Emission Standards

How Emissions Are Regulated

Tailpipe Emission Standards

‘Tailpipe’ emission standards specify the maximum amount of pollutants allowed in exhaust gases discharged from an internal combustion engine. Tailpipe emission standards were first introduced in California in 1959 to control CO and HC emissions from gasoline engines. Today, emissions from internal combustion engines are regulated in many countries throughout the world. Regulated exhaust pollutants typically include:

  • Carbon monoxide (CO).
  • Hydrocarbons (HC), regulated either as total hydrocarbon emissions (THC) or as non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC).
  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx), composed of nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). One combined limit for HC + NOx is sometimes used instead of two separate limits.
  • Particulate matter (PM), measured by gravimetric methods. Some emission regulations additionally include limits for particle number (PN) emissions. Diesel smoke opacity measured by optical methods can also be regulated.

In addition, greenhouse gas (GHG) emission regulations set limits on carbon dioxide CO2 emissions. Some regulations also set limits on emissions of other GHGs such as nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4).

Emissions are measured over an engine or vehicle test cycle which is an important part of every emission standard. Regulatory test procedures are necessary to verify and ensure compliance with the various standards. These test cycles are supposed to create repeatable emission measurement conditions and, at the same time, simulate a real driving condition of a given application. Analytical methods that are used to measure particular emissions are also regulated by the standard.

Emission cycles are a sequence of speed and load conditions performed on an engine or chassis dynamometer. Emissions measured on vehicle (chassis) dynamometers are usually expressed in grams of pollutant per unit of traveled distance, e.g., g/km or g/mi. Emissions measured according to an engine dynamometer test cycle are expressed in grams of pollutant per unit of mechanical energy delivered by the engine, typically g/kWh or g/bhp-hr. Depending on the character of speed and load changes, cycles can be divided into steady state cycles and transient cycles. Steady state cycles are a sequence of constant engine speed and load modes. Emissions are analyzed for each test mode. Then the overall emission result is calculated as a (weighted) average from all test modes. In a transient cycle the vehicle (engine) follows a prescribed driving pattern which includes accelerations, decelerations, changes of speed and load, etc. The final test results can be obtained either by analysis of exhaust gas samples collected to plastic bags over the duration of the cycle or by electronic integration of a fast response, continuous emission measurement.

Regulatory authorities in different countries have not been unanimous in adopting emission test procedures and many types of cycles are in use. Since exhaust emissions depend on the engine speed and load conditions, specific engine emissions which were measured on different test cycles may not be comparable even if they are expressed or recalculated into the same units of measure. This should be kept in mind whenever comparing emission standards from different countries.

Tailpipe emission standards are usually implemented by government ministries responsible for the protection of environment, such as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in the USA. The duty to comply with these standards is on the equipment (engine) manufacturer. Typically all equipment have to be emission certified before it is released to the market.

Occupational Health and Safety Standards

Applications of internal combustion engines in confined spaces are regulated through occupational health and safety ambient air quality standards rather than (or in addition to) the tailpipe regulations. The ambient air quality standards specify maximum concentrations of air contaminants called Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL) which are allowed in the workplace.

Gases found in engine emissions including carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and many other compounds have their PELs set by occupational health and safety authorities. Diesel particulate matter has also been listed by a growing number of occupational health and safety standards as a toxic air contaminant.

These regulations are set and enforced by occupational health and safety authorities such as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) in the USA. The duty to comply is on the end-user (warehouse operator, mine operator, etc.) who has to make sure that the emission control measures which have been employed are adequate to the type and number of polluting equipment. Engine or equipment manufacturers do not have any direct obligations in regard to the occupational health and safety air quality standards.