Biofuel Makers May Have Known About Volkswagen Emissions Rigging for Years

Bozi Tatarevic
by Bozi Tatarevic
biofuel makers may have known about volkswagen emissions rigging for years

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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  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Sep 25, 2015

    "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?

  • Ernestohoost Ernestohoost on Sep 26, 2015

    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.

    • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Sep 26, 2015

      Dang, Ernesto's still hitting hard post-retirement. I sure miss those K-1 WGPs. Best fight/martial art event of the year, every year.

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