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State, UH teaming up to reduce (ob)noxious air emissions

A University of Houston partnership that helped Houston avoid the title of Americas smoggiest city will soon help reduce emissions all over the state thanks to an $8.8 million grant from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

The Texas Diesel Testing and Research Center at the University of Houston intends to use the grant to purchase a portable emission testing system and a heavy-duty engine dynamometer, a machine that tests an engine outside of the vehicle. The TCEQ grant was made possible by legislation from state Sen. Kip Averitt and state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, and will enable the UH facility to test technologies that should reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions by more than 80 percent in an effort to comply with federal air quality guidelines.

The greater Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas are not in compliance with EPA guidelines for clean air, said Mike Harold, professor and chair of UHs Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the co-principal investigator for the diesel project. These areas must reduce ozone levels or face cuts in the amount of federal highway funding they receive. To do this requires significant reductions in NOx emissions from stationary sources, such as power plants and refineries, as well as mobile sources. Industrial complexes are the easiest place to start, but we cant meet EPA and TCEQ requirements without tackling diesels.

Since 2002, the Texas Diesel Testing and Research Center has developed and tested emissions-reducing technologies to help reduce NOx emissions from city-owned vehicles.

The facility tested two promising technologies for the city of Houstons diesel fleet, but found that neither technology achieved the levels the city was looking for to reduce NOx emissions, which are precursor chemicals that react in the atmosphere to form ozone, a respiratory irritant that can cause permanent lung damage and are a key component of smog.

By only trying those technologies on 100 vehicles, this enabled the city of Houston to avoid additional investment and unacceptable results, said Charles Rooks, director of the facility and co-principal investigator for the project.

The facility is now working with the city to improve the two tested technologies and to evaluate additional technologies for the city of Houston and Texas.

Knowledge we gain from testing technologies will result in our being able to advise fleet operators across the state how to effectively implement these technologies and thus, reduce emissions by retrofitting vehicles, Harold said.

The UH center is one of only a handful in the nation that is capable of testing heavy-duty diesel vehicles, which is key to determining if technologies work in real-world conditions.

The Texas Diesel Testing and Research Center will fulfill the testing area shortage by providing laboratory space for third-party companies from around the state to test their technologies for reducing emissions.

The initial grant of $8.8 million provides funding through August 2009, with an additional $1.5 million possible in future funding for researching, developing and demonstrating emerging technologies.


Contact: Ann Holdsworth
University of Houston

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