2016 is finally here, and fuel prices are low without any indication that they’ll rise any time soon. With advances in technology, modern diesel engines are increasingly fuel efficient and emissions systems are more effective. Overall, it appears to be a bright future for fleet managers and owner operators alike.
In the last 10 years one piece of technology has stood out when it comes to improving diesel emissions: the diesel particulate filter, or DPF. Thanks to DPF technology, the cough-inducing clouds of black smoke behind diesel trucks have all but disappeared from our highways.
However, DPF manufacturers haven’t stopped coming up with exciting new advancements in this technology. Let’s take a closer look at the current state of the diesel particulate filter, what it means for you and your fleet, as well as some predictions for the future.
What does a diesel particulate filter do?
The tiny particulate matter (soot) that billows from diesel engine exhaust pipes has been linked to many adverse health effects, including cancer and respiratory diseases. The diesel particulate filter was developed to trap most of these harmful particles before they escape into the air. The DPF then burns off and oxidizes the soot, rendering the particulate matter harmless and leaving behind only a small amount of ash. With regular maintenance, a DPF helps reduce harmful diesel emissions by 80% or more.
The History of DPFs
Although diesel particulate filters have been used in non-road diesel machines since the 1980’s, it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that they became widespread for use among commercial diesel trucks. Thanks to a string of emissions regulations across the U.S. and other countries in the last decade, DPFs are now ubiquitous.
Perhaps the biggest catalyst came in 2007, when the EPA (the US Environmental Protection Agency) mandated guidelines for diesel emissions for all new diesel trucks. Now 9 years later, virtually all diesel trucks are equipped or retrofitted with a DPF system.
Improvements in DPF technology
One of the biggest improvements in DPF technology in the last 10 years is the introduction of ultra low sulphur fuel (ULSD) in 2007. ULSD fuel reduces sulphur damage to DPF filters (it burns 97% less sulphur), improving the efficiency of the filtering process and lengthening the life of DPF filters.
Another exciting advancement is the development of electrically assisted DPFs. Patented in 2013 by General Motors, these filters improve fuel economy by reducing the amount of fuel needed to heat the diesel particulate matter up to the necessary level for them to “burn off” the soot. They achieve this with an additional electric heater that helps raise the temperature substantially.
In addition to improving fuel economy, the electric DPF (according to GM’s patent) reduces regeneration cycles from 20-30 minutes down to just 4-6 minutes. Basically, this helps truck drivers achieve lower emissions on shorter trips when a traditional DPF doesn’t have enough time to complete a regeneration cycle.
Predictions for the future
While it’s always hard to predict the future, based on past developments it’s safe to say that more technology will continue to advance the effectiveness of DPFs. Electrically assisted DPFs, in particular, will likely begin to be used in diesel trucks of all sizes, although it may take 5 years or more for them to become the standard.
As the U.S. (and the world in general) continues its trend toward alternative energy and lower use of fossil fuels, emissions technology will have to continue to improve and fleet managers will be forced to continue to look for ways to reduce emissions. Whether it’s through advancements in DPF systems, or some yet-to-be-invented technology, remains to be seen; however, going forward, DPF maintenance will only become more necessary. Emissions systems will only increase in sophistication, and servicing and maintaining these systems will grow proportionally in complexity. There will also be the necessity to purchase and install replacement DPF systems for aging diesel trucks in order to stay compliant with emission regulations.
As a fleet manager or owner operator of a diesel truck, you’ll need to be informed of evolving trends, technologies, and regulations. FleetServ is dedicated to helping you stay current with all the latest DPF maintenance strategies. Check back with our blog regularly for news and helpful information.