New car emissions regulations could hurt diesel as a clean fuel

European car manufacturers are concerned The European Commission’s proposal for real-life emissions test regulations could make it difficult to meet CO2 reduction targets.

The new regulations were proposed in response to the recent emissions scandal, when it was discovered that Volkswagen had installed “defeat devices”, banned software which reduced the level of greenhouse emissions produced under laboratory testing conditions, in their cars.

This gave the impression in the tests that cars were putting out less emissions than they actually were in real-life scenarios.

These allegations were brought to light in a report published by the International Council on Clean Transportation, which noted an increasing gap between official and real-world levels.

The Commission’s proposal to address this issue was to order an investigation into all European car manufacturers, and to look at new “real-life” emissions testing measures.

Part of the proposal is to adjust emissions calculations to factor in nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a greenhouse gas which diesel engines produce in higher quantities than petrol cars.

The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) says it fully supports the new proposal, though it argues manufacturers will need to make major changes in developing cars once the new test regulations have been clarified.

“ACEA has called for a two-step date framework, in order to allow industry the proper lead-time to apply the complex RDE regulation and make very significant changes to future vehicles”, a spokesperson for the ACEA said.

However, the biggest concern expressed by the ACEA was the Commission’s proposal to tighten restrictions on NOx (combined NO and NO2) emissions from diesel engines.

“Over the past years, policy initiated by the EU institutions has focussed on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in the most stringent targets for CO2 emissions from passenger cars in the world,” the ACEA spokesperson said.

“The European automobile industry’s success in reducing CO2 emissions has been, to a greater extent, dependent on higher sales of cars with diesel engines, since they emit 15-20% less CO2 on average than comparable petrol engines.”

The ACEA is concerned tightening regulations on NOx and N02 emissions could make diesel less attractive as an alternative to petrol.

While hardly emissions-friendly compared to alternatives such as biofuel or hydrogen, diesel fuel produces lower CO2 emissions per kilometre than equivalent petrol, and has been adopted by most European car manufacturers as a means of working within the European Union’s strict climate change regulations.

However, diesel produces higher nitrogen dioxide emissions than petrol cars, meaning auto manufacturers using them to meet CO2 targets are still contributing to the greenhouse gas effect.

As noted by the ICCT report which highlighted the discrepancy between real-life and official levels, the rate of CO2 emission reduction quadrupled after 2009 when the EU introduced mandatory reduction targets.

Therefore if the European Commission were to clamp down on diesel emissions, European car manufacturers may be forced to look beyond diesel for ways to reduce emissions.

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