Diesel cars under attack in UK air pollution row

Posted: February 18, 2017 by oldbrew in atmosphere, opinion, pollution, Travel

Image credit: carmagazine.co.uk

Image credit: carmagazine.co.uk

The predictable war on diesel cars is underway. The days of promoting them as ‘climate-friendly’ are over, in the UK at least. Diesel trucks, vans and buses are overlooked.

London’s air pollution problem is so bad that just five days into 2017 Brixton had already used up its traffic fume allowance for the year, reports iNews.

Brixton has since been overtaken by Knightsbridge as Britain’s most polluted district so far this year. The wealthy west London suburb has exceeded the EU nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limit for a total of 52 hours already this year, nearly three times the legal annual allowance of 18 hours, according to the latest figures from Dr Gary Fuller at King’s College London.

But traffic pollution is by no means confined to these London hotspots.

The nitrogen dioxide problem spreads across dozens of towns and cities in the UK, where it can bring on asthma and other respiratory problems and contributes to an estimated 12,000 early deaths each year.

Almost every region affected

Last year, almost every region of the UK – 38 out of 43 – had at least one area exceeding the legal EU limit for NO2 and in many regions there were numerous breaches. In those areas where NO2 exceed EU limits, diesel vehicles were overwhelmingly to blame, responsible for 80 per cent the nitrogen dioxide in the air. Most of the rest comes from trains, ships and industry.

“The NO2 problem is really a diesel vehicle problem. Even a fairly new diesel car would emit about five times as much nitrogen dioxide as a petrol car,” said Professor Martin Williams, of King’s College London.

Diesel engines have traditionally been used by large vehicles such as lorries, vans, taxis and buses because they are more powerful and durable than petrol motors. But they have also become increasingly common in private family cars after an environmentally-motivated government push at the start of the century on the basis that diesel engines produced far less carbon dioxide than petrol ones and would help curb climate change.

Unintended environmental consequence

Car-owners flocked to diesel motors in response to financial incentives such as reduced road tax. Diesel car ownership soared from 3.5 million in 2001 to more than 8 million now, as sales overtook petrol engines for the first time in 2010 and kept rising.

But an unintended consequence of rising diesel car ownership has been air pollution, with nitrogen dioxide levels in Britain the third highest in the EU, exceeded only by France and Germany.

Furthermore, petrol engines have become so much more efficient in recent years that they no longer produce that much more CO2 than diesel cars, says Prof Williams. “The climate change argument for diesel is getting much weaker, while the petrol argument is overwhelmingly in favour of petrol,” he said.

Read more at: Why diesel cars need to go – The i newspaper online iNews

  1. Bloke down the pub says:

    I recently completed a survey from the AA, in which several of the questions were to do with the desirability of introducing a scrappage scheme, in order to remove diesel cars from the roads.

  2. Halo says:

    Having read Steve Milloy’s ‘Scare Pollution’, I am now questioning the evidence on PM2.5, NOx and ozone. Is this all for nothing?

  3. A C Osborn says:

    I suggest that someone should look at the ACTUAL OFFICIAL values for the whole of the UK and not localised hotspots and EU rubbish.
    Despite a massive increase in Deisel Engined vehicle take a look at the drop in overall values of not just NOX but sulphur and Particulates as well.


    Does this come under fake news?

  4. oldbrew says:

    An option favoured by German MPs would be to ban new car sales of diesels, even petrols too, altogether.
    Getting people to vote for such a drastic approach might be a problem though.


    The real problem seems to be due to traffic congestion in certain urban areas.

  5. A C Osborn says:

    From that graph shows a reduction of NOX of approximately 60% since 1970.
    80% in Particulates and 90% in Sulphur.
    Why weren’t we all dropping like insecticide sprayed flies back in the 70s???????????????

    [reply] ‘they say’ fewer diesel cars

  6. Atmospheric scientists–including me, working as a Research Associate analyzing remote aerosols at federally-protected sites in the U.S., 1991-4–knew this way back then (and another way-back-then before my short stint at it). But its not just that CO2 is not the “pollution” it is today made out to be by the tyrants; it is that the main pollution is fine particles, not gases at all (either CO2 or NO2)–to wit, unburnt “black” carbon, which is quickly chemically bound–“internally mixed”, in scientific jargon–with ambient sulfate and, for a little while, nitrate (and, in the better movies, radioactive waste and alien slime monsters). “Pollution” basically requires a solid nucleus (and water binder) to sweep up those ambient, easily dissociated ions to make smog, or visibility-degrading and health-endangering pollution. The nitrous oxides come under the heading of “volatiles” and, away from the inner-city or heavy traffic pollution source, are quickly dispersed into the general nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere; they are involved in the production of ozone in the lower stratosphere, being broken down by absorption of incident ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, but they are a minor component of near-surface, remote aerosols, compared to the main players, black carbon and sulfate (SO4)–and dirt (17%). The black-carbon-plus-sulfate-plus-water-plus-other-non-volatile-junk particles–tiny enough to stay suspended for days, and to be breathed in and out by unsuspecting (or even suspecting, but hapless) humans–is what you call your basic “pollution” (imagine your local garbageman, er sanitation worker, telling you this, maybe in a thick cockney accent–Dick van Dyke, the chimney sweep, that’s the ticket). The “black” carbon is basically turned out–traditionally from diesel-fuel (incomplete-) burning vehicles, though I hear the cars, at least, have much cleaner burning engines now–in the form of a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon–typically coronene–that has the form of a pancake-stack of carbon rings, 5 or 6 rings high, whose upper and lower rings attract and bind sulfate–typically ammonium sulfate–or, in the case of wood burning, organic hydrocarbons (this hydrocarbon component–which produces less light-absorbing, yellow-brown particles, rather than the more strongly absorbing, “black” carbon ones–distinguishes woodburning-sourced aerosols from diesel fuel-sourced ones). See Huffman, H. D., in “Atmospheric Environment” journal, Vol. 30-1, January 1996, pp. 73-99, to check my 23-years-old memory of all this. i have had much more important things to think about since then, and I thought, before learning of the “catastrophic global warming” propaganda in 2009-10, that responsible scientists were on top of the “air pollution” problem. Little did I know, the inmates had taken over the asylum, and are now calling themselves the natural rulers of …everything (even light bulbs, believe it or not).

