What is going on with “Dirty Diesel”? How can we clear the air – and the confusion?

On a weekly or even daily basis there are new reports on “dirty diesel”, how it has exacerbated poor urban air quality, the gaming of emissions testing and VW’s fraudulent behaviour. We read how local authorities, following London’s lead, are likely to bring in charging Clean Air Zones, which will make older vehicles pay to enter certain zones with poor air quality. And more recently a series of reports, which lay out a confusing and sometimes contradictory picture of the state of real world emissions from vehicles.

London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone and England’s Clean Air Zones are proposing charging a flat fee to enter certain areas for non-compliant vehicles to reduce NOx emissions. NOx leads to NO2, a toxic gas that impairs lung function and affects lung development permanently in children. Compliant vehicles would be Euro 6 for diesel or Euro 4 and above for petrol. Euro 6 for cars became mandatory in September 2015 and Euro 4 back in 2006.

However, independent testing has shown that some older Euro 5 vehicles performing better for NOx than newer, supposedly cleaner Euro 6. Transport for London’s own consultation on the expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone suggests that Euro 4 diesel vans have lower NOx emissions than current Euro 6.

At the same time, some new Euro 6 cars appear to be performing very well in both test and real world driving conditions. But others, while passing Euro 6 emissions tests in the lab, can be out by an order of magnitude the levels of NOx emitted.

Clearly, it’s a confusing picture and so we shouldn’t be surprised that consumers are voting with their wallets with sales of diesel powered vehicles dropping by 17 per cent last year compared to 2016.

It’s up to industry to come up with easily understood technical solutions, which will allow consumers to make informed decisions to act to reduce emissions as much as possible and allow local and regional government to implement fair policies, which will result in rapidly improving air quality we need to see.

Tantalum, a company leading technical innovation in connected vehicles, is developing with leading UK engineering university, Imperial College London, its “Air.Car” service to do exactly that. We can already estimate accurately CO2 emissions in real-time from engine data and we are now adding NOx emissions to that capability.

The approach we are taking is to undertake vehicle testing to collect engine and emissions data to develop models to inform algorithms that can convert information such as engine revolutions, operational temperature and torque demand into real-time, second-by-second, NOx emissions. The second part of the project is to run a large-scale 1,000 vehicle field trial to collect huge amounts of real-time driving and emission data to refine the models and prove concept.

This will be largest data set of its type of real-world driving emissions and will cut through the current confusion around emissions standards and the performance of different vehicles and driving styles.

Air.Car will be able to inform drivers on how to reduce both their fuel costs and health impact through better driving style. Better driving can reduce fuel usage by 15 per cent and NOx emissions halved.

Air.Car will also allow local and regional governments to bring forward a fair and smart way to ensure that people actually pay for the genuine environmental impact of their journey rather than just because they drove past a camera with a vehicle that is a particular Euro standard, no matter how it is driven or how well it performs.

We believe that individual drivers, public authorities and commercial operators should have access to easily understood independent and academically backed data to inform on consumer choice, guidance on driving style and a fair and smart way to fulfil the polluter pays principle. This is Air.Car’s mission.