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Stricter air pollution rules for machinery agreed

Emissions from non-road mobile machinery are a significant source of air pollution, especially nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

The non-road mobile machinery (NRMM) directive – which dates back to 1997, but has been amended and extended several times since then – regulates emissions of the major air pollutants from diesel and petrol engines in a wide variety of off-road applications, including bulldozers, trains, chainsaws, larger inland ships and many other forms of machinery.

Despite the emission limits set by the NRMM directive, emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particle matter (PM) pollutants from this sector are still high and have grown in relative terms. This is explained by the steep increase in the number of non-road machines put into service and by the fact that the emission limits set for NRMM are less strict compared to those mandated for similar engines used by road vehicles.

In 2010, the NRMM sector was responsible for around 15 per cent of the total NOx emissions and 5 per cent of the total PM emissions in the EU. While the PM share is expected to decrease, the NOx share is expected to increase to nearly 20 per cent in 2020.

Against this background, in September 2014 the Commission proposed a new regulation to strengthen the emissions standards. According to the Commission’s impact assessment, the stricter standards would bring benefits of between €26.1 and 33.3 billion by 2040, while the costs would be in the range of €5.2 to 5.8 billion in the same time period.

Negotiations between the EU’s decisionmaking institutions resulted on 6 April in a deal on new pollution limits and an implementation timetable that is largely in line with the Commission’s original proposal. The main exception is a weaker emission limit for NOx from barges.

The new harmonised type-approval conditions, including emission limit values, for new engines installed in non-road mobile machinery will start to apply gradually from 2018 up to 2020 depending on the category of the engine.

Added to the agreement is the possibility of retrofit requirements for existing engines to reduce their emissions. The Commission is tasked to assess the possibility of establishing EU-wide rules in this regard by 31 December 2018.

Moreover, a review to establish whether further emissions reductions are needed is to take place by 31 December 2020, with a particular focus on barges and trains.

Environmental groups criticised the weaker rules for barges and the fact that no particle number (PN) limit had been adopted for diesel locomotives.

Julia Poliscanova, air pollution manager at Transport and Environment (T&E), said: “More diesel machines will now be required to clean up their act with diesel particulate filters. But diesel trains and inland barges shouldn’t be allowed to belch toxic fumes while the technology to clean up the emissions is available and routinely fitted to modern trucks.

Moving more goods and people by rail and water shouldn’t result in a trade off for higher air pollution.”

Regarding the possible retrofitting of existing diesel off-road machinery, Julia Poliscanova said: “The Commission should present an ambitious proposal to clean up existing trains, barges and construction machinery, which will continue to be used for decades.”

Diesel exhaust is carcinogenic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and diesel machines are a major local source of urban air pollution near some railway stations and construction sites. Every year air pollution causes more than 400,000 premature deaths and over 100 million sick days, costing society hundreds of billions of euro.

Before being finally adopted, the first-reading agreement will have to be confirmed by the Parliament and the Council, in accordance with the EU’s ordinary legislative procedure.

Christer Ågren

Sources: Council press release 168/16, 6 April, and T&E press release, 7 April 2016.