US expert warns against heavy increase in diesel vehicles

A massive increase in diesel fuelled vehicles in Europe could pose health hazards as designers seek for pollution free solutions using 'green' power

The European Union may be heading for a public health disaster by pushing for a big increase in diesel vehicles, warned leading air pollution expert Prof Joel Schwartz of Harvard Medical school. He presented new evidence at the World Clean Air Congress in London on 24 August that fine particles in traffic have a major impact on human health.

A study in the Netherlands showed that people living close by busy roads or exposed to lack particles from diesel vehicles are at a greater risk of premature death than those living nearby. "Diesel particles are also associated with asthma in children" said Prof Schwartz.

He added that "It's worth more to reduce one tonne of emissions from transport than from any other sources because traffic particles are emitted close to where people live and breathe". Prof Schwartz questioned the EU policy to increase the number of diesel vehicles on the roads, intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Diesel engines produce more particles than petrol engines, but their better fuel efficiency makes them attractive for climate change policies.

"However, hybrid vehicles are even better for climate change and produce much less pollution," he said. There are moves to introduce special filters for particles to new cars, but talks in the EU are at an early stage.

Commenting on the evidence presented by Prof Schwartz, Tim Williamson, Policy Officer for NSCA, said: "This shows the pressing need to integrate policies on climate change and air quality to ensure one doesn't harm the other. Certainly new diesel standards should require particle filters to be fitted, and policy makers should also look to clean up the existing diesel fleet.

" Government initiatives

The UK Government is pursuing policies both to lessen the impact of existing fuel technologies in the environment and to encourage the use of innovative, alternative "green fuels". The Department for Transport, for example is currently carrying out a consultation on the Transport Energy clean vehicle transport grant programmes and earlier in the year the DTI announced a £3 million funding package which will be used to develop fuel cell technology.

Last month TransportEnergy, a division of the Energy Saving Trust, reported that a TransportEnergy Motorvate programme would help HM Customs and Excise to achieve a 12% reduction in fuel use. This included a 3% reduction in mileage over a three-year period.

Richard Tarboton, Head of EST TransportEnergy, said: "TransportEnergy BestPractice has helped to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by over 143,000 tonnes since its inception.

'Green' vehicle development

On the vehicle development front, Honda announced that it has delivered two Honda FCX hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles to the City of San Francisco, California. This brings to 12 the number of Honda fuel cell cars on the road in the United States and Japan.

San Francisco is leasing the two FCX vehicles for a period of one year with an option for a second year, adding to the city's fleet of more than 700 alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles. San Francisco intends to create a hydrogen-refuelling infrastructure to support regular daily operation of the vehicles by city officials.

In another major initiative in the United States, DaimlerChrysler and BP plc are collaborating with the US Department of Energy and other organisations to field-test fuel cell vehicles in the United States this year.

The vehicle test programmes, part of a five-year "Controlled Hydrogen Fleet and Infrastructure Demonstration and Validation Project," is funded in part by the US Department of Energy. The project is designed to gain real-world experience with fuel cell vehicles, to address related issues such as fuels and fuelling infrastructure, and to educate the public about this developing technology. DaimlerChrysler has proposed to supply their fuel cell vehicles to fleets in certain US markets. BP proposes to provide the refuelling infrastructure to support the fuelling needs of those fleets.

"Fuel cell vehicles have great promise as a highly fuel efficient, virtually emission-free transportation in the years to come. But there is much to learn and a lot of work to be done before that promise becomes reality," said Dr Dieter Zetsche, President and CEO of the Chrysler Group of DaimlerChrysler. "This collaboration with government, energy providers, and educators brings together the right partners to address these challenges," Dr Zetsche said. According to Ross Pillari, President BP America, "We are convinced that programs such as this supported by the US DoE will provide the impetus for future development of hydrogen production and fuelling technologies."

Fuel-cell cars are electric vehicles that make their own electric power on board by combining hydrogen from a fuel source and oxygen from the air along a special membrane called a PEM (proton exchange membrane). Fuel cells are significantly more efficient than combustion engines, and the only exhaust produced is water. "We have demonstrated technical feasibility with our concept vehicles over the past decade," said Dr Andreas Truckenbrodt, head of fuel cell and advanced powertrain development for DaimlerChrysler.

"The next step is to demonstrate that fuel cell powered vehicles are 'Fit for Daily Use.' We need to get field experience on the road in daily use to determine how our customers use the vehicles and what their needs are. This partnership with the US government is an important part of that process," Dr Truckenbrodt said. "BP has a wealth of experience in producing, distributing and selling a range of fuels and we are applying this experience to hydrogen" said Carol Battershell, BP Director of alternative fuels "This program will give us the opportunity grow the number of hydrogen fuelling facilities we have in operation, which will expand our understanding of the technical, social and economic challenges we face in bringing hydrogen to our customers."

In addition to DaimlerChrysler, BP, and the Department of Energy, other participants include: DTE Energy Ventures, the Detroit-based energy technology company, which will supply hydrogen fuel, The California Fuel Cell Partnership, a fuel cell consortium based near Sacramento, and NextEnergy, the Detroit-based alternative energy education and research organisation , plus academic institutions, including the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, Lansing Community College, three branches of the University of California (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Riverside), and SRI International.

Range of fuel cell vehicles

DaimlerChrysler has been a leader in the development of fuel cell vehicles, beginning with the NECAR 1 in 1994. It is placing 60 F-Cell passenger cars into service in the United States, Europe and Asia. The F-Cell is a four-passenger fuel cell powered car based on the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. The powertrain and fuel system are housed under the vehicle compartment floor, with no loss of passenger or cargo space. The F-Cell has a top speed of 85 mph and a range of 100 miles. DaimlerChrysler is also testing 33 fuel cell powered Citaro buses in Europe and Australia and is partnering with package delivery services Hermes Versand in Europe and UPS in the United States to test fuel cell-powered Sprinter vans in daily service.

By the end of 2004, DaimlerChrysler will have real-world experience with more than 100 fuel cell powered vehicles.


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