Shortly After Germany Threatens Diesel Bans, Bosch Says New Technology Slashes Emissions

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Bosch is a Tier 1 supplier to the global automotive market. It makes a bunch of components that go into a wide assortment of automobiles, but one of its key contributions to the industry for decades has been emissions control systems for diesel engines. Those systems are used by virtually every manufacturer who sells diesel powered cars, but its primary customers have always been the German automakers who have made diesel a religion.

boschUnless you are a hermit living on a remote desert island, you know all about the Volkswagen diesel cheating scandal that broke in September of 2015. Since then, sales of diesel-powered cars have tumbled in most parts of the world. Even though diesels emit less carbon dioxide pollution than gasoline engines, they also spew a toxic cloud of noxious chemicals from their tailpipes, most of them various oxides of nitrogen.

The scientific evidence that those other pollutants cause serious health issues and even death has led many cities and nations to consider banning diesels altogether. German politicians have battled back furiously against any such initiatives. Everyone from chancellor Angela Merkel to transportation minister Andreas Scheuer are telling anyone who will listen that diesels bans are not going to happen.

The problem is, a big chunk of Germany’s economy is tied to producing diesel-powered cars. From the German perspective, diesel is simply too big to fail. Too many jobs depend on Dr. Diesel’s invention.

But now miraculously, mere weeks after Germany got its lederhosen in a lump over diesel bans, Bosch has piped up to announce it has an all new diesel emissions control system that slashes those nasty emissions. Is “slash” too strong a word? Consider this: the company says diesel engines equipped with the new system will have emission levels 90% below the stringent new standards set to go into effect in Europe in 2020.

“This breakthrough offers the opportunity to shift the heated debate over diesel into new territory and, hopefully, bring it to a close,” Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner told the press in Stuttgart on April 28 according to Bloomberg. “With this new exhaust technology, blanket driving bans in the centers of the world’s major cities will no longer be an issue. Why? Because we now have the technology to resolve the problem of nitrogen oxides in road traffic,” Denner said.

The new process optimizes thermal management of exhaust temperatures to reduce NOx emissions to only 10% of the legally permitted limit, and doesn’t require new hardware, Denner said. The system reportedly keeps emissions stable even in cold temperatures but cannot be retrofitted to existing engines.

Denner sounded more than a little defensive in his remarks. He said his company is prohibiting technology that recognizes test cycles and its products aren’t allowed to be optimized for test situations any more. Is that not a tacit admission that its systems were programmed to recognize test cycles and optimize themselves for test situations?

Denner also took  a thinly veiled shot at emissions officials. It is widely suspected that German authorities were well aware that VW and other others were playing fast and loose with emissions testing for years and turned a blind eye to the cheating in order to help boost the country’s auto industry.

He called for more transparency in emission tests for cars with combustion engines, which is a way of saying “We knew what was going on and you knew what was going on, so let’s all put on our big boy pants and put all this silliness behind us.”

Bloomberg also reports Denner was snarly about electric cars, calling for a more realistic view of the precise impact of electric vehicles on the environment and air quality. That’s code for “Electric cars are not as clean as people claim they are,” which is a frequent criticism of electric cars spouted by fossil fuel advocates.

Denner told the press that Bosch fully cooperates with all relevant authorities. The probe into the VW mess is still going on in Germany, years after authorities in other countries concluded their investigations. Just last week, German police arrested Joerg Kerner, head of powertrain development at Porsche in connection with the probe.

This announcement by Bosch begs the question, where has this technology been all this time? Is it credible that this brave new technology just magically appeared at this particular tine, mere weeks after talk of diesel bans began? If you’re skeptical of the timing of this news, you’re not alone.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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