Alternative technology offers cleaner air

Reducing traffic emissions is a key element in the drive to clean up the air over Britain, with local authorities taking on greater responsibilities than ever to monitor and improve air quality. The recent expansion of the monitoring network around the country gives a minute by minute account of where pollution arises and a wide range of measures, from improved performance of motor vehicle engines to the use of alternative fuel and power sources, such as gas and electricity, plus a move to more sustainable transport systems, is producing a steady reduction in harmful emissions. LAWE reviews progress in this field and highlights recent developments in technology.

Reductions in emissions from internal combustion engines over recent years show that technical advances can make a significant contribution to improving air quality, countered by the continuing growth of the number of vehicles.

The Government’s blueprint to transform our transport system. Transport 2010, the Ten Year Plan involving an investment of £180 billion, announced by DETR Secretary John Prescott as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, set outs a “long term-strategy for delivering a quicker, safer, more punctual and environmentally friendly transport system.”

One of the aims is to tackle pollution with up to 25 light rail and tram systems planned or major cities playing a key role in offering car travelling commuters on increasingly congested roads an alternative using improved public transport.

The plan also calls for speeding up the introduction of cleaner fuels and vehicles.

In London, the new Mayor Ken Livingstone is promised a “substantial package of investment” to underpin his transport strategy. Quick off the mark since his election in May, Mr Livingstone is backing a scheme of congestion charging to discourage unnecessary journeys by cars, vans and lorries in a zone of central London. He hopes to see such a scheme starting during the middle of his four-year term of office and pledges that all funds raised by such a scheme would be devoted to improving transport.

Cleaner vehicles

On the specific issue of reducing the pollution produced by traffic the Cleaner Vehicles Task Force (CVTF), set up by the DETR in 1998, in its final report, The Way Forward, published in June this year, makes recommendations under five headings:

  • transforming the market and achieving lower environmental impacts from vehicles in use through Government incentives, development of technology, and through better public awareness
  • the role of fleets in improving the environmental performance of new and current vehicles
  • cleaner fuels and technologies
  • the role of low emission zones, and
  • making sure that everyone plays his or her part – the importance of enforcement in maintaining improvements.

On cleaner fuels and technologies the Task Force says that thanks to advances in technology a car built today produces around 5% of the emissions of local air pollutants of a car made in the 1970s. The report adds: “These improvements will continue as new cars meet the progressively tighter standards for emissions of local air pollution set in Europe. However, in areas where air quality is poor more needs to be done to reduce vehicle emissions.”

Alternative fuels

The alternative fuels sub-group of the CVTF has considered the issues relating to a range of cleaner fuels and technologies and has a produced a detailed report.

The Task Force notes that some alternative fuels are already available, such as gaseous fuels – notably liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and natural gas (NG), which can be used in specially adapted vehicles. Battery electric vehicles are also available, although in very small numbers, and hybrid vehicles, which use both petrol or diesel engine and an electric motor to drive the vehicle will be available very soon.

Fuel cell vehicles use a completely different technology to conventional engines. Fuel cells within the vehicle combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electrical energy that is used to propel the vehicle. The report states that fuel cell vehicles are still being developed, although the first examples are expected to come on to the market within the next five years.

The Task Force sets out an action plan for the Government in this area, which includes the following proposals:

  • ensure that the substantial new investment in the Powershift Programme for 2000-2001 is continued so that the programme has a sufficient budget to continue its work on alternative fuel and technology vehicles until the markets become self-sustaining.
  • provide local authorities with guidance on assessing planning applications for LPG, NG and electric refuelling/re-charging infrastructure, through PPG 13.

Local authorities should:

  • develop binding quality partnerships with service providers which specify the use of cleaner fuels and technologies
  • consider entering into partnerships to encourage third party access to depot based re-fuelling facilities

Vehicle and component manufacturers should:

  • introduce battery electric, hybrid electric and fuel cell vehicles to be demonstrated, tested and made widely commercially available.

Industry initiatives

Manufacturers and suppliers of alternative fuels are active on all fronts. The Natural Gas Vehicle Association (NGVA), for example, has carried out a Fuels Benchmarking Programme, using an independent testing consultancy, to establish a comparative environmental benchmark on four comparable vehicles fuelled by petrol, diesel, LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) and CNG (Compressed Natural Gas). The tests were performed to the current European legislative procedure (96/69/EC) and, in addition to the regulated emissions; hydrocarbon speciation and particulate analysis (both for mass and size) were carried out using the very latest in technologies.

