When the story broke, Denver’s CBS News Channel 4 approached the Mechanical Engineering Department’s energy-focused faculty, Professors Anthony Marchese, Shantanu Jathar, Bryan Willson, and Dan Olsen to carry out their own VW emissions testing to see if their results were consistent with the reports.
Professor Jathar proposed an experiment and each professor also took it as an opportunity to introduce the story into the classroom – presented alongside combustion, engines, and air pollution lessons which also sparked essential ethics discussions.
VW was recently accused by the Environmental Protection Agency of equipping millions of their diesel engines with software programmed to detect when undergoing the prescribed EPA chassis dynamometer test, then activating equipment to reduce emissions, falsifying performance and emissions output results.
In 2009, VW introduced a new generation of light-duty diesel vehicles to meet Tier II (EPA) and LEV-II (California) emissions standards. The European Commission and West Virginia University found compliance on chassis dynamometer tests but found 10-40x emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) in on-road tests. As a result, the U.S. VW fleet has emitted an additional 42,000 tons of NOx, resulting in 5 premature deaths, $13 million in health costs, and environmental damage.
Along with comparing and analyzing CSU’s VW emissions results, CBS News Reporter, Rick Sallinger, aimed at answering the question of why the Colorado State Vehicle Inspection program was unable to expose the VW violations. The team tested 3 VW Jettas: a 2009 model with 20,000 miles, a 2011 model with 80,000 miles, and a 2014 model with 50,000 miles. On-road experimentation was conducted using a portable emissions monitoring system, courtesy of Lightning Hybrids in Loveland, Colo.
The results were consistent with original reports tested by West Virginia University. The 2009 and 2011 models always exceeded the standard, and the 2014 Jetta exceeded the standard about 60 percent of the time. On-road NOx was 3-20x higher than the Tier II standard. Sallinger and his crew took part in one of the experiments, which was conducted using a VW Jetta owned by CSU mechanical engineering graduate student, Christopher Page. Furthermore, it was confirmed that the Colorado State Vehicle Inspection program wasn’t able to expose the violations due to the software in question preventing their testing devices from picking up on the discrepancies. The story aired on CBS affiliate KCNC Channel 4 in late November 2015, and can also be found here: http://denver.cbslocal.com/2015/11/18/experts-at-csu-shows-how-volkswagen-beat-colorados-emissions-testing/.
VW has since apologized and said it will recall all of its diesel-powered vehicles in Europe. Consumers in the U.S. however will have to wait more than a year for recall strategies to be put in place.