Sticker Shock?

Tier 4 diesel engine emission requirements force technology changes that will drive equipment prices higher, and contractors need to prepare.

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You may need to take a deep breath before you look at the price on the new backhoe, loader or excavator models on the market today. There's sticker shock ahead, especially for contractors who have worked to keep their equipment running as long as possible.

Tighter emission standards are a big contributor to higher machinery costs. Sooner or later, contractors will have to embrace the newest EPA-required diesel engine emissions technology (Tier 4), and the sticker prices that go with it.

That may mean planning now for the higher cost of a new machine in the future – and revisiting your hourly machine rates.

Industry experts predict price increases ranging from 7 to 15 percent depending on the equipment and the Tier 4 solution. For instance, the retail price of a 35,000-pound excavator, a class popular with septic installers, would rise from about $140,000 to $160,000.

Heading toward Tier 4

If you're in the market for a replacement machine, there's a lot to consider before making a purchase, says Dan Soley, marketing and sales vice president for Miller-Bradford & Risberg, a multi-state Midwest parts and service provider and a distributor of new and used equipment for construction, industry and agriculture.

"Until recently, the strategy for many was to trade in a Tier 2 machine for a 2008-2010 unit with Tier 3 technology to forestall the higher cost of a new machine with Tier 4 technology," Soley says. "But the reality is that due to high demand, there are few Tier 3s available on the secondary market. Buyers will have to make the move to a Tier 4 system with either cooled exhaust gas recirculation (CEGR) or selective catalytic reduction (SCR)."

Until 1994, manufacturers had to meet fairly modest emission requirements. Then the EPA announced its first set of guidelines (Tier 1) to reduce off-highway nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) emissions. But Tier 1 applied only to engines rated at 50 hp or higher, with the goal of reducing emissions by 30 percent.

More stringent emission standards (Tier 2 and Tier 3) for NOx, hydrocarbons (HC) and PM were introduced in 1998 for off-road diesel engines below 50 hp. Limits got even tighter from 2001 to 2006 for all engine sizes, and by 2008, Tier 3 applied to engines from 50 to 750 hp.

By May 2004, as part of its Clean Diesel Programs, the EPA finalized Tier 4 standards for off-road diesel engines, requiring integrated engine and fuel systems that would significantly reduce emissions. Equipment manufacturers have steadily worked on developing advanced emission controls, similar to those already required for on-highway trucks and buses, to meet Tier 4 Final requirements by 2014.

Significant differences

Due to its smaller configuration, it has been easier for manufacturers to integrate CEGR systems to meet Tier 4 Final emission standards. According to Soley, almost all skid-steers and tractor backhoes in use today have the less expensive CEGR package, which passes fuel through a diesel particulate filter (DPF) to reduce emissions.

"The DPF filter in CEGR systems is similar to a catalytic converter in terms of how it works, but it's important to pay close attention to the manufacturer's guidelines to avoid damage to the DPF filter or fuel system components," Soley says.

With CEGR, prolonged idling increases particulate matter buildup in the DPF, which is cleaned during a regeneration process. Operation can continue during automatic regeneration, which occurs every 7 to 9 hours and takes 5 to 20 minutes. It's important to avoid idling and to avoid shutting off the engine until the cycle is complete.

Manual regeneration is needed when high levels of particulates are detected. In this case, the operator initiates regeneration, and the machine cannot be operated or shut off until the cycle is complete, or the engine could derate to 50 to 67 percent of its output, and DPF life could be shortened. Using only ultra-low-sulfur fuel that meets SAE J313 specification, Grade #2D (S15)/EN 590 (EU) can help reduce DPF particulate buildup and the work stoppages required for manual regeneration.

A tough choice

Although it's more expensive, the future emission system for off-highway equipment most likely will be SCR systems, which inject diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) into the fuel system to neutralize emission particulates before the exhaust enters the SCR catalyst. Particulates are neutralized by the DEF solution – a nonhazardous and nonflammable combination of urea and water – and burned off before being exhausted.

Refilling of the DEF solution tank can become part of a regular maintenance or refueling routine. Machines include a gauge similar to a fuel gauge with a warning signal when DEF level is low. Low-ash CJ-4 engine oil can be used but is not required. Emissions from SCR-equipped machines are harmless nitrogen gas and water. "The exhaust with SCR systems will be even cleaner than the general air we breathe," Soley says.

Issues still unsolved

Still, manufacturers haven't solved all issues with integrating SCR into their machines.

An SCR system needs a 15- to 30-gallon DEF tank with heater to prevent freezing in winter. Adding these hasn't been a problem in large equipment, but the machines used by most septic system installers are a different matter. Manufacturers are still working on ways to fit SCR into these machines without compromising operator sight lines or ease of maintenance.

Why go with SCR when machines with these systems cost much more than CEGR units, and the DEF also feels pricey? "There's a lot of engineering behind the newest SCR systems, which is one reasons we're seeing higher costs," Soley says. "But on the plus side, the SCR system is separate from the main engine function and will not affect horsepower or torque. This translates to greater engine efficiency and reduced fuel consumption. And, unlike CEGR, the DPF works most efficiently at full load, gear up and idle back."

Where most contractors run their machines 5,000 hours before considering trade-in, SCR-equipped machines are expected to deliver longer engine life and run 10,000 hours or more before major service.

Still, the rising prices of new machines will have an impact on contractors' planning, Soley says: "Unfortunately, everyone will have to take a hard look at what they're charging for jobs today in order to eventually afford the necessary technologies."


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