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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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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