Many of the generators you’ll see reviewed on Portable Energy Gurus are CARB Compliant. So what exactly is CARB Compliant? What standards do they enforce, and what are the benefits of using CARB compliant equipment? Let’s find out!
CARB stands for the California Air Resources Board. Since their inception in 1967, they’ve been upholding great standards of preventing air pollution.
Many kinds of engines – small and large – advertise themselves to be CARB compliant as that indicates that their pollution output is much less than other engines.
Since we’re all about generators here, we’re concerning ourselves with small engines. Interestingly enough, these are similar to the engines used in lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and pressure washers (chainsaws too).
CARB Compliance 101
The CARB was initiated in 1967. It was the result of the combination of two other regulatory bodies: the Bureau of Air Sanitation and the California Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board.
The goal behind the formation of CARB was to reduce the levels of smog in California, especially the more populated areas. In addition to CARB, the Federal Air Quality Act of 1967 was also approved which enabled California to make their standards more stringent than those of the Federal government at the time.
This overreach applied to everything: setting standards, doing studies, and monitoring pollution levels.
Once initial studies were completed, the Clean Air Act of 1970 was passed in order to put limitations on the emissions that engines made.
Again in 1977 and 1990, amendments were made to the Clean Air Act to include control over more types of pollution.
One family of emissions, in particular, was the target, known as SORE emissions (which account for nearly 1/5 of all air pollution):
- hydrocarbons: molecules which are the building blocks of crude oil and all fossil fuels. These are responsible for smog and ozone pollution at the ground level
- carbon dioxide: a greenhouse gas, reducing CO2 is the challenge of our lifetime. It is one of the most potent contributors to global warming
- carbon monoxide: a poisonous gas, and very dangerous – you wouldn’t even know you’re breathing it in as it is odorless and colorless
- nitrogen oxides: is responsible for ground-level ozone and dissolves in water vapor to form acid rain
- Particulate matter: tiny, abrasive particles that will damage your lungs if breathed in large quantities over time
A quick timeline of CARB regulations
The CARB and EPA(Environmental Protection Agency) rolled out their regulations to reduce emissions in three phases. Funnily enough, the names changed – though this may have been by design.
The EPA called them phases, and the CARB called them tiers.
1. Tier 1 (Phase 1): Establish an emission standard for manufacturers whose engines produce SORE emissions. These standards would become law by 1997 and from then on, manufacturers MUST adhere to them.
As a result, manufacturers changed their engines from 2 strokes to 4 strokes. 4 stroke engines use a 4 stage process to fire instead of just a 2 stage process. The 4 stage process is more efficient.
2. Tier 2 (Phase 2): The second set of regulations was set to fall under enforcement from 2001 engines onwards.
As a result, manufacturers designed better carburetors and added a vent that would burn off any harmful fumes before they went into the atmosphere
3. Tier 3 (Phase 3): The third phase would fall into place in 2011, and any engines manufactured after that must comply.
As a result, carburetors and exhaust systems were refined even more. Catalytic converters (which help convert toxic gases into more stable, less toxic gases) and better fuel delivery systems were also developed.
CARB SORE Emission Standards
CARB standards have been in place so that manufacturers must make engines that emit less pollution than the allowed limit set by the CARB.
Since there is more than one kind of pollutant, the standards are divided into categories and also into engine sizes:
The exhaust standards are split into 4 engine sizes:
- less than 50 cc
- 51 to 80 cc
- 81 to 224 cc
- greater than 225 cc
Evaporative emissions are split as follows:
- less than 80 cc
- greater than 81 cc
There are some more divisions and categories, but they go into very minute details. The two groupings above do cover a majority of the regulations.
According to these groupings, engines must meet the pollution standards. The pollutants are measured as:
- Grams per kw/h of hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and particulates
- Grams of reactive organic gases per square meter, per day (these are released from the fuel hose and from the tank)
- Grams of hydrocarbons: vapors
How to get CARB compliance certification
Since CARB compliance deals with engines and some power equipment have engines made by other companies, the certification process is actually split into two parts.
One is for engine manufacturers, who must get the engine tested to ensure it meets the CARB standards in order to get the certification.
