EPA grants C-U funds to cut diesel emissions

By Emily Sokolik

Cleaner air may be on the way for Champaign-Urbana.

The University recently received a $50,000 grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency for a project to cut diesel emissions from Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit buses.

“The University found this grant and approached us,” said David Moore, director of maintenance for the C-U MTD. “Of course we were very interested in this project.”

The grant will be used to install pollution-control devices on buses to reduce diesel emissions in the community.

Heavy-duty buses and trucks are often responsible for diesel emissions, which contain large amounts of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

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These substances are broken down into fine particles that penetrate deep into the lungs and pose serious health risks including asthma, lung damage and other health problems, according to the EPA’s office of transportation and air quality.

“Reducing diesel emissions impacts both public health and air quality,” said Julie Magee, EPA coordinator for Midwest Clean Diesel Initiatives, an organization dedicated to reducing emissions from diesel engines in the Midwest.

Four campus buses will be equipped with a diesel particulate filter, ceramic structures that collect particulate matter in the exhaust stream.

The high temperature of the exhaust heats the ceramic device causing the particles to break down into less harmful components.

In order to function properly, the filter must reach a temperature of 1,000 degrees.

Moore said the University is conducting research to determine whether the filters will heat to the required temperature given the way campus buses run in Champaign-Urbana.

“We’re always stopping and starting,” Moore said.

The filters can reduce diesel emissions of particulate matter, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide by 60 to 90 percent, according to research from the EPA.

Xinlei Wang, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering, submitted a proposal to obtain the grant last spring and currently manages the project.

Magee said the University was selected as one of the recipients of the funds because it was the only institution that addressed a transit fleet in its proposal.

The Midwest Clean Diesel Initiative plans to reduce emissions from one million diesel-powered vehicles by 2010, Magee said.

The University’s project is a beginning step in achieving this goal.

Reducing diesel emissions is a high-priority for the EPA because of the longevity of heavy-duty buses and trucks.

“Actually, it’s a two-part issue,” Magee said. “The vehicles continue to operate for 20 to 30 years and are also large emitters of air pollution.”

Wang said the project is still in an early phase.

The filter installation in buses will begin over the summer. In two years, the University will solicit additional funds from private companies and donors to expand the project.

“By then we will have better technology,” he said. “Someday we want to have clean, low-emission buses running all over our community.”