6 for a new vehicle," Mead says.

"From a political perspective you also get the benefits of increasing air conditioning, you get seat belts on more buses because you’re replacing more school buses and you have more buses complying with rollover and you have more buses with disabled access."

Mead considers the Australian dilemma about introducing Euro6 lay in the age of the country’s bus fleets.

"The maximum age in any of our metropolitan contracts is 25 years. So there is a fleet of buses out there at the 25-year mark that are retired every year.

"But if we said the maximum was 20 years, and everything in that 21-25 years age group had to be renewed, the impact environmentally would be enormous. But it would cost," he warns.

"But if we are going to spend money on doing things for the environment, is it better doing Euro6, or is it renewing the fleet? What actually gives you the best value for the money?"

There is no such dilemma in Europe, Mead says, because bus fleets there tend to average around 10 to 12 years of age.

"That’s because there is a market for used buses over there," says Mead.

"In Europe there’s this second hand market in the eastern block – buses have a second life in Eastern Europe.

"What are we going to do with 10 year old buses? Where do we send them? In Australia, there’s not a second market to sell to."

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