The impending 2027 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) diesel heavy-duty standards are sending ripples through the trucking industry, prompting discussions on challenges, costs, and the overall transformation of the sector.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized unprecedented national clean air standards for heavy-duty trucks, effective from model year 2027. EPA is proposing stricter nitrous oxide (NOx) and other air pollutants emission standards at a substantial 80% reduction goal— from 0.2 grams to 0.035 grams per brake horsepower-hour. The regulation is a pivotal step in the Clean Truck Plan, driving the transition of the country's heavily polluting heavy-duty trucking fleet towards low-carbon and electric technologies.
Current Emission Control Systems
Newer engine models incorporate advanced emission control systems to comply with the concurrent government regulations. The systems, though varying between engines, typically consist of three components:
Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR): involves converting NOx into water and nitrogen gas using diesel exhaust fluid (DEF)
Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR): reduces NOx production by directing a portion of the exhaust gas back into the combustion chamber, lowering peak combustion temperatures and enhancing fuel economy
Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF): filters out particulate matter from diesel exhaust, with various active, passive, or hybrid designs
The 2027 regulations don't introduce revolutionary technologies; instead, they focus on enhancing existing emission control systems. Among others, stricter emission regulations may entail doubling up usage of DEF.
Vicious Cycle of Cost Implications
Despite the noble intent of EPA to “protect public health, especially the health of 72 million people living near truck freight routes in America”, the regulation draws flak as it is seen to burden the same 72 million people with the implied costs of its implementation come 2027. Based on available online resources, Linehaul Solutions summarizes pivotal concerns surrounding the regulation and traces how end-consumers will also share the burden in this green transformation, along with truck manufacturers and owner-operators.
The first and foremost concern regarding the regulation is that DEF trucks are unstable to begin with. For one, simple access to DEF supply is not guaranteed as there are frequent instances where DEF pumps are disabled due to weather. Since urea’s freezing point is only at -15C, securing DEF during winter is a problem. Truck drivers are forced to buy DEF in single-use plastic jugs, which can be argued as a deterrent to the whole green movement.
Next, Vitali from AFT Dispatch and A2C Logistics underscores a critical shortage of sensors vital for DEF and DPF systems to meet EPA regulations on exhaust emissions. In response, the Department of Transportation (DOT) permits temporary bypass systems, allowing trucks to operate without sensors until parts are available. However, this short-term fix, as highlighted by diesel mechanics, carries risks, particularly in damaging exhaust sensors, specifically SCR systems.
The temporary nature of the bypass solution could translate into long-term problems, requiring extensive and costly maintenance.
A FedEx Ground Linehaul truck driver captures the existing shortcomings of DEF systems and how the forthcoming 2027 EPA regulations are expected to exacerbate these issues.
The challenges associated with DEF systems are likely confirmed by the extended truck warranties that EPA is also proposing in its 2027 regulations. In reality, the major cost implications arise not from groundbreaking technologies but from these substantial extensions of emissions components warranties. The standard 100,000-mile warranty is set to increase significantly to 450,000 miles, transferring financial risk from truck owners to manufacturers. In addition, the useful life of a covered commercial vehicle will increase to 650,000 miles from the current 435,000 miles.
With the increased warranty period and useful life, manufacturing truck costs are expected to soar. Estimates range from a minimum of $2,000 to a more realistic figure of around $40,000 per truck. This surge in production costs could lead to a substantial increase in the prices of new trucks, impacting an industry that already faces economic challenges.
Amidst the impending increases in truck costs, small carriers might find it financially challenging to invest in brand-new power units, potentially leading to the prolonged use of older trucks. The National Association of Small Trucking Companies (NASTC) suggests that many carriers, especially those with fewer than 20 trucks, may stick with older technologies due to affordability concerns.
Truck drivers share the same sentiment on the anticipated truck cost increases upon full implementation of the 2027 EPA regulation.
Yet another concern regarding the regulation is that the more rigorous On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) requirements will be more aggressive, leading to increased issue detection. John Adami, co-founder of Northwest Heavy Duty, delves into the consequent administrative impacts of the expected false fails and the related cost impacts on repair businesses, particularly those aligned with dealerships.
The Biden Administration introduces the Inflation Reduction Act, providing up to $40,000 towards the purchase of a new heavy-duty truck to encourage adoption. However, concerns linger that manufacturers might increase truck prices to capture this incentive, potentially negating its intended impact.
As the trucking industry prepares for the 2027 EPA regulations, these changes will have far-reaching impacts. From technological advancements in diesel emission systems to the introduction of a new standard in engine oil, stakeholders must stay informed and adapt to the evolving landscape. The collaborative insights from subject matter experts provide a comprehensive overview of what lies ahead on the road for heavy-duty vehicles. The industry awaits further clarity on how these changes will impact operations and bottom lines, emphasizing the importance of collective discussions within the trucking community.