Innovations in Cleaner Burning Diesel

Health and environmental impact of diesel fuel exhaust is a subject of concern, according to statements by an international organization and recently published research. This issue paves the way for litigation related to traditional (pre-1988) exhaust and emphasizes the need to analyze nano-additives in today’s cleaner burning diesel.

Recent litigation is associated with diesel emissions on the basis of the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC’s) classification for older technology. New research advises that one nanotechnology solution to fulfill Clean Air Act prerequisites for diesel exhaust may have an impact on plant growth. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is focusing its efforts on this nano-cerium oxide material. Hence, new technologies are under the observation of EPA and could prompt new litigations and regulations.

Regulations of Diesel Engine Exhaust

Diesel engine exhaust was re-classified as carcinogenic to humans by IARC in June 2012. This re-classification was on the basis of occupational health studies of workers under the exposure to high levels of diesel engine exhaust between the 1950s and the 1990s. Soon after IARC’s statement on lung cancer risk, a series of lawsuit was filed against engine manufacturers by transit workers in New York. Moreover, employers in industries based on diesel machinery may face additional claims. These studies were on the basis of traditional diesel and increase in emission took place during the studies.

The Clean Air Act regulates a variety of source emissions and also plays a key role in these types of lawsuits. Overlapping networks of regulations also focus on diesel exhaust. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) enforce occupational diesel exhaust exposure regulations. Diesel emission exposure is regulated by MSHA for underground miners. Moreover, MSHA demands the registration of diesel fuels with the EPA.

The worker exposure is measured by determining the quantity of elemental carbon, a surrogate for measuring diesel particulates, and requires the sampling and analysis by an accredited laboratory. Although OSHA does not have regulations specific to diesel exhaust, it has regulations for components that make up the exhaust. In addition, OSHA demands that diesel fuel manufacturers have to mention an exhaust’s hazard information in the material safety data sheet.

One of the goals of the Clean Air Act is to decrease the emissions of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide from engines. As per section 211 of the Clean Air Act, fuel and fuel additive manufacturers have to make registration of their products with the EPA prior to selling them on the market. Manufacturers must conduct analysis of vapor (pre-use) and exhaust emissions (post-use) and submit the data to the EPA.

Cerium Nanoparticles

Researchers have produced a cleaner energy source through the introduction of cerium nanoparticles to diesel fuels. The nano-cerium serves as a catalyst that helps in improving fuel efficiency by reducing soot or particulate matter. Nevertheless, the exhaust carries a trace amount of cerium from the fuel and releases it into the atmosphere. According to a recent research, cerium oxide nanoparticles present in the soil have a negative impact on soybean growth by affecting fertilizer-soybean interaction at the roots. This result suggests that diesel emissions of cerium may play a role in variations in growing seasons.

Secondary electron image of soot emissions with a cerium additive is shown in the picture. Potential risks to the environment and human health can be assessed by characterizing cerium nanoparticles.

However, it was not possible to extend the results of this study to diesel exhaust because solid concentrations utilized were much higher when compared to the level of naturally occurring cerium. The nanoparticles utilized were as-produced from the manufacturer rather than those from the exhaust. Fuel-based cerium particles can modify properties and increase in size when they undergo the combustion process and the extent of modifications relies on the particular engine and internal temperatures.


A more relevant study with data closer to present real-world emissions may improve the insight of potential environmental effects. Scientifically understanding the behavior of nano-cerium in diesel exhaust is important for wide adoption of the additive. For this purpose, the EPA is taking efforts to identify correlations between particle behavior, particle size, and associated risks to the environment and human health. The emerging potential of environmental claims needs proper detection of the origin of the cerium present in the atmosphere and realistic analysis of its toxicity, which plays a key role in product stewardship and compliance.

About RJ Lee Group

For nearly 30 years, RJ Lee Group, Inc. has excelled at providing analytical services, technical consulting, information management, and expert testimony in materials characterization and forensic engineering. Our services are sought by leading organizations in academia, industry, and government. Clients choose RJLG because of our reputation as an innovative solutions firm that is reliable, ethical, and committed to quality. The end result is outstanding customer satisfaction.

RJ Lee Group applies the most appropriate and efficient testing methods to deliver scientific resolution for a wide range of industries.Using state-of-the-art analytics, our multidisciplinary staff addresses diverse needs — including regulatory compliance, quality control, materials R&D, industrial hygiene and environmental health and safety.

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