Roadmap To Achieving Emissions Reduction Targets for Commercial Vehicles

Oct 4, 2022 11:00 AM ET

With regulations put in place to significantly reduce emissions, how can commercial vehicle manufacturers and fleet owners better prepare for the shift? Karl Sievertsen, vice president of engineering and chief technology officer for Eaton's Vehicle Group, discusses how to prepare for upcoming changes and what technology will help maximize fuel efficiency and increase operational effectiveness.


ZARI VENHAUS: Hi, I'm Zari Venhaus, Vice President of Corporate Marketing Communications, and we're here for another Eaton 10 in 10 podcast. There's a lot of talk today about the electrification of vehicles. But in the commercial vehicle space, the diesel engine is still king.

We are here with Karl Sievertsen, the Chief Technology Officer of our Vehicle Group, to talk more about vehicle emission standards and fuel economy. Can you give me a quick overview of the regulations affecting commercial vehicle emissions?

KARL SIEVERTSEN: The regulations that you speak of primarily involving fuel economy--

Improving fuel economy, and thereby lowering CO2 emissions, greenhouse gas effect, protecting the environment. And harmful emissions, oxides of nitrogen, which produce ozone and can be harmful to humans. So those are the two main constituents that the regulatory bodies are trying to reduce and improve.

ZARI VENHAUS: What are the specific reduction goals that the regulations are targeting?

KARL SIEVERTSEN: A fuel efficiency improvement that's mandated anywhere between 15% and 30%, while at the same time, reducing the harmful emission of oxides of nitrogen by almost an order of magnitude. So we're talking up to 90% reduction from our output today, which is substantial. But making that even more complicated is learning from the dieselgate experiences et cetera is the testing is becoming more stringent, more real world.

Also, measuring at low loads. So vehicles do spend a fair amount of time idling or operating at low load, not always at full power. And it's at those times where right now, they're producing some of their highest emissions, if you will.

ZARI VENHAUS: OK, so they're really targeting reducing emissions and use cases where the potential for exposure in highly populated areas is great, like in cities. So how will that impact innovation in this space?

KARL SIEVERTSEN: The regulations are really honing in on minimizing and controlling emissions during those use cases as well or those operating modes. And so the overall level coming down, the more real world kind of measuring technique, and this focus on closing this low load exemption is what's really driving what we think is going to be quite a technology adoption revolution as you move past 2024.

ZARI VENHAUS: So technically speaking, how difficult is it to achieve this in commercial vehicles?

KARL SIEVERTSEN: In a diesel engine, for example, reducing NOx in, let's say, absence of monitoring CO2 is not, in itself, all that challenging.

But doing them both together is the problem. Because there's been a traditional offset that if you want to reduce NOx, you're kind of detuning the combustion cycle in a way as to make it less efficient.

So you get lower NOx, but also more fuel consumption, and vice versa, right? And what we're doing is working to break that paradigm. The needs of the market, the needs of the regulators, et cetera require that fuel economy go up and NOx production or emissions go down. And our technologies-- like CDA, like 48-volt EGR pumping-- have the capability and the design intent and the purpose of bringing benefits to both. Reducing NOx while improving fuel efficiency.

ZARI VENHAUS: How is electrification going to play a role in this change?

KARL SIEVERTSEN: As we look at the total commercial vehicle space, and we look at improving efficiencies and reducing harmful emissions, electrification is clearly going to play a role. It's going to play a role from moving to full battery electric vehicles, in some cases, especially with regard to buses and maybe urban transport and delivery. In terms of other use cases, there's a large potential benefit to start to electrify the commercial or the diesel powertrain that we have today.

So in other words, add some electrification in order to make the total system more efficient, whether it's pulling accessory drives off the engine-- those are things like air conditioning compressors and power steering pumps, things that don't need to run all the time. And that by pulling them off and electrifying them, we actually make the diesel engine more efficient. To allowing for electric catalyst heating again, for harmful emissions reduction and so forth.

ZARI VENHAUS: What about full battery electric for on-highway and long haul trucks?

