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EPA grant targets Minnesota diesel

Brian Johnson
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — A $3 million federal stimulus grant is headed to Minnesota as part of an effort to reduce pollution from diesel-powered equipment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded the grant to the Minnesota Environmental Initiative. MEI officials describe the award as “one of the largest nonprofit EPA grants in the country.”

MEI will use the money to expand its four-year-old Project Green Fleet program. Through the program, MEI works with manufacturers and installers to equip diesel vehicles with “filters, catalyst mufflers and other technologies that can reduce engine emissions by up to 50 percent.”

Until now, the program largely focused on retrofits to school buses. With the grant, MEI will broaden its focus to other industries that use diesel fleets and equipment, said Bill Droessler, MEI’s director of environmental projects.

“With this funding, we will be much more into construction equipment,” Droessler said, adding MEI is working with the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota, the Aggregate and Ready Mix Association and other industry groups to spread word about the program.

Besides reducing pollution, participating companies get cleaner, more-efficient vehicles that last longer than nonretrofitted machines, he said.

Some of the upgrades require a 25 percent match from the owner. Cost of the retrofits varies from about $25,000 to $60,000, depending on the vehicle, Droessler said.

Green Fleet focuses on diesel engines for a reason: Diesel vehicles account for 50 percent of the traffic-generated air pollution in Minnesota, even though such vehicles represent only 10 percent of all vehicle traffic in the state, according to MEI.

Inspired in part by Project Green Fleet, Hennepin County and Ames Construction outfitted a used, 50-ton crawler crane last year with a diesel oxidation catalyst muffler. The crane was used on the Crosstown reconstruction project in Minneapolis.

DOC installations can reduce particulate-matter emissions by as much as 20 percent, according to EPA estimates. Such emissions can contribute to lung and heart disease and other serious health problems.
Cemstone and Braun Intertec Corp. are among the local companies that have worked with Project Green Fleet.

Tim Becken, senior vice president of operations for Cemstone, a Mendota Heights-based concrete and aggregate supplier, said his company had special emissions-reducing filters installed on five trucks.

So far, it has worked out well, he said. The only investment from the company’s side was some in-house labor to install the equipment.

“It took several hours per truck with our mechanics,” Becken said. “It was not a significant capital outlay for us.”

One concern going in was that the new equipment might hurt the trucks’ performances, but that has not been the case, he said.

“We didn’t see any negatives at all,” he said. “Frankly, that is pretty nice when you can get improved environmental performance and no other performance cost or problems. … We would put 100 on if we could. I think it is a good program.”

In partnership with MEI, Braun Intertec, a Minneapolis-based provider of engineering, environmental consulting and other services, installed special emissions-control devices on a handful of drill rigs and carriers.

“Now that this EPA grant has come through, they have more resources to work with us to retrofit more of our equipment,” said Jon Carlson, CEO of Braun Intertec. “We are quite excited about it.”

Braun Intertec has had a relationship with MEI for about 20 years, Carlson said.

“I told them if they got into being able to help out with the commercial sector, we were very interested and would like to participate,” he said. “They kept us in the loop.”

So far, company officials have noticed that equipped rigs are running quieter, with no negative effect on performance.

“We keep our equipment in pretty good shape,” Carlson said. “I don’t think it was a situation (before the retrofits) where it was puking out big black clouds of smoke. But that doesn’t mean that there is not a real good benefit to having the equipment on there.

“A lot of times, it is what you can’t see that is just as bad as what you can.”

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