Machines will be shooting beams of light through the exhaust plumes of heavy-duty trucks along Alberta highways this summer to measure emissions, gathering the last bits of data needed for a report on how to reduce the environmental impact of the transportation sector.
The Clean Air Strategic Alliance (CASA) is working with Opus to collect the data as part of its Roadside Optical Vehicle Emissions Reporter III (ROVER III) project. After measuring emissions from light-duty vehicles in 2020 and 2021, the study is now turning its attention to big trucks, mostly diesel-fuelled ones, to reveal how much black carbon, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds the trucks are emitting.
The remote sensing technology from Opus, which will be set up at commercial vehicle inspection stations, shines beams of ultraviolet and infrared light across the road. "The amount of specific wavelengths of light absorbed by the pollutant in the vehicle's exhaust and evaporative emissions is recorded, and those readings enable us to determine the concentrations of pollutants present," Opus explains.
The technology also collects the year, model, make, fuel type, gross weight, registration postal code (first three digits only), registration type (class), and body style of each vehicle. But no one will get in trouble for what the sensors find.
"We are collecting no personally identifiable information ... and this will never be used for enforcement in terms of particular individuals," said Andre Asselin, executive director of CASA.
Rather, the data will be added to more than 60,000 data points collected so far to inform a report that is due in 2023. "It will come with complete recommendations on how we can collectively reduce the impacts of the transportation sector on human health and environmental health," Asselin said.
CASA was established in March 1994 to manage air quality in Alberta. Its members include representatives of industry, government, and non-government organizations.
The first ROVER project, conducted in 1998, measured carbon monoxide emissions from more than 42,000 light-duty vehicles in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, and Canmore. ROVER II tested more than 66,000 vehicles in the same municipalities in 2006, this time measuring nitric oxide, particulate matter, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. That study showed that emissions per kilometre were falling, but that vehicle use was increasing, CASA says.
Asselin said the transportation sector accounts for about 25% of the air quality problems and greenhouse gas emissions in Alberta, but it's difficult to gather data on those emissions because they're dispersed. "It's easy to get a sense of what kind of emissions are coming out of an industrial facility ... The vehicle fleet is spread out throughout the province. So this program is aimed at getting the emissions profile of the transportation sector as a whole throughout Alberta."
Diesel engine exhaust in particular has been classified as carcinogenic, not to mention its contributions to the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, which is part of what has raised interest in developing trucks fuelled by electricity and hydrogen.
While CASA awaits this summer's data to complete its report, Asselin already knows one thing that would make a difference. Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada without anti-tamper legislation, which would ban modifications of emission-control technology on vehicles.
"We've made recommendations effectively saying that we should have that (anti-tamper legislation) because that's one way to reduce air emissions that negatively affect human and environmental health," he said.