The other is for the equipment manufacturer, who has to show the CARB that they’re using certified engines or get their own parts certified through the process above.
How to read a CARB certification label
CARB certification is denoted on labels by two abbreviations: EF and EVF.
EF stands for the engine family.
EVF stands for evaporative family.
One particular type of engine says EF: GHNXS.3892AB
This code seems a little bit daunting but it’s actually quite simple.
G is the model year. G stands for 2016, H for 2017, and so on.
HNX is the manufacturer code. HNX is a Honda engine.
S is the sector. In this case, S stands for a small non-road engine that works with spark ignition
389 is the displacement in cubic centimeters
2 is the engine class. In this case, 2 means non-handheld equipment, greater than 225 cc
AB is the manufacturers’ internal name for this type of engine.
The same engine also says: EVF: CMHNX22A
C is the type of venting control. C stands for carbon canister, S stands for a sealed tank.
M is the tank barrier. M stands for metal, P for treated plastic, and so on
HNX again is the manufacturer.
2 is the engine class
2A is an identifier used by the manufacturer.
What does CARB want to achieve?
Air pollution is the main target of CARB. All sources of air pollution have been regulated to some extent and the CARB has been incredibly successful in reducing emissions and pollution in California.
If you live in or around Los Angeles, you’ll remember how little visibility there was on most days due to the the extreme pollution. Now, visibility has much improved and the air is much cleaner, thanks in no small part to the strict standards of the CARB.
There are around 17 million small engines in the state of CA. Small engines, as you read above, are mostly lawn and garden equipment. This estimate actually comes from the sales figures that these companies provide to the CARB.
Interestingly, due to an overall improvement in car emissions over the last few years, SORE emissions have actually eclipsed car emissions as the major cause of pollution in the air.
Smaller engines only came under strict regulation in the late 1990s.
Ultimately, the CARB wants to try and get manufacturers to replace gas-powered engines with electric motors, which are a cleaner source of energy as there is no immediate pollution in the air.
Note: where and how the power to charge the motor battery comes from is another discussion altogether!
By 2031, the CARB wants small engines to reduce their emissions by another 80%.
CARB Compliant vs Non CARB Compliant
A CARB compliant small engine (generators, lawnmowers, chainsaws, pressure washers, and more) is an engine where the manufacturer would have submitted an application to the CARB saying their engine meets the SORE standards, and the CARB would issue an executive order saying the engine is compliant with their standards.
Non-CARB compliant engines have not gone through the process of certification. This does not mean they don’t meet the standards. They may actually be on par with some of the CARB regulations, but the manufacturer just has not gone through the steps to become CARB compliant.
How have engines improved to comply with CARB standards?
One of the main forms of pollution that comes to mind when we think of engines is the exhaust. The exhaust of an engine generates a lot of pollutants that immediately go into the air.
The reason the exhaust is such a huge culprit is because combustion does not always occur fully and efficiently inside the engine, so many unwanted pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulates, and hydrocarbons are released into the atmosphere.
Manufacturers have two options:
Preventing pollutant creation
The best solution is to prevent pollutants from forming in the first place. This means making the combustion reaction inside the engine more efficient.
- Delaying the ignition keeps the combustion temperature low, and results in less nitrogen oxides
- The carburetor can be made with tighter tolerances and with better design to manage the air:fuel ratio and this results in less rogue hydrocarbons
- The piston shape can be redesigned to make more efficient use of fuel
- The fuel injection system can be made more efficient so more fuel is burned and less is wasted/burned incompletely
- Finally, an electronic system can manage the whole engine to ensure that almost all the fuel coming into the engine is burned and reacted completely.
Neutralizing pollutants before they are released into the atmosphere
- Crankcase vent lines takes unused fuel and any pollutants back into the intake manifold so they’re mixed back into the air and reused in combustion
- A catalytic converter in the muffler changes nitrogen oxides into nitrogen, carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide, and hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water
Limiting Emissions which are Evaporative
One of the primary reasons that an engine will fail the part of the evaporative emission of the CARB testing is that the engine releases extra amounts of fuel vapors from the fuel tank, lines, and diurnal pressure changes, i.e. the expansion and contraction of the fuel in the tank.
These processes let out reactive hydrocarbons and reactive organic gasses into the atmosphere.
