Can diesel engines CLEAN urban air?

Can diesel engines CLEAN urban air?

A new report into the particulate emissions of non-exhaust sources such as tyres has reached a rather shocking conclusion. One of the findings is that a modern diesel engine can actually CLEAN the air it’s driving through. 

This is highly contradictory to some of the negative talk around diesel cars. The Emissions Analytics report opens the diesel discussion, saying “the truth is that they have emitted very few particles, at least in relative terms, since the broad introduction of diesel particulate filters a decade ago”.

“Filters are in fact so good, that in certain circumstances, when the ambient air is already polluted, a diesel car will tend to extract more particles from the air than it emits”.

Cleaning the air with diesel engines: nonsense?'make or break' for diesel in 2020

To test the theory, it worked with Auto Motor und Sport using four recent diesel models. Going to the extreme, they opened canisters of high intensity particles in front of the air intake on the cars as they idled for an hour. Particle concentration at the front soared from the 11,000 cm3 or-so ambient, to over 100,000 cm3. 

In contrast, the particle concentration measured at the rear, near the exhaust, remained flat, even dropping to around 10,000 cm3 towards the end.

Diesel use down for the first time in a decade

Then they moved to more realistic on-road testing for the four vehicles. Exhaust particles were measured from cold, neutral warm idle, under heavy load, and during DPF regeneration.

As best as possible, the typical operating conditions of a car day-to-day were simulated. Long distance, middle distance and short drives, with a mixture of cold and warm engine states, idling, heavy loads, regeneration conditions, etc.

The results were as follows:

  • Idle: 10,246 cm3
  • Warm engine: 15,803 cm3
  • Cold start: 9,114 cm3
  • Heavy load: 16,894 cm3
  • Filter regeneration: 155,555 cm3

Denmark wants 2030 ban on petrol and diesel cars

The standout result that Emissions Analytics cites, which it says it didn’t expect, is that the net addition of the car’s pollution is mostly dependent on the ambient air pollution. This reflects the way the car breathes air in, as well as the way it exhausts waste.

The overall results are staggering, with just two out of the six conditions showing emissions from the car being dirtier than the air the car is driving through. These were long distance and middle distance, in ‘clean air’ with an ambient of 10,000 cm3.

The ‘dirty air’ baseline was around 50,000 cm3. Over long distances, the cars removed around 27,984 cm3 from the dirty air. Over middle distances, they removed around 8,025 cm3 from the dirty air. On short drives, they removed around 40,886 cm3 from the dirty air.

Diesel car fuel filler

Even in clean air, as above at 10,000 cm3, a short drive removed 886 cm3 from the ambient air. Long distance and middle distance did, however, add 2,000 cm3 and 21,000 cm3 respectively.

Emissions Analytics clarifies, that it would be a broad stroke to say that diesel engines clean the air. This is purely a measurement of particulates, and ignores nitrogen oxides and other gaseous emissions. 

It’s also worth considering that many diesels still on the road are pre-DPF models. The results, nonetheless, remain food for thought.

UK diesel use in decline for the first time in a decade

Diesel use down for the first time in a decade

The ‘decline of diesel’ often refers to diesel car sales. Now, the amount the UK has burned in its vehicles is down, for the first time in a decade.

The amount burned was down by just under 500 million litres between January and November 2019. That’s 27.416 billion litres burned last year, compared with 27.909 billion litres burned in the same period in 2018.

After ten years of increasing demand, last year’s figure is lower than 2016’s. For reference, 500 million litres is roughly what the country’s diesel vehicles consume within a week.

'make or break' for diesel in 2020

It’s the first time that the use of diesel has dropped since the financial crisis over a decade ago. Is it because there are fewer diesel-powered cars on the road?

According to the AA, not entirely. The drop-off of oil burners in the new car market has had something to do with it. However, it’s also claimed that a fall in lorry and van traffic last year, as a result of economic uncertainty, will have contributed.

