Alternatiba, VW, diesel and Kerosene

On the Saturday at Alternatiba two interesting sessions related to the current VW diesel car emissions scandal.

The early afternoon session session on the frenetic growth of Geneva airport traffic (a flight every 90 seconds in 2030) was extremely interesting and well attended, but was essentially a case of preaching to the converted. I saw little signs, either there or during the whole weekend, to indicate that Geneva authorities were particularly interested in any of the talks, demonstrations and so on.

Later in the afternoon, under the heading of water, air and energy, Dr Jacques Venjean, a french specialist, spoke on the effect of the degradation of the environment on people's health, describing the way that air pollution causes a reduction in life expectancy. He referenced the complete region, from Geneva, in particular around the airport, to greater Geneva and then to the Haute Savoie. He stated that not only does air pollution have noxious effects on people suffering such respiratory complaints as asthma (like myself this summer, much worse than in previous years), but also that the overall result is a reduction in life expectancy.

What causes our health problems are particles suspended in th air, and which we breath in. Wikipedia divides these by their size :-

respirable suspended particle (RSP; particles with diameter of 10 micrometres or less), fine particles (diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less), ultrafine particles, and soot.

Basically, the smallest of these are the most dangerous and the most difficult to filter out. This brought me to think of the small article in this newspaper on the same day, asking whether Volkswagen had cheated to get their diesel cars to pass US anti-pollution tests. If so, then the cars were actually polluting much more severely that they ought, especially concerning Nitrous Oxides (NOx). Since then, of course, the subject has hit the world-wide headlines with a vengeance!

In reading that article, I remembered reading several times over the last year that diesel car real world emissions were many times higher than the legal limits, in particular for Nitrous Oxides. To quote a report of the International Council on Clean Transportation Europe in October 2014

The average, on-road emission levels of NOX were estimated at 7 times the certified emission limit for Euro 6 vehicles. Policies are needed to ensure that manufacturers will use these technologies and calibrate them to effectively control emissions over the large majority of in-use operating conditions, not just those covered by the test cycle.

Needless to say, such conclusions were bitterly contested by the car manufacturers. However, with hindsight, the writing was on the wall!

A very recent study forced the UK Government to make an admission :

High levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in cities, caused by diesel cars, are likely to persist for decades, the UK Government was recently forced to admit. In evidence to the European Court of Justice, in a case brought by Client Earth, the government admitted it would be at least 2030 before London, Leeds and Birmingham meet nitrogen dioxide standards that should have been achieved in 2010.

(note the magic year of 2030 here!) which caused the Mayor of London to make a proposition

The Euro 6 results come as the Mayor of London announced plans to charge drivers of all diesel cars, except those that meet the Euro 6 standard, £10 (€12.60) to drive in the city centre. Mayor Boris Johnson will also lobby the UK government to raise road tax on diesel cars to encourage drivers to switch to less-polluting vehicles.

I wonder what the Geneva executive would consider to be an appropriate response to reduce pollution in the city, especially given that there are a good proportion of diesel cars registered in France and used by frontaliers to come into Geneva!

The problem, of course, is that measures to reduce pollution, and also those to reduce noise, very often may have an adverse effect on the fuel economy, and it is this latter factor which is particularly used as a plus point for cars. Diesel fuel was quite often both cheaper than petrol and more economical. However, recent advances in technology for petrol vehicles, especially for the hybrid variety, put pressure on the sales of diesel cars, especially as regards performance, so diesels needed turbochargers and supposedly clean emissions to become competitive.

This leads me to the case of jet aircraft, for which the kerosene fuel is somewhat like diesel. We hear the promises of a new generation of jet aircraft which will be quieter and more fuel-efficient than those in use at the moment. However, AFAIK, jet aircraft do not have particle filters, so we cannot yet know whether their emissions will be less noxious. Equally, measures to reduce their noise have an effect on their efficiency (which is probably why military jets, which need maximum performance, make such a noise!).

Time will tell how the triangle of noise, fuel efficiency and pollutants for these new generation jets is constructed. What is certain, however, is that unlike cars, the lifetime of passenger jets is measured in decades, so that very many of the current noxious jets will still be flying in 2030!

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