Revamp, not replace, for low vehicle emissions

Local authority fleet managers facing strict new vehicle emissions restrictions should look at cost-effective ways of rejuvenating their fleet before buying replacements, argues Mike Galey

The London Low Emission Zone (LEZ) looks certain to come into effect next year, placing tough emissions restrictions on diesel vehicles across all 34 Greater London boroughs. It is following an example set by cities in Scandinavia and Holland, and is likely to show the way to Bristol, Glasgow and Sheffield.

Given proven health problems associated with local pollution, there is a strong case for a Europe-wide effort to improve urban air quality. It is known, for example, that very fine particles emitted in diesel engine exhaust, known technically as particulate matter, can bypass the body’s normal defences and damage the heart and lungs. It can also trigger asthma attacks and contribute to the premature death of people who already have a respiratory or cardiovascular disease.

London lows

The UK capital has the worst air quality in the country. According to the European Environment Agency, it is among the worst in Western Europe, next to Athens, Berlin, Brussels and Paris. The latest research suggests London’s air is getting worse. Traffic is reckoned to contribute two-thirds of the problem, with much of it coming from commercial vehicles.

Phase one of London’s proposed solution scheme, is expected to come into force between February and July next year. It will require vehicle emissions to meet the Euro 3 particulate standard and applies to all kinds of diesel-engined heavy goods and light commercial vehicles, buses, coaches and minibuses.

No exception is made for specialist vehicles like street sweepers or, as it currently stands, even rarely-used vehicles like gritters. In 2012 phase two will be introduced and the standard will be further raised to meet the more demanding particulate standard of Euro 4.

While supportive of the scheme’s goal, London boroughs and neighbouring councils are understandably worried about the impact, especially those local authorities who own a large number of affected vehicles including refuse, recycling and street sweeping vehicles. At present there is no extra funding available to get these fleets ready. But doing nothing is not an option either, because there is a hefty charge of £200 a day or a fine of up to £1,000 for any non-compliant vehicle spotted in the zone by a series of automatic cameras.

Counting the cost

The cost estimates vary considerably depending on the number and type of vehicles each council owns and whether they use contracted services. Islington council says, for example, that the cost of complying might be over £5M, while the City of London estimates its bill will come to £1.3M. Bromley estimates the cost at £832,000, Lewisham £750,000 and Redbridge £280,000.

Immediate costs, the councils warn, are likely to be much higher because vehicle replacements will have to be brought forward from their scheduled date. However what many of these councils fail to realise is that in most cases vehicles can be fitted with particulate filters at a fraction of the cost of replacing them. Typically the cost is 2% to 3% of the cost of buying a new vehicle.

They could consider, for example, using Eminox’s continuously regenerating trap (CRT) – a retro-fitted diesel particulate filter (pictured). CRT systems have already been retro-fitted to refuse collection and street sweeping vehicles, while some RCV manufacturers have offered them as a production option.

The majority of the 8,000 diesel buses operating in London are already successfully fitted with Eminox filters, while 3,000 systems are fitted to buses in Paris. In the commercial sector, Tesco has them fitted to its trucks as part of its environmental policy.

The CRT system combines a catalyst and particulate filter, which work together to reduce the emissions, housed in a robust stainless steel exhaust silencer. Its inherent value lies in its ability to reduce particulate emissions by over 90%, while virtually eliminating hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. It also has low maintenance costs, because it self-cleans and typically requires only an annual service.

Although the CRT system is suitable for a variety of applications, it is not the best solution in every case. With the low temperature duty cycles of vehicles like street sweepers, Eminox’s fuel borne catalyst (FBC) has proved more appropriate.

Combining a particulate filter with a fuel additive dosed directly into the fuel line, it can remove more than 90% of particulate matter.

A new active regeneration option on the system allows it to be used for an even wider range of applications. Like the CRT, the system is housed in a durable stainless steel silencer and has a self-cleaning of the filter.

The finer details of London’s LEZ are still to be hammered out. But it is already clear that local authorities cannot afford to fall foul of them. Those who will be affected by the LEZ requirements need to think carefully before potentially wasting money on new vehicles. And, of course, they will also have to cope with the irony that there are significant emissions associated with the manufacture of any new vehicle.

Mike Galey is director of marketing at Eminox

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