The drop is actually not as dramatic as some might have expected, given the scale of the scandal around diesel and the drop in appeal the fuel has suffered since it broke cover in 2015. However, as the popularity of SUVs, which are mostly diesel-powered, has ballooned, the losses have been cushioned somewhat.

Drivers oppose diesel ban

“The first drop in UK diesel demand in a decade is one to watch,” said Luke Bosdet, from the AA.

“Whether a Brexit economic bounce back reinvigorates commercial traffic levels and therefore diesel use, or whether the reduction signals UK fossil fuel use moving from tipping point to actual decline.”

84 percent of drivers oppose city diesel bans

Drivers oppose diesel ban

More than 80 percent of motorists say they oppose plans to ban diesel cars in city centres.

The poll of 989 drivers by Motorpoint found a large majority are against excluding older diesel cars from urban areas.

The news comes as Bristol City Council looks to ban all privately-owned diesel vehicles. A 1.26 square mile area of the city centre will be diesel-free between 7am and 3pm from 2021. The move is part of the government’s plan to improve air quality in 24 large urban areas by 2025.

A wider Low-Emissions Zone (LEZ) will be in effect for commercial vehicles, with a charge payable by those who enter. Taxis and vans will be charged £9, while buses and HGVs will be expected to pay £100.

Drivers oppose diesel ban

“We applaud efforts by local authorities to create ‘Clean Air Zones’ in our towns and cities,” said Mark Carpenter, CEO of Motorpoint.

“But the message from motorists is that a blanket ban on privately-owned diesels, especially when two out of five vehicles on the road today are diesels, won’t work and local authorities need to go back to the drawing board in order to come up with a solution that doesn’t just penalise diesel drivers.”

The Bristol ban is more extreme than the existing London Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ). The latter came into effect in April of this year and all vehicles are permitted, but petrol and diesel cars that pre-date various emissions standards are liable for a charge.

The ULEZ charge in combination with the existing Congestion Charge costs drivers of such cars £24 a day. The ULEZ applies 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.

Why 2020 will be ‘make or break’ year for diesel

'make or break' for diesel in 2020

Diesel’s difficult journey over the last few years may be about to come to a head, with some claiming 2020 will be ‘make or break’ for the under-fire fuel.

There are a number of challenges facing diesel cars, including outright bans in certain urban areas.

However, the question of whether modern ‘clean’ diesels are being treated fairly remains. Will the ongoing PR war against it kill them off regardless?

'make or break' for diesel in 2020

“We seem to have arrived at a point in time where, in terms of public perception, any nuance surrounding the diesel debate has disappeared almost completely,” said Peter Golding, managing director at FleetCheck.

“Probably the best example of this is the blanket diesel ban that is going to be applied in Bristol city centre. Older petrol cars that probably have markedly worse emissions than the latest RDE2 diesels will be allowed in.

“It makes little sense and helps to create the impression that whatever technological advances are now made with diesel, its ongoing demonisation might be inevitable.”

Make or break'make or break' for diesel in 2020

RDE2 engine standards are, Golding claims, forcing diesel engines to reach emissions standards on an even footing with petrol engines, but with the CO2 benefits that diesel has always had. With this in mind, there is now the question of whether the ongoing assault on diesel is misguided.

“In a sense, the next 12 months could prove to be something of a make-or-break period for diesel. If its reputation doesn’t make something of a recovery with the new technology coming online, then it may never do so.”

Diesel demise could increase emissionsBristol diesel car ban 2021

Traditionally, diesel engines were promoted over petrol to reduce CO2 emissions, which are related to climate change. The modern issue with diesel is nitrogen oxide (NOx), which relates to air quality. There is worry that the recent exodus to petrol could exacerbate the CO2 issue, especially in combination with the rise in popularity of heavy SUVs.

“One of the reasons that we are in the current position is because legislators long concentrated on CO2 emissions to the detriment of other environmental measures. Obsessing over diesel risks taking a similarly narrow view with similar results,” continued Golding.

“Air quality is obviously a major concern and ensuring that sensible measures are taken that make sense and bring about real change is too important not to be taken seriously. That means taking a wider view on environmental matters.”

