CARB May Crack Down on Motor Oil Emissions


Regulatory agencies in the state of California have contracted a study to assess the amount of air pollution generated by motor oils through non-tailpipe emissions. The California Air Resources Board said it believes those emissions to be a major source of soot and that lubricant reformulation may be the solution.

Until now, efforts to reduce mobile source emissions have focused on fuels, and great progress has been made in reducing the amount of pollution that comes from vehicles, Jerry Martin, a spokesman for the board, said last week. But now that weve gotten the big fish, lube oil becomes a bigger concern for us.

The Air Resources Board, a division of the California Environmental Protection Agency, approved $100,000 this summer for the study, covering one quarter of its cost. The South Coast Air Quality Management District – a regional agency covering the Los Angeles area – contributed an equal amount, whileother funding is coming from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, part of the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

Scheduled to be completed in 2008, the study will attempt to quantify the amount of particulate matter entering the atmosphere from evaporative emissions – faulty seals or leaky lines where engine oils leak out and evaporate. In a July 21 announcement about the study, the Air Resources Board said evaporate emissions may be the largest source of particulate matter from vehicles.

We know that this happens, and we believe it accounts for around one third to one quarter of the emissions pool, Martin said. But it is not well quantified and we dont fully understand how it works, so thats the purpose of this study.

Martin added that the study will look at all types and weights of on-road vehicles, including passenger cars, light trucks and heavy-duty trucks, whether powered by gasoline or diesel.

Californias Air Resources Board is charged with reducing air pollution in the state and has generated controversy with programs ranging from clean fuel requirements to oversight in power plant permitting. Advocates view the board as a progressive agency that sets national trends, but critics complain that its programs are overburdensome for business and consumers.

If the study finds evaporative emissions to be a large source of pollution, the agencies would then consider steps to address it. One of the most likely, Martin said, would be to require more new vehicles to be equipped with technologies that eliminate non-tailpipe emissions and prevent them from developing as vehicles age. Such technologies are employed on partial zero emissions vehicles (PZEVs), which are already required to some extent in California. Martin said approximately 500,000 PZEVs are on California roads today.

But the Air Resources Board said there is also a good chance that the agencies would push for additional measures, such as oil reformulation.

Obviously, existing vehicles would not be affected by new PZEV requirements, Martin said. Cars stay on the road for 10 or 15 years now, so you have to find a way to address them. It would not be like this board to ignore that part of the problem. Quite frankly, we dont look at things that way.

While neither state nor federal governments currently impose regulations concerning air pollution on motor oils, the lubricant industry has had to make significant changes the past few years as part of the push for cleaner air. Manufacturers of cars and light trucks demanded lower viscosity oils that would enable higher fuel economy. To preserve exhaust catalysts that help control emissions, they also pressed oil marketers to lower levels of sulfur, phosphorus and other chemicals that contain ash. This required oil formulators to turn to more expensive additive technologies and refiners to reduce the sulfur content and volatility of their base stocks.

On the heavy duty side, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandates for lower diesel emissions have also led to use of lower volatilityand lower sulfur base oils and changes in additive packages.

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