We should thank Volkswagen for the wake-up call. The scandal that has engulfed the company has highlighted how an overwhelming focus on carbon dioxide emissions has oversimplified the debate about the negative impacts of all our combustion engines – and calls us to seriously consider two key technologies that are on the rise: electric vehicles, including hybrids, and fuel cell vehicles which run off hydrogen.
Yes, looking at CO2 works well to quantify effects on global climate and fossil resource depletion, but health impacts are a more complex story. “Dieselgate” is forcing people to realise that most vehicles also produce harmful chemically reactive substances such as nitrogen oxides or tiny particulate matter.
This insight has reached the highest ranks of UK government, where diesel subsidies may soon become re-examined. In fact particulate matter may be responsible for as many as 3 million prenatal deaths globally every year, according to a recent study in Nature.
No one can tell at this point if this is the end of the diesel engine but surely now is the right moment to look towards cleaner and more sustainable ways to power a car.
The Conversation: 7 Oct 2015
Harry Hoster: Director of Energy Lancaster and Professor of Physical Chemistry, Lancaster University
Key Words: Climate Change, technology
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