Marine Engine Emissions Regulations

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Posted on 15th April 2016
Old carby engines on death-row and emissions standards on track despite federal election

Last December, Greg Hunt, The Federal Minister for the Environment, announced final approval for the government to legislate for the introduction of new emissions standards for Non-Road Spark Ignition Engines and Equipment, which includes marine engines.

Proponents of clean air technology would argue that placing restrictions and/or preventing the sale of marine engines with high levels of exhaust pollutants is long overdue. 

The US, Europe and many countries around the world have had stringent emissions standards in place for many years, yet Australia is only now knuckling down and getting serious about putting emissions regulations in place.

If everything goes to plan, Australia will adopt the respected US EPA emissions standards, and fall into line with the rest of the developed world in restricting and/or preventing the sale of older style two-stroke outboard engines.


- An old 8hp carby two-stroke will produce more emissions per hour than a 150hp four-stroke

In truth, it is not about preventing the sale of smelly old two-strokes, but allowing only those engines that meet the new emissions standards to be sold in Australia. That said this will automatically eliminate all regular carburetor and standard EFI two-stroke engines — but not DFI or Direct Fuel Injected engines.

The difference is important. Direct Fuel Injected two-stroke outboards including Mercury Optimax, Evinrude E-TEC and Tohatsu TLDI are all three-star rated, low emissions engines that comfortably pass the proposed emissions standards. DFI two-strokes and four-stroke outboards both emit similarly low levels of Hydrocarbons (HC) Oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and Carbon Monoxide.

The issue and reason for the impending new standards is the very high exhaust emissions of old style two-stroke outboards — those noisy old-tech models that blow clouds of blue oil smoke on start-up. And it is not just the larger-size outboard engines either. The small, portable-size carby two-strokes are just as bad. Consider that an 8hp two-stroke will produce more emissions per hour than a 150hp four-stroke.

Further, as a rule, an unregulated 0 star two-stroke outboard will produce 11 times the emissions of a three star DFI two-stroke or four-stroke outboard.

For those interested, a table displaying the star rating (three stars is best) and emissions for most outboard engines sold in Australia can be found on the  Australian Marine Engine Council website database.


- Fuel systems are also coming under fire

Of course, the proposed emissions standards are not restricted to outboard engines, but will apply to all new petrol or lpg marine engines, including sterndrives, inboard engines and personal watercraft. Diesel engine regulations are expected to be about three years away. 

It will also apply to other non-road spark ignition petrol engines including chainsaws, brush cutters, lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, portable generators, etc.

The standards will only control the importation of engines after a certain date. Dealer stocks and anything on the water now (or in your garden in the case of lawn mowers, etc) won’t need to comply. 

Marine fuel tank systems will come under scrutiny as well. The new legislation will include an evaporative standard which will require measures to be put in place by boat manufacturers to capture and retain escaping fumes and to reduce or eliminate fuel spillage and overflow. This will be an issue for new boat manufacturers and dealers only. The standard will not apply to existing craft, or to owners of secondhand boats whom may be upgrading or replacing their boat’s fuel systems, etc.


- Potential federal election only a minor hiccup 

Since Minister Greg Hunt’s announcement of the impending emissions standards for Non-Road Spark Ignition Engines and Equipment (NRSIEE) late last year, formal meetings have taken place to seek advice from industry and other stake holders. Legislation is now being prepared and a draft for public comment and debate is timed for later this month.  

After some massaging of the legislation to appease all parties and fine tune the details, it was anticipated that the bill, in its final form, would be introduced to the Parliament during May/June, with the legislation likely to be passed unopposed and set into law before July. Federal election timing could now disrupt this schedule.

The start date (no more imports of high emissions engines) was projected to be July 1, 2017 following a 12-month grace period. 

So what does the date of the election mean for the timing of the NRSIEE emissions legislation? Will it be delayed? We put this question to Gary Fooks, chairman of Blue Sky Alliance and tireless campaigner for the introduction of emissions standards for marine engines. Gary was also part of the 14 member working group that was formed to advise how best to implement low emissions standards for Australia.

"This time-table is still on the cards, and my best estimate. Even if an early election changes the date the laws are passed, the buffer for final shipments could easily be squeezed down to 10 months," Gary advised. 

