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The European Commission for Science and Research last week opened a new facility for testing fuel consumption and emissions of trucks and buses. The new installation, VELA 7, at the Commission's Joint Research Center (JRC) in Ispra, Italy, simulates wind drag, tire/road friction and full-drive cycles for 40-ton trucks and 12-meter buses. It comes at a crucial time, since implementation guidelines for new emission standards, notably the Euro VI regarding heavy-duty vehicles, must be defined by April 1, 2010.
The work of the Vehicle Emission Laboratory (VELA) focuses on environmental impact. It assesses new technologies (e.g. exhaust-fume purification) and diagnostic systems, analyzes the impact of alternative fuels and fuel additives on emissions, and tests the efficiency of alternative propulsion systems (hydrogen power, hybrid engines).
The laboratory carries out an extensive range of tests - in collaboration with the European Automobile and Petroleum Industry Associations - to ascertain the hydrocarbon emissions of vehicles that use bio-ethanol blends, while also studying the performance of electric cars. It also studies the emission levels of heavy duty vehicles.
The new test facility, the seventh Vehicle Emission Laboratory, contains a roller bench in a climatic chamber to test exhaust gases from heavy-duty vehicles with top-notch measuring equipment. It should enable the researchers to tackle the challenges in implementing current, and developing future, emission standards for trucks and buses by using test cycles that are very close to real-life conditions.
The Commission says VELA-7 is one of the most advanced setups of its kind in the world and will provide independent, accurate and unbiased test results. With measurements going beyond those achievable on simple engine test stands, VELA 7 can monitor a whole range of alternative fuels and exhaust-gas after-treatment systems in existing and future truck configurations.
It can produce a broad picture - quantitatively and qualitatively - of the emissions of the whole range of heavy vehicles in the EU, which is the necessary step to then reducing those emissions effectively. Modern spectroscopy and other technologies allow detailed analysis of the most relevant gaseous components as well as the particulate matter in the exhaust.
The mission of the JRC is to provide customer-driven scientific and technical support for the development, implementation and monitoring of EU policies. As a service of the Commission, the JRC functions as a reference center of science and technology for the EU.
The JRC has already played a key role in underpinning European legislation on air pollution from road transport. Just recently, it has supported the detailed implementation of the carbon dioxide emission-limits for cars approved by the Council and the European Parliament in December 2008.
Green-road transport is an important element of the Commission's European Recovery Plan, which announced three public-private partnerships for research. One of these, the "green car" initiative, covers all kinds of vehicles, including the development infrastructure and technology for cleaner and more efficient land transport.
Europe's current transportation system, as those of other continents, is far from being truly sustainable, both in terms of environmental impact and energy supply. Effects on health and the environment represent the down side of modern societies' need for mobility, as vehicles are an important source of air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions.
The road-transport sector depends almost totally on fossil oil, a resource that is destined to get scarce in the long term. The necessity to limit the negative impact of road transport and to diversify energy resources, as well as to limit their consumption, is thus one of the priorities on the agenda of the European Commission.
Ari Syrquin is the head of GSCB Law Firm's international department.