Diesel fuel has been firmly in the crosshairs of the government and environmental campaigners for a number of years now, and December 2017 saw a record fall in sales for new diesel cars – down 31% from the previous December.
The reason why diesel, in particular, is being targeted is down to emissions; the combustion process produces Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), which include Nitrogen Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide and Nitric Oxide. Studies have shown that long-term exposure to some of these will significantly increase the risk of respiratory problems, and Particulate Matter (from diesel) has been shown to cause cancer.
Here in the UK, there were 11,940 premature deaths attributed to nitrogen oxide last year, and a further study put Oxford Street, London as the second highest level of nitrogen oxide pollution in Europe.
Test Bed Driving
Manufacturers have to prove their product emissions through the use of a test bed – an engine dynamometer or rolling road, which in theory, works well. Anyone in the automotive trade will tell you that these don’t simulate real-world driving conditions, and ‘driving’ a test vehicle in a cell that’s perfectly controlled (heat, humidity, load, speed, air pressure) doesn’t put the same demands on the engine or drivetrain.
This can lead to such situations that Volkswagen found themselves in back in 2015, although whether that was a deliberate abuse or genuine mistake, only Volkswagen know, but new European legislation was passed in 2017 that required new cars to be tested with RDE (Real Driving Emissions).
The Bosch Breakthrough
The regulation currently states that all new cars should emit no more than 168 milligrams of NOx per kilometre under urban, extra-urban and motorway driving, but that is set to be tightened further in 2020 – the target is 120 milligrams.
As one of the world’s best-known fuel-injection (FI) manufacturers, Bosch has developed a new FI system that could see the revival of diesel once again. In a recent statement, they say that 13 milligrams of NOx per kilometre is entirely possible, with no loss of economy and performance, and no increase in CO2 emissions.
They go on to say that even in the most extreme of conditions, they’re averaging just 40 milligrams per kilometre – still under a quarter of the current limit, regardless of weather, temperature, traffic or speed.
The system uses a combination of advanced fuel-injection technology, newly developed air management systems, and intelligent temperature management to make this possible, but Dr Volkmar Denner, Bosch CEO still believes there’s further development to be done with increasing reliability on artificial intelligence (AI).
Denner’s vision is to create an engine with virtually no impact on ambient air; no significant particulate or NOx emissions, for both unleaded and diesel engines.
We often see plans to reduce emissions, improve mpg, boost power, but they tend to be a statement of where a company wants to be heading rather than what they’ve been doing. In this case, the technology and components are available now, off-the-shelf, ready to be picked for a production run.
As to what this means to the sales price remains to be seen, but Bosch has said that it wouldn’t necessarily mean an increase to the price for a consumer, but as with any technology, it’s usually the end-user that pays for development.
So if you have diesel car that you know is high polluting, what can you do?
Waiting for the system to become commonplace isn’t really viable – despite what Denner says, manufacturers will have their production schedules in place for some time to come, so the reality is that we may not see the new wonder Bosch system fitted to a productionised car for at least a year, perhaps longer. Can we wait another year? Or does that mean all purchases are put on hold until it is on a production vehicle?
Nor do we know how viable it would be to retrofit this new technology, or even if it’s at all possible? There are over 12 million diesel cars registered in the UK, and while the newer diesels may be ‘clean’, it will take a number of years to replace all 12 million.
There’s very little you can do right now to change things, but you can at least ensure that your vehicle is working to the best of its abilities – making sure your particulate filter is clean is perhaps the biggest step, but the rest of it is regular, good practice; correctly inflated tyres, clean air filter, regular oil changes are just common sense and will help to keep your car running as it should.
It’s great to see that manufacturers are still pushing development of fossil-fuelled vehicles and that the death knell that appeared to be imminent might just have been postponed for now, but we’re still in the dark when it comes to plans. Of course, we could end up with further segregation for cars, but in all reality, unless the technology becomes widely adopted, and recognised by the government, this could be just a little too late.
With society knowing about the dangers of diesel, do you think that it’s possible that this could turn things around? Would you even look to swap from an unleaded vehicle to diesel if this became common practice?