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Anderson firm aims to clean up diesel emissions

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Ever find yourself choking on the exhaust from a school bus or garbage truck? A new federal emissions standard will gradually eliminate the heavy clouds of sulfur-laden soot that are synonymous with diesel engines.

New trucks must meet the standard by 2010, but diesel engines have long life spans, so it will be 10 to 15 years before the dirtiest tailpipes are off the road.

In the meantime, engineer Refaat “Ray” Kammel hopes to retrofit as many of the worst diesel offenders as possible with a patented device, which he calls a “particulate converter.”

Kammel’s Anderson-based company, Truck Emission Control Technologies, recently made its way onto the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of “emerging technologies” for cutting diesel emissions. And it has received $2 million from the Indiana Department of Economic Development to go from research and development to full-scale manufacturing.

Although existing fleets of trucks and buses don’t fall under a broad federal mandate, Kammel believes state-level efforts to cut smog and ozone create a substantial market for retrofitting vehicles, as well as construction equipment and ship engines.

By his estimation, the diesel retrofit market is worth $16 billion over the next 10 to 15 years. He hopes to grab just a portion of that, growing the business to between $100 million and $250 million in revenue over five years.

Landing on the EPA’s emerging technologies list is a big milestone, but that doesn’t mean TECT will be a commercial success.

“Getting verified can be rather expensive and require tens or hundreds of thousands in emission testing,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Maryland-based Diesel Technology Forum. The group includes diesel engine and parts suppliers and fuel refiners.

The EPA requires independent verification of a manufacturer’s claims for each potential real-world use. So even if a device has potential for many types of engines, it will require multiple rounds of tests.

Kammel believes his device works better than competitors’ on vehicles that make frequent stops and starts on local roadways—and belch black smoke along the way.
School buses, for example, are a prime target for government dollars. “The money that’s getting poured on these is just phenomenal,” said Kammel, who was born in Egypt.

Kammel formed the company in 2002 as the commercial arm of Michigan-based Converter Technology, his research-and-development firm. Between government grants and angel investors, about $3.5 million has gone into developing the particulate converter.

For the $2 million grant from Indiana, Kammel agreed to move TECT from Michigan to Anderson with the intent of creating 90 jobs by 2014.

So far the company has eight full-time employees, including Kammel, a mechanical engineer who’s worked on jet engines and in the nuclear power industry. He lives in McCordsville and has offices in Anderson and Fortville.

Kammel is hardly the first to tackle diesel emissions. His competitors are global companies, including British firm Johnson Matthey and Columbus, Ind.-based Cummins Inc., and they’ve been in the market for a decade.

Diesel filters are large cylinders that look like simple replacement mufflers. Inside, they employ ceramic filters, precious-metal catalysts, or a combination of the two to cut soot.
It takes an additional device that re-circulates exhaust gas to reduce nitrogen oxides, which contribute to ozone and smog.

TECT’s filter uses a different set of materials: layers of wire mesh and ceramic-cloth netting. An electric current incinerates the built-up soot.

As with competing products, an add-on device cuts the nitrogen oxides, or “nox.”
None of the products available so far can scrub every pollutant from every type of engine, said Shawn Seals, a senior environmental manager at IDEM. “All of the technologies have their own place,” he said.

It’s too early for IDEM to endorse TECT’s product, but Seals said, “Their technology does have a ‘nox’ reduction associated with it. That’s one of the things I’m excited to see in the real-world testing.”

Kammel believes his filter is superior because it works well with the oldest, dirtiest engines, and on vehicles that run stop-and-go routes. With other products, those conditions can lead to exhaust backups, which might damage engines. “Our product doesn’t interfere with truck operations,” he explained.

TECT soon will have a chance to road-test its claims with trucks in Indiana and Texas. The Center for Transportation and Environment in Atlanta received $300,000 from the EPA and will oversee tests this fall on seven municipal trucks in Houston and Indianapolis.

As many as 56 more vehicles, split between Indiana and Texas, will be added to TECT’s road test later this year. The tests are being funded by $2.4 million in EPA stimulus grants, awarded to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management ($1 million) and University of Houston ($1.4 million). 

If Congress approves the American Clean Energy and Security Act—the climate-change bill with a cap-and-trade provision, federal spending on clean-diesel technology could last through 2016.

This year, the EPA received $60 million for clean-diesel in the regular budget, plus $300 million in stimulus grants.

“The market we’re in is driven by air-quality standards,” Kammel said.

Schaeffer, of the Diesel Technology Forum, agreed that the regulation trend is encouraging—at least for emissions technology.

On top of the broad mandates, clean-diesel requirements pop up in major public works contracts, such as a recent runway expansion at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

The EPA distributes money for clean diesel to states and big cities plagued by smog and ozone. The local governments then make it available to fleet owners, who typically buy whatever device is endorsed by the state.

Kammel has worked closely with the state of Texas, which is targeting air pollution in Houston and other big cities.

TECT aims to meet California’s trend-setting standards. By 2011, most fleets will have to cut emissions by 85 percent. By 2013, they’ll have to cut nitrogen oxides as well. 

Unlike the federal law, California’s rules will apply to trucks old and new. The state is also aiming to clean up emissions from construction equipment and ship engines.

The California Air Resources Board says its diesel-emissions rules affect about 1 million vehicles a year.

Those numbers sound promising for the retrofit market, but Schaeffer is cautious:  “There are a range of choices for people to lower emissions. It’s a term that means more than just putting filters on things.”

One factor any fleet owner will consider is fuel efficiency. Emission-reducing devices can reduce precious miles per gallon, Schaeffer said, so owners will consider spending their money on newer engines.

“It’s hard to say what the market is going to be,” Schaeffer said.

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