Extinction Rebellion uses dirty diesel for climate change protest

Extinction Rebellion fire engine

Turning up to protest about climate change in a dirty diesel is a little like going to thrash metal concert and complaining about the noise.

But as Extinction Rebellion arrived in Whitehall in a 21-year-old fire truck to paint the town red, it became abundantly clear that the protesters hadn’t considered the irony of their choice of transport. After all, an 8.3-litre diesel engine is about as welcome in central London as a fox in a henhouse.

From one drama to another

It would appear that Extinction Rebellion paid £5,000 for the former Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service Dennis Sabre back in August. Cheaper than a Dacia Sandero, then, but not as good for the planet.

It’s not the first time the fire engine has been in the public eye: the eBay ad lists an appearance on Holby City as one of its selling points. You could say it’s gone from one drama to another.

The old Dennis diesel sat outside Treasury smoking like a 70s snooker player as the Extinction Rebellion protestors struggled to contain their hose. It turned the protest into something that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Top Gear, as the fake blood coated the steps and pavement outside the Grade One listed building.

Forget London’s Burning, this was more like London’s Turning… Red.

Clearly, climate change is a serious business. Only a chump with rubbish hair and a penchant for walls would deny that we need to do something to reverse the damage that’s being done to our planet. We can all play a part.

But buying an 8.3-litre diesel fire engine in Northampton and then driving it into central London isn’t going to save the world.

With a strong wind behind it and a clear road ahead, the Dennis Sabre could probably muster 8, maybe 9 miles per gallon. Fine if you’re putting out fires or starring alongside Tina Hobley, but not so great when you’re protesting against “the vast sums [the government] pours into fossil fuel exploration”.

Maybe they should have used a Green Goddess…

Nissan slammed by DVSA for failing to fix Qashqai diesel

Nissan criticised over dirty diesel response

Nissan has come under fire from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) for its reluctance to tackle excessive exhaust emissions from Qashqai dCi diesel models.

Nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions were found to be well above what prior testing had established in new WLTP tests – and beyond acceptable standards.

The WLTP fuel economy test was introduced last year and includes RDE (Real Driving Emissions) measurements. It replaces the old NEDC test, which was less realistic in ‘real world’ driving.

Nissan criticised over dirty diesel response

The DVSA’s findings have so far failed to prompt any action from Nissan. It says the Qashqai meets all current standards, and that its priority is future product – rather than re-calibration of existing diesel vehicles.

“All Nissan vehicles fully comply with today’s emissions legislation,” the company’s response reads. “We support the new RDE tests that have now been adopted and have introduced a range of drivetrains to meet them.

“We will continue to develop affordable and innovative solutions to reduce our impact on the environment, such as our Nissan Leaf and e-NV200 electric vehicles.”

Nissan criticised over dirty diesel response

Nissan’s sister company, Renault, has taken a more pro-active approach – something the DVSA highlights in its latest Vehicle Market Surveillance Unit report. Renault, which uses the same engine, has ‘issued a voluntary offer to customers visiting a Renault dealer to implement a NOx upgrade’.

The kicker is that if Renault offers it, then a diesel fix exists that could pertain to affected Nissan models.

The Nissan Qashqai is built at the marque’s Sunderland plant in the UK. It has been one of the UK’s best-selling cars for more than a decade.


U-turn by EU lawmakers could mean a total ban on diesel cars

diesel European Commission

The European Commission and the General Court of the European Union have been locked in battle over diesel car emissions. And the Commission has lost the case, meaning certain European cities can elect to ban all diesel-powered cars. Yes, even modern diesels.

In summary, the Commission gave the nod to amend the latest Euro 6 diesel emissions limits – permitting higher nitrogen oxide limits – in response to new ‘real-world’ fuel economy tests. Put simply, they gave permission for diesels to be dirtier. The argument was that new tests would likely expose alarming figures anyway.