  7. BLACK PEARL says:

    How much of the air pollution consists of tyre & brake pad dust compared to what comes out of the tail pipe ?

  8. oldbrew says:

    Black Pearl – ‘Previous studies have found that road dust accounts for up to 90% of PM10 during winter in Stockholm.’


    NB – for ‘up to’ I usually read ‘less than’ 😉

  9. Bitter&twisted says:

    A retired combustion chemist who was high up in Shell, UK, told me that he specifically told the Blair government that “the intrinsic nature of the diesel combustion process meant produced large quantities of NOx and black carbon” and that no add-on technology would solve this”.
    Of course his advice and that of others was ignored, on the alter of CO2 and climate change, so we ended up with the real pollution we get today and why virtually every car manufacturer has been fiddling emission data.
    Blair and co. Need prosecuting for manslaughter.

  10. catweazle666 says:

    “How much of the air pollution consists of tyre & brake pad dust compared to what comes out of the tail pipe ?”

    “Electric cars may not spew the same CO2 emissions as their internal-combustion cousins, but when it comes to another type of pollution – particle matter – they may not be as squeaky clean. A new study published by the journal ScienceDirect claims that due to their increased weight, electric cars produce about the same particle emissions as gas and diesel cars.


  11. oldbrew says:

    ‘electric cars produce about the same particle emissions as gas and diesel cars.’

    That’s them finished then. Not looking good for private transport for eco-warriors :/

    Autogas/LPG maybe?

  12. catweazle666 says:

    “Autogas/LPG maybe?”

    That will help with particulates.

    The NOx problem is a result of the necessity for high compression ratios – hence high top temperatures – to obtain higher thermal efficiency, hence lower fuel consumption and less CO2 emission.

    If you take oxygen and nitrogen and heat them up and compress them, they react to form NOx and the more you heat and compress them, the more NOx is formed, it is irrelevant whether the engine is a petrol, diesel or even a gas turbine, something the ecofascists seem entirely unaware of.

    So the NOx problem will not go away no matter what fuel is burned as long as high thermal efficiency is a requirement.

  13. Graeme No.3 says:

    The answer is obvious to all those who think Green. Bicycles! With horse drawn drays for heavier loads and deliveries. Those anxious to send society back towards the Stone Age won’t notice the smell of (using the american idiom) horseshit, because they spend their lives immersed in it.

  14. oldbrew says:

    There’s the urea option as NOT used by VW (cheapskates), and we know what happened next.

    ‘The only way to bring the [VW] cars into compliance would be to replace LNT with a costlier, more complex and more effective technology known as Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR). This uses reagent urea to capture NOx and turn it into harmless nitrogen and water.’


    As IS used by the Land Rover group. The car won’t start if the additive runs out.

  15. Varco says:

    Fitted with particulate traps and scr systems modern diesel cars are not the problem. Petrol cars will also follow in adopting particulate filters meaning the primary source of particulate matter from modern vehicles will be the tyres – electric vehicles won’t help here.

    Media and ‘scientists’ who don’t differentiate between current and pre-particulate trap vehicles are being deliberately misleading.

  16. Derek Colman says:

    Much of the increase in pollution may be from wood burning stoves. These have become very fashionable, and anyone who is anyone is having them installed to heat their houses. Just like diesel engines they are being promoted as environmentally friendly, but also like diesel they are definitely not. A wood burner puts out as much pollution as a coal fire, especially carbon particulates. Coal fires were banned in London years ago after the bad smogs that used to kill people. Similar smogs have recently re-emerged and at least one expert has blamed it on wood burning stoves. If you watch those house buying TV programmes it seems a wood burner adds to the value of a house and makes it more attractive to buyers.

  17. oldbrew says:

    There’s the NOx issue and the particulates issue. Vehicle engines esp. diesels are part of both but there are other sources of particulates like wood burners, road dust, construction sites etc.

  18. oldbrew says:

    Report: Diesel drivers will now be TRACKED and charged for emitting high-level of emissions
    PUBLISHED: 08:25, Thu, Feb 16, 2017

    NEW proposals could see drivers of dirty diesel cars be charged variable fees based on the pollution they emit and how motorists drive.

    New plans, being considered by local authorities, for a ‘polluter pays’ system would involve installing monitoring devices in cars that track the amount of pollution emitted by the car.

    These devices, which would work like telematics, measure in real-time the amount of nitrogen oxides they produce.


  19. stewgreen says:

    Thanks @A C Osborn and guys that gov report explain a lot.

    What’s the first rule of “Fight-Greens-Club” ?

    …….. Rule #1 “Greens Lie”
    …….. Rule #2 “Do Talk about Fight-Greens-Club”, cos we are not afraid of open debate, but they are.

    My point is no reasonable honest person would open a debate and call for urgent action, without first acknowledging pollution has already been greatly reduced.
    … So we can see anti-diesel campaigners are not honest.
    The campaign has got “Big PR agencies” written all over it.
    eg the Times has contained anti-diesel News-verts almost every day.
    Public policy should be decided by proper maths and cost benefit analysis , not PR games.
    (I have a discussion over on BH about Drs against Diesel)