KARL SIEVERTSEN: When we think more about long haul, that becomes less practical in terms of not just the battery cost, which is coming down, but battery weight and energy density, and the effect that has on the amount of freight you can carry and the amount of range you can get in a truck.

ZARI VENHAUS: What do fleet owners need to consider when preparing for electric options?

KARL SIEVERTSEN: For them, it is really, really about total cost of ownership. They want the range, they love the diesel, they want the diesel to be more efficient. We can make that happen.

And when the price points are such that the electrification is going to make sense for them, then they're going to pull hard. And this balance between total cost of ownership or, let's say, customer pull and regulatory environment is going to be what drives that balance as we move forward.

ZARI VENHAUS: So as these 2024 regulations approach, how is Eaton innovating to meet the needs of our customers?

KARL SIEVERTSEN: We expect to see more of a convergence of standards. And so we're working on those technologies that are going to help our customers meet those ever more stringent regulations beyond 2024. And I named a few of them, I think, in our conversation.

We can, in terms of that catalyst heating and making the engine more efficient, we can introduce cylinder deactivation to the diesel engine. Which we've had for probably 15 years or more in the passenger car space.

Eaton has produced millions of product that's in millions of engines on the road today. But we can take that space from that knowledge, that technique from the passenger car space, move it into the commercial diesel, and drive higher exhaust gas temperatures and lower fuel consumption in low load environments in that diesel space. So cylinder deactivation and variable valve actuation in general is something that we're working on. Even more efficient decompression engine braking for again, when those vehicles become more aerodynamic. And lower rolling resistance tires. They're going to need higher braking efficiencies to stop the vehicle when needed. So we're working on all of those technologies to work in conjunction with the diesel engine.

ZARI VENHAUS: Can you talk a little about the benefits and the need for extensive testing for these applications?

KARL SIEVERTSEN: We do a lot of engine dynamometer testing. We do a lot of testing at our research partners. But putting it all in one package on the vehicle and testing is important. And you hit on it, in addition and underlying foundationally, all those regulations with regard to emissions is an ever-increasing kind of durability warranty period that those devices have to be proven to be functional. So reliability and life of those emissions devices is also key.

ZARI VENHAUS: And for our last question, what are we doing to meet today's needs while preparing for the future of commercial vehicles?

KARL SIEVERTSEN: In our latest transmissions, we've improved efficiency, reduced gear train losses, improved end-user performance et cetera, and improved calibrations with our OEM partners, all to drive better performance, better fuel economy. Along our broader product range at Eaton, our valve business continues to introduce new materials and technologies that allow our customers to engineer more difficult and higher performance combustion cycles that put our components in a harsher environment, if you will. But we're there, stepping up and providing product that meets the challenge. And again, moving to improve efficiency.

We're introducing hydraulic lash adjustment in these diesel engine spaces that will allow better warranty cycles, less service, let's say, tear up into the engine to do these valve adjustments.

As the engine gets more complex, getting in to make things like valve adjustments becomes more complex. The less often we have to do that, the better. Our engine braking technology is improving performance and enabling some of the down speeding that drives fuel economy. So really across our product portfolio, we've had a fuel economy focus for many years now. And our new technologies really have us positioned well for the challenges of the future.

ZARI VENHAUS: Thank you so much for these insights, Karl. To learn more about how Eaton is innovating to reduce vehicle emissions, visit us at

Guest bio

Karl Sievertsen

Karl J. Sievertsen is Vice President of Engineering and Chief Technology Officer within the Eaton's Vehicle Group. In this role, Sievertsen is responsible for directing all engineering activities for the Vehicle Group to ensure that financial, growth, productivity and innovation objectives are met. Sievertsen joined Eaton in 2002 and has held various regional and global positions in the automotive segment of the Vehicle Group. Prior to his current role, he served as VP/GM for the Engine Air Management team. Prior to joining Eaton, Sievertsen worked for over ten years in the automotive market in various engineering leadership and sales roles. Sievertsen was born in Rochester, MI, and received a Master of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Oakland University. He is currently based in Galesburg, MI.