Where this becomes (apparently) illegal is that there was no alignment on the decision, be it with the General Court of the European Union, other senior regulatory bodies, or the public. As such, acting on behalf of city authorities such as Paris, Brussels and Madrid, the Court has held the Commission accountable for the unsanctioned amendment. 

A bit of background on the Euro 6 emissions regulations is needed, we think. They dictate that any car registered after September 2015 must not emit more than 80 mg/km of nitrogen oxides (NOx).

diesel European Commission

In defence of the car manufacturers, that target was set with reference to the testing procedures at the time. In the comparison between old (NEDC) and new (WLTP) testing methods, for instance, we know the latter is more representative of real-world driving. 

Unfortunately, more realistic testing means lower efficiency ratings and much higher emissions. That’s where the amendment comes in, sanctioned by the European Commission without further consultation, which stated cars could pass these new tests as long as emitted less than 168 milligrams per kilometre of NOx. 

The court has given the European Commission a year to set things straight, which will, in turn, give carmakers a year to revise their offerings.

diesel European Commission

Our take is as follows. Diesel is fundamentally difficult to clean. This could well be the biggest nail in the coffin of oil-burners yet. Nevertheless, legislators do conveniently ignore the categorical U-turn they’ve taken in this demonisation of diesel. And not two decades after it was lauded as the saviour of eco- and money-conscious motorists alike. Industry and technology simply cannot make overnight U-turns in response to unfavourable PR, as politicians can.

Coming back to the difficulty of engineering ‘clean’ diesels, our fear is that it’s simply not possible. Even with the thickest ad-blue concoction and the brawniest catalytic converters carmakers can muster. We hope we’re wrong.

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EV power

Will electric cars outsell diesel by 2020?

EV power

It will only be a matter of time before electric cars comprise a significant proportion of the new car marketplace. How long that would take has been very much up for debate… but one organisation has conducted a survey – and the surprising findings suggests the time may come sooner than you think.

Leasing company Leasing Options quizzed 2,000 people, who said they expect electric cars will outsell previously dominant diesel-powered cars by as soon as 2020. 

Yes, 2020, for EVs (full EVs, no less, rather than electrified plug-in hybrids) to outsell diesel cars. Seems remarkable, no?

Of course, the sudden fall from grace of diesel, rather than exponential growth in EVs, is a major factor in the predictions: SMMT new car registration data is, month after month, proving damning for oil-burners.

An overall new diesel car sales slump of 37.2 percent last year isn’t helped by the fact that manufacturers have been swift in slashing diesel-powered options, in some cases to nought.

Meanwhile, government policy and support of Alternative Fuel Vehicles, including buyer incentives, have supercharged AFV uptake in recent months and years. Pure EV sales increased 5.7 percent last year; AFV sales, including hybrids and plug-in hybrids, increased almost 35 percent.

The survey also quizzed drivers to find out where buyers’ faith and loyalties lie. Once again, it doesn’t look good for diesel. Around half said they believe diesel is actually a danger to the environment, while 56 percent said they were less likely to buy diesel than they were five years ago.

Diesel power

EVs still have some way to go in terms of public opinion, however, with over half of those surveyed suggesting they don’t know enough about them.

A whopping 63 percent fear EVs are too expensive for them, and good old range anxiety rears its head, with almost three in four worrying about the charging network.

Nevertheless, half of those surveyed still said they’d consider electric power if it was demonstrably as convenient and as cheap as fossil fuels. Over half suggested they’d buy into EVs as and when they became the norm.

Based on this survey, it seems that both the decline of diesel, and the rise of EVs, will be all but exponential going forward.

Read more: 

Diesel's decline

Diesel new car share could plummet to just 5% by 2030

Diesel's decline

Barely a week after we published news on a range of new clean diesel engines for the Hyundai Kona, are we solemnly reading more daunting predictions for the future of the fuel.

Consulting firm AlixPartners, which have been following the situation closely, reported that diesel would make up a mere 5 percent of the market share come 2030. For context, that’s an updated figure with a 4 percent reduction on the 9 percent market share prediction from a similar report in 2016.

