Engine builders team up for EPA tests


Effort among BRP, Mercury, Volvo and Yamaha, with the NMMA, makes process less costly

Four engine manufacturers banded together this fall to pool data in an effort to avoid costly test expenses and meet environmental regulations. The joint effort among BRP, Mercury Marine, Volvo Penta and Yamaha - in tandem with the National Marine Manufacturers Association - developed methods for testing and reporting the levels of emissions their engines produce.

The Environmental Protection Agency asked engine manufacturers to determine methane and nitrous oxide emissions, says John McKnight, director of environmental safety at the NMMA. But after BRP engineer Jeff Wasil priced the equipment for nitrous oxide testing at about $225,000, the manufacturers met with EPA officials and asked if they could work together to determine benchmark numbers for a variety of engine types and boats.

"Each engine manufacturer would have purchased that and paid subsequent costs associated with maintaining equipment for use in testing labs," Wasil says. "That would have been a pretty substantial hit to each engine manufacturer."

The EPA agreed and the manufacturers did performance tests in October on the Fox River in Illinois to measure methane and nitrous oxide emissions. The levels they found were extremely low or undetectable, McKnight says.

New EPA guidelines require marine engine manufacturers that employ more than 500 workers to start reporting greenhouse gas emissions in 2011. Congress is also requesting emissions data in connection with potential cap-and-trade legislation, McKnight says. "These companies came together," he says. "They were ordered by the EPA to do this and had a very successful test through the combined efforts of these four companies."

McKnight says manufacturers of all types of marine engines must report carbon dioxide emissions in 2011; outboard and personal watercraft engine makers must report carbon dioxide and methane emissions in 2012; and sterndrive and inboard manufacturers must report carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions in 2013.

Ericson Marine, in Algonquin, Ill., loaned its facility so that the engine manufacturers could conduct their testing on the Fox River; 3.0-, 4.3-, 5.0-, 5.7- and 8.2-liter engines were run using a combination of four test boats supplied by Mercury Marine and Volvo Penta, says McKnight. The tests were done with equipment developed in the early 1990s that measures emissions at five engine speeds from idle to full throttle, he says. Wasil at BRP designed a "bag sampler" to collect the emissions. It has a vacuum pump and a timer that can be set to collect a weighted average sample at each of the five speed points.

McKnight says the engine companies found that methane and nitrous oxide emissions from the test boats were insignificant and sometimes equal to the amount of pollutants that already were in the air. He says no tests were run for carbon dioxide emissions because the companies already have the capability to do that.

The EPA is allowing marine engine manufacturers to collect data and develop factors - or equations - to estimate levels of emissions so the companies don't have to buy the expensive analytical equipment required to test each of their engines, McKnight says. The tests provide a benchmark so that manufacturers won't have to test every time they need to certify an engine, he says. The final results were to be released in detail around Christmas.

"What we would've had to do is run official certification tests for all of the new products," Wasil says. "When we roll out a new engine product, currently we certify for hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, things like that. Nitrous oxide and methane would also be included in that, so it would be an additional burden."

Wasil adds: "Once we have these factors, the nice thing about them is, when we do run a new certification, we can simply apply the factors we've determined in this industry test."

McKnight says the tests had two significant outcomes. "First, that greenhouse emissions from recreational boats are insignificant, but can be accurately measured in an actual boat," he says. "Second, that the people in the recreational marine industry, although competitors in the marketplace, are a group that understand the importance of coming together and working together for the common good of the boating public."

This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue.


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