Here's something to think about the next time you get a craving for a burger: According to researchers at the University of California-Riverside, commercially cooked hamburgers emit more particulate matter than 2007-2010 model year clean-diesel trucks.
"An 18-wheeler diesel-engine truck would have to drive 143 miles on the freeway to put out the same mass of particulates as a single charbroiled hamburger patty," said Bill Welch, the principle engineer on the study. The UC Riverside research was funded by the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the San Joaquin Valley (Calif.) Air Pollution Control District.
The research results certainly provided food for thought. "I will say this is an extremely unusual comparison," said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Diesel Technology Forum, which has been publicizing the study results. "Generally, clean diesels are matched up against natural gas, hybrids, or electric vehicles for emissions or fuel-efficiency tests. This is the first time we've gone head-to-head against fast food."
According to Schaeffer, emissions from heavy-duty trucks and buses have been reduced by 99 percent for nitrogen oxides (NOx)—an ozone precursor—and particulate emissions. A key factor in reducing emissions has been the shift to ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel and the use of advanced emissions-control technologies.
"Because of the investments in new technology, it now takes 60 of today's [high-technology] trucks to emit the same level of particulate matter emissions as one truck built in 1988," Schaeffer said.