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Ford switches to better, costlier SCR emissions treatment for its next diesel

Add Ford to the companies switching to a cleaner method of treating diesel engine exhaust to reduce emissions. Ford, like VW Group and PSA/Peugeot-Citroen will switch to selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology to reduce NOx emissions. SCR is more costly, but it’s also generally considered more effective than lean NOx traps (LNT).

LNT technology is what Volkswagen used on its cars that were caught cheating on diesel emissions. The problem, however, wasn’t LNT being a less effective form of pollution control, but rather that VW was switching off the emissions gear except when the car detected it was being emissions-tested.

The debut engine will be Ford’s four-cylinder, turbocharged EcoBlue, going into Ford Transit vans used by a wide range of delivery services, tradespeople, and shuttle services. The 2.2-liter engine is rated from 100 to 240 European horsepower.

“Ford’s EcoBoost created a new standard for petrol [gasoline] engines – smaller, more efficient with surprising performance. That same obsession to innovate for the customer is behind our new Ford EcoBlue diesel engine range,” said Jim Farley, Ford of Europe chairman and CEO. “This new engine lifts fuel efficiency and reduces CO2 by over 10 per cent in Transit.”

Ford says EcoBlue engines will also work their way into passenger cars as well, starting with a 1.5-liter version. What’s less clear is if Ford plans to bring the engine to the US. Currently in the US, diesel engines are used only on Ford pickup trucks, but not sedans or SUVs. Ford instead has been focusing on hybrids and EVs.

2016 Ford Focus SE

Selective catalytic reduction is more sophisticated and reduces emissions by a larger amount. But it also calls for injecting tiny amounts of a liquid urea solution into the exhaust stream. It’s also called diesel exhaust fluid or AdBlue, blue being a term used in conjunction with diesel engines (but not related to Bluetooth). It’s pointed out the diesel exhaust fluid needs refilling, but that’s a non-issue for all the but worst procrastinators: On many vehicles the DEF tank is good for 10,000 miles of treatment, and a warning light goes on several fill-ups or hundreds of miles in advance. The price has also come down to as little as $3 a gallon. Some automakers and dealers recommend using their own diesel exhaust, which can sell for more than $10 a gallon, but DEF is generally regarded as a generic product.

The Frost and Sullivan consultancy says SCR penetration is currently less than 10% in Europe and won’t reach one-third until after 2020, according to industry publication Automotive News. SCR will most likely go on the vehicles that have the hardest time meeting current emissions regulations.

Volkswagen has said it will shift its diesels in Europe as well as the US to SCR technology as soon as possible. The 11 million VW diesels caught up in the emissions flap were LNT systems, but as we mentioned above, it didn’t really matter what technology VW was using because the only time it was used was when it was on a test bed. PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, a major player in Europe but not here, began converting its LNT diesel vehicles to SCR three years ago.

In Europe, new vehicles looking to be certified will need to pass an over-the-road emissions test as well as the current in-the-lab testing. This applies to cars the manufacturers certify, not the cars once they’re sold and out on the road. It has been suggested that random testing of moving vehicles would be more effective because a handful of vehicles, the gross polluters, are responsible for at least half the vehicular pollution. In some cases, such tests could be run remotely, meaning with a sensor that measures a vehicle’s exhaust from 50 or 100 feet away. Apparent gross polluters could be pulled over for more accurate tests.

For now, those are only proposals, not something the average driver has to worry about. But it’s useful in carrying a dialogue about the value of lab tests versus real world tests, and whether it’s possible to lower emissions with less-strict limits scrupulously applied.

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