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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Fuel-Based Approach to Estimating Motor Vehicle Exhaust Emissions


Motor vehicles contribute significantly to air pollution problems; accurate motor vehicle emission inventories are therefore essential to air quality planning. Current travel-based inventory models use emission factors measured from potentially biased vehicle samples and predict fleet-average emissions which are often inconsistent with on-road measurements. This thesis presents a fuel-based inventory approach which uses emissions factors derived from remote sensing or tunnel-based measurements of on-road vehicles. Vehicle activity is quantified by statewide monthly fuel sales data resolved to the air basin level.

Development of the fuel-based approach includes (1) a method for estimating cold start emissions factors, (2) an analysis showing that fuel-normalized emission factors are consistent over a range of positive vehicle loads and that most fuel use occurs during loaded-mode driving, (3) scaling factors relating infrared hydrocarbon measurements to total exhaust volatile organic compound (VOC) concentrations, and (4) an analysis showing that economic factors should be considered when selecting on-road sampling sites.

The fuel-based approach was applied to estimate carbon monoxide (CO) emissions from warmed-up vehicles in the Los Angeles area in 1991, and CO and VOC exhaust emissions for Los Angeles in 1997. The fuel-based CO estimate for 1991 was higher by a factor of 2.3+/-0.5 than emissions predicted by California's MVEI 7F model. Fuel-based inventory estimates for 1997 were higher than those of California's updated MVEI 7G model by factors of 2.4+/-0.2 for CO and 3.5+/-0.6 for VOC. Fuel-based estimates indicate a 20% decrease in the mass of CO emitted, despite an 8% increase in fuel use between 1991 and 1997; official inventory models predict a 50% decrease in CO mass emissions during the same period. Cold start CO and VOC emission factors derived from parking garage measurements were lower than those predicted by the MVEI 7G model. Current inventories in California appear to understate total exhaust CO and VOC emissions, while overstating the importance of cold start emissions. The fuel-based approach yields robust, independent and accurate estimates of on-road vehicle emissions. Fuel-based estimates should be used to validate or adjust official vehicle emission inventories before society embarks on new, more costly air pollution control programs.

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