By on September 25, 2015

VW-sola

A recent press release on the completion and success of a three-year program to test biofuels in Volkswagen Jetta and Passat TDI models may hint that two external companies had knowledge of the high levels of NOx produced by the “Clean Diesel” vehicles.

The two California-based companies — Solazyme and Amyris — were given the Volkswagen vehicles to test their fuels. VW announced that the program was a success a few months ago, stating CO2 emissions were reduced when using the biofuels. However, the companies only would have known their fuels produced less emissions if the biofuel companies tested the emissions output using diesel fuel and compared it with their own products.

Only Volkswagen and one of the two biofuel companies, Amyris, included a passage in their releases about reduced CO2 output — and not much else.

CO2 emissions can easily be kept under control when it comes to diesels. The emissions factor that is difficult to manage — and at the center of the scandal — is NOx. The levels of nitrous oxides are not listed anywhere in the study information. A press release announcing the completion of the program from the other biofuel maker, Solazyme, is not available.

Since both biofuel makers are trying to bring their products to market and have investors to answer to, investor presentations or white papers should hold more information, but one liners in their quarterly updates are all that’s available.

The TDI pilot program with Solazyme and Amyris kicked off in March of 2012 with both biofuel makers receiving a 2012 Jetta TDI and a 2012 Passat TDI. They were excited to announce the test and even made videos to announce that it was starting. As the program went on, news bits were released that their biodiesel fuel was getting some use in the Jetta and Passat. After that point, not much was seen until the most recent press releases that stated the successful conclusion of the program.

It’s possible that not having the proper emissions equipment resulted in NOx figures missing from the study documentation, but the registration information for Soladiesel from Solazyme listed a 10-percent reduction in NOx emissions for their biofuel. While it’s not possible to tie this figure to a specific vehicle, it’s apparent that they had access to equipment that could test NOx output.

Solazyme and Amyris were presented with the Presidential Green Chemistry Award in late 2014 for their efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve reached out to the EPA for an explanation on what prompted the awards for Solazyme and Amyris but have not received a response.

The Department of Energy often gives out loans to green companies. Supporting paperwork for those loans typically includes test results. However, we were met by a document that was mostly redacted under FOIA Exemption 4.

A recent SEC filing for Solazyme has a small blurb about the VW test program but no results were included. The NOx reduction for Soladiesel was also listed in a separate statement in the same document.

Class-action lawsuits have been flying at Volkswagen for the last few days as many see an easy target. One class-action lawsuit was a bit unique as it listed Volkswagen and also included Solazyme and Amyris as defendants. The law firm states that they are included in the class action due to the fact that they participated in emissions testing with Volkswagen and it is the plaintiff’s belief that they had knowledge of emissions test rigging.

The vehicles included in the test logged a total of 134,000 miles. It’s hard to believe that these startups would not be out spreading the news of their tests, especially if it lowered CO2 and NOx output, but at this time they seem to be mum about the results while Solazyme has decided to stay completely quiet on the program’s completion.

[Image Credit: Volkswagen of America]

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30 Comments on “Biofuel Makers May Have Known About Volkswagen Emissions Rigging for Years...”


  • avatar
    redav

    You only know what you check. If they only measured CO2, you can’t jump to the conclusion that they also measured anything else. It’s like getting a blood test for iron or hematocrit (as you would when donating blood) doesn’t tell you if you have cancer, even if the cancer is readily apparent in the blood sample.

    Statements about overall reduction of NOx implies that they would have checked for other stuff beyond CO2, but it’s possible that VW stated that CO2 would be the only chemical checked as a condition of loaning the cars.

    • 0 avatar
      qfrog

      What if the test equipment outputs both types of readings simultaneously. If I’m not mistaken that is often the case on emissions testing machines. The two tend to be inversely related so it makes sense to view both types of emissions on a diesel at the same time.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        You are thinking of NOx and CO (or other incomplete products of combustion). Those chemicals tend to be produced inversely. (Rich mixtures tend to lead to more CO, and lean mixtures tend to more NOx. Combustion temperature also affect the levels, but I don’t remember enough of the specifics anymore.)

      • 0 avatar
        pragmatist

        It would be absurd for them NOT to test for the whole range of potential pollutants. Presumably this test program was to provide information on the suitability for their developing products, and there is not way that they would JUST look at CO2.