"But the one fact I do know for sure …. is that no one knows for sure. Not even the Minister himself because the timing just hasn’t been decided.

"What does seem locked in is that we will follow the USA standard. Canada has... and the EU started a 12 month change-over in January. This will give Australian boaties the widest choice of products and without the cost of additional certification.

"A number of phase in periods and exemptions have been on the wishlist of some outboard companies. Most of the arguments don’t hold water. After all, the industry has known this was coming since 2005 when the government first called together expert panels. 

"The Australian Boat Building Standard, AS1799 was updated to allow for heavier outboards in 2009, so by 2017 any call for 'more time to get ready' probably won’t get a lot of traction in Canberra," Gary concluded. 


- Business as usual really

It is projected that in late April the Exposure Draft of the legislation will be released and available for public comment. However, that will just be the enabling laws. The real details – such as the standards, timing, and any exemptions won’t be known until the Minister tables the regulations a month or so later. 

Only then will we be able to check that the fine print tallies with what we have heard to date. We have no reason to believe we will see or read anything untoward, so would expect the new legislation to be welcomed by most members of the marine industry and the general public.

For you and me, the most important thing to remember is that the new emissions standards will only prevent the sale of new imported high emissions engines — i.e., old-style carby and EFI two-stroke outboards. Nothing you own now will be banned, and neither will any new stock that a dealer has on hand prior to the start date, which as mentioned earlier is proposed to be July 1, 2017.

Also worth considering is that existing importers, distributors and dealers are almost certain to stock-pile a supply of high emissions engines to keep for sale beyond the start date of the low emissions legislation — keeping in mind the ban is for the importation of new high emissions engines, and not for the sale of existing stock. 

This effectively means that high emission engines (particularly in the small, portable engine sizes) will likely still be available well into 2018.

While on the subject of small, portable high emissions engines, some importers have argued for exemptions for regular two-stroke outboards under 25hp on the basis that these engines are lighter, cheaper and more convenient to use than current four-stroke outboards for a range of applications. 

The cartopper market and grey-nomad caravan industry comes to mind here. However, the problem is that small carby two-strokes are no cleaner running than larger two-strokes — and produce up to 50 per cent more emissions per hour than a regular 150-175hp four-stroke outboard. So, as you can see, it would kind of defeat the purpose of the low emissions legislation to make an exemption for small outboards, especially as the 2-25hp size bracket is the high volume end of the market.


 – Get ready for the new marine emissions standards

In coming months we will have a better idea of the time-table for the introduction of emissions standards for Non-Road Spark Ignition Engines and Equipment. What is certain is that the legislation is coming, and likely to be passed virtually unopposed when it is put to Parliament. This likely means a start date for the banning of new imported carby and EFI two-stroke outboards some time from mid-to-late 2017.

For many boat and outboard engine buyers the introduction of the new legislation will mean little. In the larger outboards engine sizes there are relatively few high emissions models available. And why would you want one anyway? Yes, they are still cheaper, but they are no longer much lighter than an equivalent clean technology outboard. And they are pretty horrible things to use to be honest.

Most people these days are buying low emission engines in the larger sizes anyway, as these four-stroke and DFI two-stroke outboards are much nicer to use. They start better, run smoother and quieter, and use up to half the amount of fuel of an old carby or EFI two-stroke. The old two-stroke engines really are dinosaurs and probably should be made extinct.

The loss of small, portable, tiller-steer carby two-stroke outboards (from 2 to around 40hp) will be felt in the market place for sure. These engines are lighter and cheaper than equivalent power four-strokes. For older or infirm people, lighter weight portables are easier to carry around and to lift on and off a boat transom. 

Electric outboards like the German Torqeedo range could be an alternative for some people, particularly tender operators and retirees. Torqeedo has a 3hp equivalent electric outboard that weighs just 13kg (including battery) and delivers up to 10 hours' running time. 

In the long term, we can also expect portable size four-stroke outboards to continue to get lighter. Indeed, it is already happening. Suzuki’s superb DF20A is a great example. This wonderfully smooth engine weighs just 44kg, which is actually lighter than a 20hp carby two-stroke model from another leading brand. 

Expect to see the release of a whole range of new, lighter weight portable low emissions outboards during the next few years. Meantime, watch this space as we track the developments, announcements and industry updates.

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