Government needs to understand the facts on pollution

I have been reading with interest the developments this year in relation to car emissions, specifically, but also the continuing development of Dieselgate (VW’s emission scam). What I find so interesting is it appears many other car manufacturers are up to the same tactics and have been quietly fixing cars. We now seem to be having a complete U-turn on policy and now instead of promoting lower CO2 the politicians have realised there a lots of other nasties coming out of the tailpipe such as NOx.

Personally I struggle to put the whole blame on the car manufacturers in that if they are asked to meet certain standards, which are poorly thought through, and more importantly measured or acted upon. Certainly the rush to hybrids is not going to solve the problem, I recently owned a Golf GTE (1.4 litre petrol and electric motor) which managed 200 mpg if I plugged it in all the time and only drove it a few miles or 25 mpg if I didn’t – certainly a Golf GTI or GTD provides better economy and lower emissions overall. I know of a few drivers who have received huge tax breaks for buying a hybrid only to not plug it in ever and just pay more for fuel, thus undermining any environmental benefit.

The problem is that we now have a backlash to diesel which still provides better economy and certainly with the larger cars offer as good as NOx emission results due to the addition of urea into the exhaust gas. We have had an Audi SQ7 on order for the best part of 9 months (blame the custom blue colour!) and I was seriously considering cancelling the order due to all the news on diesel. This is a car with a V8 triple turbo 4 litre engine capable of towing a mountain. If I had cancelled it my only choice would have been a select few SUVs with petrol engines that barely manage to get over 12 mpg. As it is we have taken delivery of the ‘beast’ and just returned from a weekend on the coast where it managed 600 miles to a tank and thanks to the urea technology emit no more NOx than a small petrol engine. It doesn’t mean I won’t be lambasted for having a diesel car, but the fact is, even to a petrol head, the technology and progress the industry has made is outstanding.

I am sure government however will push through stupid plans that are epitomised by the move in recent years to convert our coal power stations to biofuel. Take Drax, our biggest power station, which is being converted from coal to biomass wooden pellets. Not only does this new fuel require specialised storage (hangers to keep the pellets dry and filled with nitrogen to stop it combusting), whereas coal could be left outside in the rain, but it takes the fuel from Canada rather than the mines around the UK. The pellets are less energy dense so a larger proportion of them are required ton for ton to produce the same energy as coal and let us not forget the huge government subsidy we are paying to the owners.

Getting back to the issue around transporting all these pellets comes in the form of shipping which apparently is to blame more than 30% of inorganic particles in Europe’s air. Apparently 160 transport ships produce the same pollution (particulates and smog) as ALL the cars in the world. But there are not 160 ships transporting goods around the world, there are 6,000. So we are providing huge subsidies to companies to convert coal power plants to ship (at huge environmental impact) wood pellets from around the world so we save our environment?

After doing some research I was quite happy with our SQ7 purchase – certainly until there are some rules or regulations around shipping anything we do with cars is insignificant. I am not saying we shouldn’t be striving for the best when it comes to pollution and supporting our environment but on the basis of government policy over the last few decades we don’t seem to be making very many smart choices.

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