Urea So Vain

We know a lot about urea, but with one year to go there's still one thing we don't know


Last week I sat in on a webcast hosted by the Automotive Training Managers Council, in which Allen Johnson, Manager - After Sales Support EPA 2010 with Daimler Trucks, and Daryl Blandy, Senior Service Training Developer for Daimler Trucks, talked about what could be the biggest nightmare of everyone in the trucking industry: urea, or, if you prefer, diesel emission fluid (DEF). There was a lot of information given on where the urea tanks will be located on Daimler's 2010 trucks, how big those tanks will be, and in what size containers you'll be able to purchase urea. We learned that the new fluid is a mixture of 32.5 percent urea in water, and that it is clear, odorless, non-toxic and biodegradable. We learned that urea weighs 9.2 pounds to the gallon, that it freezes at 12 degrees F and will therefore need to be heated in cold climates, and that it is corrosive to aluminum. We learned that urea will be available for purchase by November, 2009, in time for the 2010 engines. We learned a lot about urea and how it will work. What we didn't learn a lot about was its price. In fact, when someone listening in on the presentation asked about the price, there was a long silence on the phone line. Then someone said that urea is about 1/4 the cost of diesel fuel in Europe. Someone else guessed that urea would be $1.00 to $1.50 less per gallon than diesel fuel here in the U.S. But it was all speculation. Daimler's speakers certainly didn't want to be the ones to name a price, but I wish someone would have. We journalists are used to engine OEMs referring questions of price increases to truck OEMs, saying "It's really their call." Well, Daimler is both an engine OEM and a truck OEM; why can't they tell us what urea will cost?