IMHO* Series – A discussion with John Koupal

IMHO

*In My Humble Opinion, 6/9/15

We continue to receive feedback on the popularity of our IMHO* Interviews – so we have decided to continue the format.

This week’s “Interviewee” is John Koupal – and here is a little background:

koupalJohn Koupal is a Principal Engineer for Eastern Research Group (ERG) with 25 years experience in air pollution research, analysis and policy. John has developed innovative methods to quantify air pollution from cars and trucks, assessed the benefits of major U.S. emissions rules, and shared expertise worldwide on air quality issues.

His current projects include improving the transport sector for the U.S. National Emissions Inventory, developing black carbon emissions estimation guidelines for North America, supporting establishment of an emission control area for ocean going vessels in Mexico, and evaluating options for a new vehicle emissions model in Hong Kong.

Prior to joining ERG, John directed the group responsible for mobile source modeling and emission inventory development within the U.S. EPA, and worked for Nissan Motor Company on emissions certification and regulatory issues.

So…let’s jump in with our discussion!

Dave: Thanks for agreeing to the interview, and providing some industry insights!

John: Of course – glad to do it.

Dave: John, you have obviously been in the industry for quite a long time.  Could you give us a little of your “back story”?

John: Glad to…

…I started working for EPA as a student at the University of Michigan in the late 1980’s…

Dave: (Interrupts) Kinda makes you an official “old guy”, eh?

John: No comment.  As I was saying…

…I would wake up at 4 a.m. to go into the lab, don a parka in July and go into the cold test cell to set up the strip chart recorder for cold temperature emission tests – I loved it!

I parlayed this into a full time job with EPA and stayed for 22 years, with a two-year stint working for Nissan in the middle.

Dave: Seems that your public and private sector background would make you a valuable asset to a company.

John: I’d like to think so – in 2012 I left the USEPA to join ERG, and now work out of San Diego.

Dave: Can’t beat the location…

John:  Or the climate!

Dave: Too true.  So over that amount of time, venue change, and geographic differences, what kind of experiences have you had that stand out?

John: Great question. Over my career I’ve had a chance to work on emissions and fuels issues from a lot of different angles – technology demonstration, regulation development, compliance, and of course emissions inventory development.

Now I’m getting more into international work, which has given me a new appreciation for the challenges of different countries, and dedication of air quality professionals worldwide.

Dave: So based on your international perspective, what are the most pressing challenges that our industry faces today?

John: I have an emissions inventory bent, so I tend to look at this question from the perspective of where are the biggest uncertainties in emission sources, and the biggest opportunities to improve air quality.

It is hard to choose a “winner” here because even after several decades of research there is still so much to learn.

But I think overall, based on these criteria – off-road emission sources pose the biggest challenge.

Dave: Can you elaborate?

John: Sure!

In the U.S., off-road sources are projected to be a larger source of emissions than on-road vehicles, and for much of the world, these sources are barely on the radar.

Unlike on-road vehicles, for most off-road sources there aren’t ongoing registration programs or measures of activity that can be used as a starting point to estimate how much emissions are being generated.

And these sources tend to hang around a long time – old tractors out in the barn, etc.

Dave: Thanks John; so tell us about any latest trends that you have noticed…

John: In my opinion, I think the increased ease and coverage of vehicle instrumentation, along with the increased portability of emissions measurement, will transform our ability to pinpoint emissions and identify “hot spots”.

Dave: I would tend to agree with you – it has become more important for decision-makers to have reliable, accurate, timely, “Pinpoint” information.  Good word!

John: Feel free to use it again – just give the credit to me and my company – ERG!

Dave: will do!

John: Actually, I’ve joked that what is bad for personal privacy (i.e. nonstop surveillance) is a gold mine for emission inventories – but learning to harness and focus these growing sources of data will be a challenge.

Dave: Good point – so, in your opinion – could this play into “Intelligent Transportation Systems”?

John: Absolutely.  That’s exactly my point.

In fact, driverless cars will be a game-changer for fuel economy and emissions too – think about vehicles that can optimize fuel efficiency and emissions without interference by an illogical (I’m being polite) driver who accelerates hard up to a red light.

Dave: Great insights – very thought-provoking!  So which countries have the greatest challenges to overcome?

John: China of course is the perfect storm of skyrocketing demand for personal transportation, an already-stressed transportation infrastructure, and the need to quickly play catch-up on vehicle and fuel emission standards.

But it also presents a great opportunity to jump directly to cleaner technologies.

Dave: We saw this pattern in Asia with their communications Technology – China did a leapfrog maneuver past copper cables & fiber optics, and went directly to satellites & PCNs – Personal Cell Networks.

John: Exactly.

In the U.S., it is difficult to move from an energy supply infrastructure based on fossil fuels that has been in place for over 100 years; for China and other fast-growing countries, there is the opportunity to take a different path, though of course for EVs the source of electricity will need to be clean to reap any benefit.

Dave: What is your most interesting project that you were a part of, which you can tell us about?

John: I had the fortune of being at EPA following the passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and being a part of several of the major rules that followed – though if I wrote a book about it I don’t think it would compete with Margo Oge’s!

Dave:  I haven’t ready her book yet – but look forward to it.  And I am sure that you’d have a different perspective!

John:  Thanks – maybe I will begin my book after all…

My first project was to demonstrate feasibility of an on-board catalyst monitor to support EPA’s first OBD regulation.

In this case it wasn’t the hardware that had to be proven (adding a second oxygen sensor behind the catalyst), but a software algorithm that could tell the difference between a good catalyst and a failed one.

EPA obtained an open patent for this so that an approach would be available to all manufacturers if needed.

Dave: That is a very cool project to be a part of!  What are you doing more recently? Didn’t you just get back from Hong Kong?

John: Yes – I’ve been working with Hong Kong to evaluate approaches for a new vehicle emissions model.

Hong Kong is interesting because it is a relatively small area with a very robust PEMS testing program; as a result they have PEMS data on most of their major roads, probably the highest coverage rate in the world.

Dave: And the bottom line…?

John: …The bottom line on the project is that it should open up new possibilities for using PEMS to develop regional emissions inventories.

Dave: Thanks John – I appreciate your time today.

John:  Don’t mention it.

Dave: Tell Sandeep hello for me…

Please feel free to connect with John Koupal directly at:  John.Koupal@erg.com

…that’s it for now; we have more interviews lined up!