        They (if they were doing any credible job at all) would need to look at ALL exhaust components. Despite popular perception, the fact that it’s biofuel does not mean it is automatically clean (note how badly wood stoves pollute).

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      It is hard to believe that during 134,000 miles of testing they would only test CO2 levels. It is in neither VW’s or the company’s interest to use and promote the fuel if all other emissions did not meet required levels even if CO2 emissions fell.

      Also just because a company says you can’t check a chemical doesn’t actually mean you can’t (and won’t) actually check. You just can’t include it in your shared results ;) Not that I think VW would do that- after all they would interested to see NOx levels as well (e.g. see if it can meet required levels without cheats at the very least)

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      You don’t need any special equipment to measure CO2, that’s the thing. It’s carbon in = carbon out. To measure CO2 production, all you need to do is measure fuel consumption (assuming you know the carbon content of your fuel).

      So it’s totally possible that these guys calculated their “reduced CO2 production” numbers without ever hooking any test equipment up to the tailpipe of a car.

      • 0 avatar
        whynot

        Not all carbon coming out is in the form of CO2. There is CO, soot, PMs etc that all contain C.

        I assume these companies employ scientists who would know that.

        • 0 avatar
          th009

          But the statement refers specifically to CO2, not other carbon compounds.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          Yes, but do you think:

          a) that the proportion of soot and CO [I think in terms of diesel, the particulate matter rounds to “soot” anyway] is sufficient, relative to straight CO2, to matter more than rounding error?

          b) that for purposes of a press release they’d bother to correct for it anyway?

          My hypothesis is that they may have simply looked at fuel consumption and done the math, assuming that the same proportion of CO and soot was produced with normal diesel vs. their fuel [a relatiavely safe assumption for these purposes].

          Or if they did put it on a test stand, there’s a good chance the defeat programming in the ECU detected that and ran on the EPA test program rather than the road program, and they’d never have seen scary NOx numbers.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Lack Thereof, that’s an excellent point. A problem, though, is whether the biofuel they tested had a sufficiently different amount of carbon (and thus produced CO2) such that the mpg -> CO2 calculation wouldn’t be accurate. After all, if they expect a change in mpg from the biofuel, then there’s something different about its chemistry. I would expect a direct measurement.

        And even if they directly measured the CO2, that’s just a simple CO2 meter that costs a couple hundred bucks they can stick in the tailpipe. Those CO2 meters don’t measure anything else.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Competition for free government money only results in cheating.
    Perhaps the “greenie” company saw the cheating but it only helped in making their own numbers look good.
    I suggest all the so called competitors for free handouts cheat.
    Do the wind tower developers tell all results? Would they really tell of all migration species damaged or killed in their testings?

    Would the researchers seeking best results for acres of solar firms broadcast the many birds flashing into flames while flying over?
    Really…there is data and then there is the data needed to reach the conclusion everybody involved is paying to find.

    Seeking the truth takes discipline. However, it is a defect of human nature to cheat. And money makes the cheating a way of business and harder to be truthful.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    So here’s VW solution…

    Biofuel ONLY!

    (yes that’s sarcasm.)

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    How did these biofuel companies perform their tests? If their setup triggered VW’s “test mode” cheat, they would have gotten “test mode”, rather than real world, results. I know from my own professional experience that you need to control independent variables when doing comparison tests. That’s fairly easy in a test cell but very difficult on the road.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      That’s what I was thinking. Very likely they would have done it with the epa test criteria.

      • 0 avatar
        qfrog

        That is unless they did any sort of real world testing because that would have very quickly provided some incongruous data which would have been interesting and likely warranted further testing to see if the data was due to testing procedure or if strange data was accurate.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “you need to control independent variables when doing comparison tests. That’s fairly easy in a test cell but very difficult on the road.”

      Most of the posters here have difficulty understanding that concept. On-road testing creates more, not fewer, opportunities for gaming and error.

    • 0 avatar

      134,000 miles of testing on a rig seems unlikely.

