Photo: Max Pixel

New ‘clean’ diesel cars greatly exceed particle limits

January 14th, 2020

Tests carried out on two of Europe’s top-selling diesel vehicles shows that particle emissions from new diesel cars can peak at 1,000 times their normal rate.

Recent tests commissioned by Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) reveal that the spike in particle pollution occurs when new diesel cars clean their filters. 

The filters were introduced in a bid to boost sales following the Dieselgate scandal.  To date, over 45 million cars in Europe are fitted with filters, resulting in over a billion filter cleanings per year. 

Tests carried out by the independent laboratory Ricardo on both the Nissan Qashqai and Opel Astra revealed particle levels 32 to 115 per cent over the legal limit. 

Both high-selling cars are approved under the latest diesel standard that applies to all new cars since September 2018 that carmakers argue delivers ‘clean diesel’.

The tests also show that spikes can occur in urban areas and last as long as 15km as emissions of particle pollution can surge to over 1,000 times their normal rate.

In a statement to The Green News, Nissan Europe said that all its vehicles and filter devices “fully comply with today’s emissions legislation”.

A spokesperson for the company said that it will “continue to develop affordable and innovative solutions to reduce its impact on the environment” such as our its electric Nissan LEAF model. Opel did not reply to requests for comment.

Due to a legislation loophole, the legal particle limit does not apply when filter cleaning occurs in official testing. This has led to 60 to 99 per cent of regulated particle emissions from new tested diesel cars being ignored, according to T&E.

The study also notes that ultra-fine particles are not measured in official vehicle emission testing, even though they harmful to human health and are linked with brain cancer

These new tests reveal that new diesels “are still not clean”, according to T&E emissions engineer Anna Krajinska. “In fact, they are spewing out highly-dangerous levels of particles in our towns and highways every day. Carmakers are being given an easy ride but people’s lungs are paying for it.” 

The vast majority of urban dwellers across Europe are exposed to unsafe levels of particle pollution, with chronic exposure linked to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including lung cancer.

Yesterday, the Sunday Business Post revealed data showing that traffic-related air pollution outside of several surveyed south Dublin schools hit worrying levels during the school term.

Photo: Jonathan Petersson

Hybrid and SUV sales

While the sale of hybrid cars in Ireland has rose by almost 50 per cent in the past year alone, they still depend on a fossil-fuel supplied engine. 

The sale of larger cars, like Jeeps and SUVs many of which run on new diesel engines, increased by over four per cent in the same time period to the detriment of the environment and air quality. 

According to the International Energy Agency, SUVs are the second-largest cause of the rise in global CO2 emissions over the past 10 years, trailing only behind the power generation industry. 

SUV drivers alone, if measured as a nation, would be the seventh largest emitting sector in the world for carbon emissions.

Earlier this month, the Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton TD outlined plans to ban the registration of new fossil fuel cars from 2030.

The proposed ban is included in the Heads of the Climate Action (Amendment) Bill 2019 that also features plans to halt the granting of NCTs for fully diesel and petrol cars vehicles from 2045.

The Heads of the Bill provides little further detail on the plans, and does not specify if the proposed ban will also include hybrid vehicles that are powered by both fossil fuel and electricity.

The uptake of electric vehicles, while rising in Ireland, is still behind the curve compared to other progressive EU states.

While sales spiked by 11 per cent in the first few days of the new decade compared to this time last year, only 322 cars were register – less than 2.5 per cent of the total new market. Hybrid purchases made up just over 16 per cent of new purchases.

The Government has set an ambitious target to see over 900,000 electric vehicles on Irish roads by the end of the decade that many critics say is both logistically impossible and a poorly thought out policy choice that will do little to alleviate traffic congestion across Irish villages, towns and cities.

Electric car charging Photo: whodol / Pixabay
Electric car charging Photo: whodol / Pixabay

Electric Vehicles

According to T&E, however, there will need to be 44 million electric vehicles on European roads by 2030 for the EU to stand a chance of hitting its climate neutrality by 2050.

In order to ensure citizens’ charging needs are met, three million public charging points need to be rolled out across the bloc, – 15 times the number of chargers currently available in the EU. 

T&E wants to see 20 per cent of all European parking spots equipped with chargers over the next five years and for all building equipped with EV charging infrastructure by 2035.

The environmental network also to see the EU bring in a pan-European ‘right to plug’ scheme to ensure that EV drivers wait no longer than three months to get charging, whether at home or work.

This goes hand in hand with its proposal for a funding programme to cable buildings and upgrade electricity grids to handle EV charging across the bloc.

 T&E estimates that it will cost Europe €1.8 billion annually over the next 11 years. This figure is roughly three per cent of the EU’s current annual spend on road infrastructure.

About the Author

Kayle Crosson

Kayle is a multimedia journalist focused on climate and environmental issues and contributes to The Irish Times and The Green News.

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