Diesel has had more than its fair share of unwelcome time in the spotlight over the past couple of years, which is likely to have a negative impact on the battle to reduce CO2 figures (at a 4.6 percent rate of reduction up to 2021). The firm actually reports a 0.3 percent increase in g/km figures over the course of 2017.

While the high nitrogen oxide emissions are the headline offence for diesel, lower CO2 numbers were the crux of the movement in favour of the fuel in the years preceding the 2015 NOX emissions scandal.

Diesel's decline

Manufacturers face a  ‘technology choice’

While Alixpartners claims manufacturers are “facing a technology choice” between hybridisation and full EV applications to meet targets, other reports talk of a “pile-up of epic proportions” as manufacturers spend upwards of $200 billion developing EV models that won’t make money.

Regardless of their claims, the market appears to be going full steam ahead at the beginning of its wholesale transition to alternative power sources. You can read what we found at the reveal of the Advanced Propulsion Centre UK’s Roadmap Report Towards the 2040 fossil fuel sales ban here.

Last year saw a 17 percent drop in diesel car demand, with the month of May witnessing a year-on-year decrease of 23.6 percent according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

With questions over the validity of manufacturer’s emissions claims ongoing, that downward trend is likely to have continued throughout this year. Manufacturers like Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz insist that diesel isn’t dying, releasing clean diesel models with new technologies and even hybridisation in the case of Mercedes’ 300de models. Whether their investment will pay off remains to be seen.

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2018 Volvo S60

Volvo reveals its first diesel-free car in decades

2018 Volvo S60The new Volvo S60 has been revealed at the firm’s first U.S. manufacturing plant in Charleston, South Carolina – and it’s not only the first American-built Volvo, it’s also the firm’s first car in decades not to feature a diesel engine.

It’s a bold move by Volvo, because the S60 is competing in the same sector as the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. This is a marketplace dominated by diesel.

It’s also one dominated by sales to company car fleets, though, and Volvo will be hoping the ultra-low emissions of its S60 diesel alternative, the S60 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid, will easily sway them.

2018 Volvo S60

BMW has already seen demand exceed supply for its 330e iPerformance plug-in hybrid, suggesting the sector is primed to switch from diesel by reputation-conscious companies who want to be seen to do the right thing.

The diesel-free S60 range, which goes on sale in the UK from early 2019, is part of Volvo’s commitment to completely phase diesel out: it’s already said it will not develop another range of diesel engines, and from 2019, every new car it introduces will, like the S60, be electrified.

Exciting S60

2018 Volvo S60

“The new S60 is one of the most exciting Volvo cars we’ve ever made,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Cars. “It is a true driver’s car that gives us a strong position in the U.S. and China saloon markets, creating more growth opportunities for Volvo Cars.”

The saloon version of the new Volvo V60 estate, it will be offered with regular T5 and T6 petrol turbo engines, but the star powerplants will be the two turbocharged and supercharged plug-in hybrids. The T6 Twin Engine AWD produces 340hp, and the T8 Twin Engine AWD puts out 400hp – which can be tweaked further, to 415hp, by a Polestar Engineered engine upgrade.

Polestar will also do over the wheels, brakes and suspension to ensure the S60 can handle the extra power…

2018 Volvo S60

All S60s should drive well, though. The car uses Volvo’s acclaimed Scalable Product Architecture, or SPA, which helps make cars such as the V90, XC60 and XC90 so impressive.

Volvo R&D senior vice president Henrik Green reckons it will be “one of the best sports saloons on the market… the active chassis and drive modes deliver excellent control and an engaged performance that makes this a driver’s car”.

Needless to say, it will be one of the safest cars in its sector too – if not THE safest.

2018 Volvo S60

Volvo will even let you subscribe to it, if you don’t want to buy it. The Care by Volvo offer provides a car for no down payment, with the flat-fee monthly subscription taking care of everything apart from fuel. It “makes having a car as transparent, easy and hassle-free as having a phone,” reckons Volvo.