The NGVA states that the results to this benchmarking programme show that using current OE available vehicles there is a substantial environmental benefit to the use of CNG as a fuel. With the exception of particulates produced during the high-speed phase, and levels of unburned methane, emission levels of the gas are the lowest of the fuels tested. With improved catalyst formations and greater understanding of the combustion mechanisms involved, it is considered that even these minor issues can be resolved.

From the LPG sector, Calor Gas, which claims to be the UK’s leading supplier, offers its Calor Autogas brand for vehicles. In a recently announced move, Everest, the home improvements company, is to replace its fleet of 600 vehicles with vehicles powered by Autogas. The fleet, primarily Ford Transit vans and Ford cars, will use Calor Autogas from bunkered supplies at four of Everest’s sites in Hertford, Warrington, Milton Keynes and Perth and the growing network of LPG retail sites.

With Calor Autogas costing around 50% less than petrol or diesel, Everest expects to make significant cost savings on its fuel bills. The cost to Everest of converting to LPG has been reduced substantially by the use of grants from the Energy Savings Trust’s Powershift programme.

Calor Gas fuels a wide range of industrial applications, including the development of an LPG engine for narrow boats by Coventry-base Power Torque Engineering Ltd and Calor Gas Marine which is supplied to run converted boat engines.

In another recent development BG Technology Ltd has announced an alliance with Calor Gas Ltd to make the benefits of its MiniGenTM microturbine-based combined heat and power systems available to LPG customers.

The marine market is also being targeted by ZeTek Power, which produces an alkaline fuel cell which generates electricity by the catalytic conversion of hydrogen and oxygen, producing no polluting by-products. This innovative alternative power system, which provides the power for the first fuel cell boat, the “Hydra”, launched in Germany, has already been seen in London, powering the Fuel Cell London Millennium Taxi and a vehicle run by Westminster City Council.

ZeTek Power is building the world’s first fully automated fuel cell production plant in Cologne, planned to produce 10 MW of fuel cells per year initially, rising to 40 MW.

Backing for hybrid technology

Hybrid engine technology is being supported by Powershift, the Government-backed initiative run by the Energy Saving Trust. Powershift will provide financial assistance worth £1,000 per vehicle to help fund the introduction of Honda’s new Insight hybrid petrol/electric car into the UK market.

The car is being funded under Powershift’s “demonstration project” scheme for 2000/2001, which aims to help bring to market clean fuel initiatives with real commercial potential.

The Insight was launched on the UK market at the beginning of this month. It is anticipated that Powershift funding will mean that each car will effectively cost £16,000. The demonstration project will cover the first 200 vehicles sold in the UK.

The car features Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMATM) hybrid system, comprising a high efficiency petrol engine and electric motor used in combination with a lightweight, highly aerodynamic aluminium body. It achieves ultra-low fuel consumption of 83mpg EUDC, emissions less than half the EU 2000 limit (CO2 emissions are an extremely low 80g/km) plus performance figures of 0-62mph in 12 seconds and a top speed of 112mph.

Powershift also reports that the LPG refuelling infrastructure is at present in increasing at a rate of one new filling station opening each day, with an estimated total of 600 nationwide by the end of this year.

On the industrial front the cause of alternative fuels has been giving a boost by a deal between Yale Materials Handling UK, a leading supplier of CNG powered trucks, and FuelMaker, a major supplier of on-site natural gas refuelling systems, to offer users a total CNG package stated to provide significant environmental and cost benefits.

FuelMaker says that it offers a versatile modular system that can be matched to the refuelling requirements of any size fork lift truck fleet, supporting any type of work cycle and providing both time-fill (overnight) and/or fast-fill (two minutes) refuelling.

Yale had recognised that the cost of CNG filling stations was a major deterrent to the use of CNG trucks by many fleet managers and sees the strategic partnership with FuelMaker allowing it to market an economic, on-site refuelling system within an all-in-one CNG package.

Air quality monitoring

On the wider air quality monitoring front, local authorities, who are required to review and assess air quality in their areas, can now refer to new guidance from the DETR which deals with equipment and methods for ambient air monitoring to satisfy the requirement for review and assessment and to help establish the likelihood of a prescribed objective being exceeded in a relevant location.

This technical guidance, Review and Assessment: Monitoring Air Quality, covers monitoring methods; selection and use of monitoring equipment; typical monitoring strategies for pollutants in the review and assessment process; and quality assurance of monitoring data.

A Helpline has also been established offering impartial advice on monitoring methods and instrumentation for local authorities (Tel/Fax 01235 463356 or email [email protected]). Questions that are frequently asked by local authorities about air quality monitoring are answered in the FAQ section of the UK National Air Quality Information Archive web site on http:/

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