Let’s see how you can use SORE to minimize or prevent this kind of pollution altogether.
1. It is advisable to use CARB certified low permeation fuel hoses.
2. It is best to use a metallic gas tank. If you want an alternative, there are specially treated plastic and other non-metallic choices available.
3. It is a good idea to use charcoal or carbon canister or pressure relief system to control diurnal vapors.
Cost and Performance Differences
SORE manufacturers have to pay for testing certification to become CARB compliant. Not only that but your engine has to perform within the CARB standards at all times. This step will increase the upfront cost, although it will not be significant.
The cost of building the engine itself is minimal and will become zero over time.
CARB engines will have a slightly lower performance ratio (Non-CARB will be 1.3% more efficient), but the CARB approved will have a much better fuel economy.
Steps to Enforce CARB Compliance
Penalties for non-compliance can be heavy, but CARB and SORE manufacturers are working together to make sure that all the equipment is compliant.
Helping SORE Manufacturers to Comply with CARB Standards
CARB works along with the SORE manufacturers to help them reduce harmful emissions. The regulations are getting stringent with time and together they understand that it is a joint responsibility to avoid violating regulations.
CARB has two programs which provide leniency to small engine producers and equipment manufacturers to help them transition to the more stringent emission control laws.
1. Averaging, Banking, and Trading
The averaging program allows for SORE manufacturers to use emission credits that they have gained through CARB compliant engines toward their weak performers. This system aids in getting certification for all kinds of engines. Since this is a transition stage, the program also allows some flexibility in new engine release dates.
- They can trade emission credits between engine families, i.e. averaging.
- They can stockpile emission credits for future use, i.e. banking.
- They can exchange emission credits between SORE companies for averaging purposes, i.e. trading.
2. Flex-Engines Program
This program is for downstream manufacturers, i.e., those that buy small engines to use in their products.
This is a flexible program allowing a certain percentage of the popular machines to use the older CARB approved engines, while the new regulations go into effect. (Currently, Tier I and Tier II are already in effect).
The reason for this program is to provide a smooth transition to implement the new SORE designs. E.g., give the manufacturer extra time to implement a new exhaust system into products that ship without them.
Steps to Monitor CARB Compliance and Enforcing Regulations
CARB has come up with an enforcement policy giving details of their methods and penalties.
Tamper Proofing Control
Tampering with emission control systems is a violation of Federal and California Laws.
Along with this law, CARB has come up with further innovative regulations to deter tampering with emission control systems.
There is a need for custom tools to access areas needed to adjust some parts of the engine.
CARB requires special plugs and limiting caps.
The tools required to tamper are custom and hard to find.
Production Line Testing (PLT)
Quarterly random engines are pulled off the production line and taken for emission testing with the results going directly to the CARB compliance department. This step ensures that manufacturers don’t pick out customized engines to pass CARB emission testing.
To make sure that all engines coming off the assembly line are CARB compliant, CARB reserves the right to send third-party testers to select engines at random for testing.
Requirements for SORE Engines Sold in California
- All engines must have a valid executive order
- They should have correct emission labels
- They must provide warranty for emission control parts.
- CARB makes sure that these requirements are followed with making;
- Random field inspections
- Emission testing on any engine
- Auditing and self-disclosure.
What is the Maximum Penalty for Non-Compliance in California
For engine in violation, it is $500
For a test procedure violation, it is $50
In 2018 CARB assessed $13,296,191 in penalties from 93 routine settlements, 1,539 Truck and Bus Regulation STEP settlements, and 1,727 citations for routine enforcement.
Assessed $13,296,191 in penalties from 93 routine settlements, 1,539 Truck and Bus Regulation STEP settlements, and 1,727 citations for routine enforcement.
Summary of CARB compliance
- CARB compliance implies that the engine conforms to the emission standards set by CARB – California Air Resources Board
- The manufactures of these engines are mandated to use specially designed parts in their engines to remain CARB compliant. The focus is on small engines producing low horsepower. These machines generate harmful pollutants, e.g., nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and reactive organic gases.
- The exhaust and fuel system are the ones that produce most of the pollutants. Both these parts are modified to reduce the level of the harmful exhaust.