Car pollution

Motoring slowly towards the future (Day 221)

Car pollutionTowards the end of last year, car pollution came under the scrutiny of some UK politicians who recommended that new schools, care homes and hospitals should be built far away from major roads because of the dangers of air pollution.

In Europe, there was a similar anti-car theme, when, around the same time, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, announced she wanted to ban diesel cars and the pollution they bring from the streets of the French capital.

The Mayor also wanted to limit traffic in pollution hotspots, by only allowing ultra-low emission vehicles within them. In addition, new speed limits were mooted of 18 mph (30 km/h).

These proposals would be a major challenge in France with around 80 per cent of the cars on the country’s roads being diesel-powered.

From next month, France will start applying stickers to vehicles emitting the most pollution; diesel cars more than 13 years old will get a red sticker.

It is clear there is a mini backlash against cars at present, but where does all this leave current transport policy and how can engineers influence it?

A few months ago, some of the major UK engineering Institutions – including the Royal Academy of Engineering, of which I am a Fellow – published their thoughts in a consultation response called: ‘An Engineering the Future response to
Motoring of the Future’.

The document was led by the Institution of Engineering and Technology and endorsed by BCS – Chartered Institute for IT, Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation, Institution of Civil Engineers, Institution of Mechanical Engineers and, of course, IChemE.

In addition to usual phrases like ‘there is a need for an integrated transport strategy, across modes, nationally and at reasonable sub-national level’, the document cast its eye into the future to look at some of the technological and regulatory issues which need to be resolved before transport can become cleaner and less damaging to the environment:

  • The issues of fuel efficiency and alternative fuels need to be looked at in
    greater detail.
  • The electrification of vehicles will require a massive shift in the shape and
    management of the electricity system of the future.
  • New, technologically driven innovation, such as autonomous vehicles, may
    require an equally innovative approach to the regulatory, legal and ethical
    frameworks that govern them.
  • An efficient national road pricing system could represent one of the most
    effective and appropriate response to worsening congestion and reduced
    fuel duty and vehicle excise duty.

Some of the recent criticism has highlighted the dangers of nitrogen dioxide (NOx) which is known to cause inflammation of the airways, reduce lung function and exacerbate asthma.

Also, Particulate Matter (PM) – tiny invisible specks of mineral dust, carbon and other chemicals – are linked to heart and lung diseases as well as cancer.

However, despite conventional-fuel vehicles getting more fuel-efficient and resulting in fewer CO2 emissions, there is concern that there has been an increase in harmful emissions such as NOx and PM.

NOx emissions remain the most difficult to reduce as there needs to be substantial reduction at ground level to affect atmospheric readings.

There are numerous ‘alternative fuel vehicle’ approaches to help solve pollution, including electric, electric-hybrid, hydrogen, fly-wheels and compressed air to help solve the problem of air pollution.

On this point the institutions say: “While most UK funding in this area has gone into electric vehicles and their necessary infrastructure, in our view a good investment – the other options should not be discounted at this stage as they may provide a better solution for some vehicle usage and requirements.”

Although few can predict what transport will be like in reality by 2050, we do know that change is on the way. As chemical engineers and professionals capable of coming up with the options and solutions, it is right that we get involved, have our say and influence the debate.

2 thoughts on “Motoring slowly towards the future (Day 221)”

  1. I rather liked the hydrogen powered bicycle idea. City centres restricted to electric powered public transport and hydrogen powered bicycles would be considerably cleaner.

    Moving schools etc. away from major roads may be counter productive if it means that more fuel has to be burnt to get to the schools.


  2. It would be gratifying to find that those powerful companies that are purveyors of hydrocarbon fuels were reacting positively to the Engineering Institutions’ championing of ‘alternative fuel vehicles’ . . .


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