A Knoxville startup says it has the answer to remote vehicle emissions testing, a technology that’s drawing more interest since the Volkswagen scandal.
“More people are realizing that real-world emission data is very important and that is something that we need to have,” says Yolla Hager, president of Hager Environmental & Atmospheric Technologies. “We’re hearing more about that, which is great because right now the way a lot of the states measure is OBD only — on board device.”
Those devices can be circumvented in a variety of ways, from software tricks used by Volkswagen to aftermarket products installed to produce cleaner readings.
HEAT last year introduced its Emissions Detection and Reporting system, or EDAR, an eye-safe laser-based camera installed over roads to capture emissions data of vehicles passing underneath in real-time.
Stewart Hager, who founded the company with his wife Yolla in 2009, invented the multi-patented system of hardware and software based on technology he helped develop as a consultant for NASA’s Ascends satellite, which uses a similar method to measure carbon dioxide for global warming research, he says.
The East Tennessee natives returned home to found HEAT and develop a prototype, citing the area’s cost of living and access to resources like Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee.
The company has grown to 10 employees at its West Knoxville office and adds several interns from UT in the summers.
The Hagers are quick to dispel any privacy concerns with the system — the units have cameras that collect license plate data of vehicles, but that is only sent to governments and municipalities to help identify vehicles and verify the number of cars tested, the same way testing garages do now, Yolla Hager says.
The company’s revenue model is service-based: HEAT rents the systems and charges fees for the data based on the number of cars scanned. “We’re an emission station on a pole without the infrastructure,” she says.
While government users are their first market, the Hagers also plan to target companies with fleets of vehicles.
“In a lot of states (fleet owners) have to hire someone to drive their trucks, like UPS does ... to get the emissions sticker and drive it back. With our technology we can set up outside of (their facility) and we could catch them going in and out,” she says.
“This is like a red-light camera that saves you time and money,” Stewart Hager says. “It’s going to help motorists instead of punishing them. We want to save them a trip to the emissions station.”
They’re also pursuing measurement and detection services with other industries, such as methane screening and leak detection for the gas and oil industry.
Each camera can capture thousands of vehicles a day with accuracy between 86 and 95 percent depending on the number of lanes being measured, Stewart Hager says.
One of the first demonstrations was a study for Rutherford County, Tenn., that measured more than 37,000 cars in about a week.
“We feel like we could be the solution to the VW scandal. VW wants to make amends with the EPA and the United States government and we can offer them a solution by being a third party that can validate all the cars that they’re fixing and verify that now they are working correctly,” Yolla Hager says. “We could set up outside their manufacturing or their dealerships ... and design some kind of a testing plan where they have to drive by.”
After the technology’s official debut, the company secured contracts for studies with Connecticut and California. Yolla Hager testified before the Environmental Protection Agency in February on how to reduce ground-level ozone requirements as required by new EPA standards without imposing a heavy burden on the economy. HEAT has also worked with the agency on studies of its technology’s accuracy.
However, since news of the VW emissions testing issues came to light, more customers have come calling, she said, both here and in Europe. “This scandal with VW is one issue (Europe has) but the other issue is the Euro 6 (exhaust emissions) standards,” she says.
Yolla Hager had planned a trip to the National Air Quality Conference in the United Kingdom in October to present EDAR as a solution to testing for those standards.
“What they found was the standard that they set, because they didn’t have real world data — all of the manufacturers used data from lab setting — to decide how to manufacture these vehicles, when they got them on the road they were failing. Just putting out way more than they should have been. And then the VW hit on top of that so it was a bonus,” she says.
Shelley Kimel is a staff writer for the Greater Knoxville Business Journal and the News Sentinel.
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Update December 27, 2019 10:00am: This story is no longer available on the Knoxville Business Journal's Website, but a Partner Story Link can be found here: https://www.wrcbtv.com/story/30408644/knoxville-firm-heat-aims-to-fix-vws-emissions-crisis