OSLO, Norway -- European truckmakers are gearing up to sell diesel trucks able to comply with stricter emission rules by using urea -- now a bulk fertilizer -- to help clean exhaust fumes, a DaimlerChrysler engineer said Thursday.
For fertilizer producers the new automotive application of urea could be a boon, creating an additional market over the next decade for the product, though truckmakers will need a cleaner, industrial grade than what is spread on fields.
DaimlerChrysler will introduce its first diesel truck with a new catalytic converter designed to use urea to clean nitrogen oxides from exhaust emissions in early 2005, and other manufacturers will soon follow, DaimlerChrysler's Johannes Ebner said.
"We will make our first vehicle delivery in January or February. Colleagues from Volvo will follow soon," Ebner told Reuters on the sidelines of a fertilizer conference in Oslo, Norway, sponsored by brokerage Fondsfinans.
The technology is not entirely new. Rival truckmakers cooperated in developing it in the early 1990s, though they have been working separately on it lately.
Ebner said it already has been used in marine diesel engines, and analysts say it could catch on in stationary power generation at diesel plants, especially in North America.
The technology is called Selective Catalytic Reduction, or SCR, and most European heavy truckmakers are lined up behind the system. Most commercial vehicles are diesel trucks.
DaimlerChrysler adopted the technology because it had reached the limits of the emission reductions that could be obtained through changes in diesel engine design, so it needed to treat the exhaust instead, Ebner said.
A water solution with 32.5 percent urea is injected into the exhaust fumes before they enter the catalytic converter and turns polluting nitrogen oxides into harmless nitrogen and water, Ebner said.
The technology will enable diesel trucks to comply with the European Union's Euro 4 emission standard, which comes into force in 2005, and the tougher Euro 5 standard, which takes effect in 2008, DaimlerChrysler said earlier.
Ebner said that trucks with SCR converters will cost about $6,500 more than vehicles without them, but an incentive scheme due to be imposed on Germany's autobahn will make it economical for owners in the long run to operate such trucks.
Truck drivers will need to fill up on the urea solution -- in a separate tank from fuel -- at filling stations, and Austrian oil and gas group OMV has taken the lead in planning a wide network of stations for the service, Ebner said.
OMV, which already offers the solution called AdBlue at a few stations, has said that it aims to build a network of 67 OMV stations to dispense the urea solution along major routes in central Europe by 2007.
Analysts estimate that over the next 10 years, use of urea for exhaust cleaning in diesel trucks could create 1-1.5 million tons of additional demand for the product, analyst Stephen Mitchell from market analysis firm Decyfer told the conference.
That would boost a global urea market estimated at about 43 million tons per year, according to industry data.