DETROIT – French mega-supplier Rhodia SA knows the market for diesel-powered vehicles hasn’t happened yet. The company thinks its particulate-reducing Eolys system can help change that.

Admitting that auto makers and environmental regulators appear reluctant to take any chances to “push” the much-maligned diesel in the U.S., Rhodia engineers and executives nonetheless express optimism at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress here that the company’s proprietary “Eolys” system to reduce diesel emissions will help convince decision-makers to speed up diesel-marketing efforts.

Rhodia’s Eolys is a fuel-borne catalyst, comprised mostly of cerium and iron, that when injected in tiny amounts into diesel fuel helps the diesel’s aftertreatment system eliminate more than 90% of particulate emissions. Diesels emit markedly more particulate matter than do gasoline engines – a problem in light of current or pending U.S. and European emissions regulations that set ultra-tight limits on particulates.

Europe has strict new particulate standards as part of its Euro IV regulations beginning in 2005; Euro IV clamps down further in 2008. In the U.S., California and four other states that follow its emissions-standard template this year began new Tier II standards that cut allowable particulate emissions to less than a tenth of formerly permitted levels – and in 2006, U.S. federal Tier II standards bring effectively the same emissions mandates to the other 45 states.

PSA Peugeot Citroen accounts for most of the nearly half-million diesel vehicles using Rhodia’s Eolys particulate-reduction system.

J. Christopher York, Rhodia’s electronics and catalysis business director, North America, says Rhodia has presented its Eolys-based particulate-reduction system to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is working with the supplier to establish understanding and data.

“We’re going through the process with the EPA,” York says. “They’re working with us to have a baseline (of development data). They’ve also asked us to find some market ‘pull.’”

York and Rhodia engineers say they have positioned Eolys as an enabling technology to allow OEMs to meet U.S. and California particulate standards. York says he hopes Ford Motor Co. – which uses Eolys for particulate-reduction systems in Europe – or another auto maker will submit a “fully equipped (diesel particulate) system for the EPA approval process.” (See related story: New PSA Particulate Filter to Improve Ford Diesel Engines)

Ford and PSA Peugeot Citroen have used the Eolys system to general acclaim in Europe, and York says more than a half-million diesel vehicles now on the road use Eolys for particulate reduction. More important, the Eolys system, ready to launch a third generation, virtually eliminates the periodic maintenance that was a drawback with earlier systems.

Rhodia considers the new Eolys system a “fit for life” proposition, thanks to improvements in the Eolys catalyst and design upgrades to the particulate filter itself that allow an Eolys-equipped diesel vehicle to travel 155,000 miles (250,000 km) before the filter must be replaced and the Eolys catalyst tank – now artfully integrated with the fuel filler tube – needs refilling.

The third-generation Eolys catalyst has been improved to require injection at only seven parts per million of diesel fuel, as opposed to the 25 ppm of the original system. And the particulate filter substrate’s design is optimized, resisting the buildup of particulate ash that eventually dictates the need for a new filter.

The new system, says Chistophe Gas, director-catalysis, means the diesel vehicle’s original owner likely never will have to have the particulate-reduction system serviced.

The cost of emissions-reduction systems for diesels often is cited as one roadblock for diesel adoption in the U.S. The Eolys system’s initial and maintenance costs, Rhodia officials stress, are minimal. Rhodia data suggests the initial cost is less than $600, with a total maintenance cost for 155,000 miles of operation targeted at about $190. Both figures are substantially less than for competing systems that use a catalyst impregnated with rare-earth materials that effectively does the same job as the Eolys mixture and particulate filter combination.

York says ’05 Ford and PSA European models will be on the road later this year fitted with the third-generation Eolys system that allows them to comply with the Euro IV emissions standards.