      • 0 avatar
        toplessFC3Sman

        That doesn’t mean that they didn’t do the calibration work on a dyno or just using the engine in a test cell. If i were running the research program (and engine research for an OEM is my job), I would run the engine as-is with diesel fuel to collect NOx, CO2, CO, particulate etc emissions at a variety of points as a baseline. Then, I’d run the engine again on the biofuel and adjust the injection timing, pressure, etc while trying to maintain the same NOx coming out of the engine since this will allow you to optimize fuel economy while keeping the hardest-to-clean-up emission at the same level as the OEM calibrated it to. All of this is under the assumption that the OEM was meeting emissions before, and if the engine was putting out that NOx before & it was getting cleaned up in aftertreatment, the aftertreatment should be able to clean up the same level of NOx on the new fuel.

        The 134000 miles would then be run with the new fuel & test cell calibration on the road, where CO2 “emissions” are measured based on the fuel economy – Carbon in (via liquid fuel) = Carbon out. All you need to know is the fuel economy & the carbon content of the fuel.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Emissions controls are tested for durability. Today that entails testing the emissions on a rig, aging the drivetrain for the equivalent of 120,000 or 150,000 miles, and then testing again. Just because the cars were claimed to have covered 134,000 miles, it doesn’t mean anyone was paying attention to emissions during that time.

        http://www3.epa.gov/otaq/regs/ld-hwy/durability/index.htm

        This spells out that the official testing doesn’t need to include any testing of an actual complete car, let alone emissions on the road.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        “134,000 miles of testing on a rig seems unlikely.”

        Not really. It’s a lot easier to rack up miles on a rig than putting a human behind the wheel.

        Rather, my doubt is whether these companies are real-enough companies to have such test equipment. I wonder if they are just someone in a garage with a webpage.

        • 0 avatar
          ernestohoost

          From Volkswagen’s press release:

          “Beginning in 2012, VOLKSWAGEN measured the environmental impacts from the
          use of precommercial
          renewable diesel formulas with TDI®
          Clean Diesel technology found in the 2012 Passat
          TDI”

          “With more than 134,000 miles logged collectively in
          real-world, on-road and on-highway conditions,
          VOLKSWAGEN engineers found…”

          It is obvious from Volkswagen’s press release, that they did all the testing and those companies just supplied their fuels.

          Those companies have nothing to do with testing.

          This article is borderline slander.

    • 0 avatar
      ernestohoost

      From Volkswagen’s press release:

      “Beginning in 2012, VOLKSWAGEN measured the environmental impacts from the
      use of precommercial
      renewable diesel formulas with TDI®
      Clean Diesel technology found in the 2012 Passat
      TDI”

      “With more than 134,000 miles logged collectively in
      real-world, on-road and on-highway conditions,
      VOLKSWAGEN engineers found…”

      It is obvious from Volkswagen’s press release, that they did all the testing and those companies just supplied their fuels.

      Those companies have nothing to do with testing.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    It’s doubtful the EPA wasn’t tipped off on several occasions since ’08, but typical government workers see it as doing ‘more work’ for the same pay.

  • avatar
    th009

    Most studies on the use of biodiesel (not VW-specific) have found that NOx emissions are INCREASED by the use of biodiesel.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      The study I found said that NOx and particulates decreased, but CO and CO2 increased when the engine had an EGR system. Fair warning, I haven’t gone through the whole thing yet.

  • avatar
    ernestohoost

    So it took years for government agencies to uncover the secret software and you are saying two small companies, testing their biofuels, that are not even sold on large scale, knew about it?

    That’s ridiculous.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    “CO2 emissions can easily be kept under control when it comes to diesels.”

    By driving slowly? What sort of fuel economy values are required for a diesel vehicle to be considered “under control”, anyway?

  • avatar
    ernestohoost

    Heave you even read the press release by Volkswagen btw?

    “Beginning in 2012, VOLKSWAGEN measured the environmental impacts from the
    use of precommercial
    renewable diesel formulas with TDI®
    Clean Diesel technology found in the 2012 Passat
    TDI”

    “With more than 134,000 miles logged collectively in
    real-world, on-road and on-highway conditions,
    VOLKSWAGEN engineers found…”

    So VOLKSWAGEN obviously did the tests
    and you are trying to blame Amyris and Solazyme,
    that just supplied their biofuels?

    Please correct the article. This is borderline slander.

    I informed both companies.


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