Pollution levels are only enhancing the case for EVs

23rd May 2017
Joe Bush

Understanding around vehicle pollution levels has increased dramatically in recent years, and each new discovery has offered another reason to hasten the adoption of electric powertrains in land vehicles, marine craft and aircraft. Although ozone, carbon monoxide and other emissions have been subject to study, there is escalating concern about the acid gas, particulate and carbon dioxide emissions in particular. 

For example, although asthma and other lung diseases have been closely linked to the smaller particulates, the mechanism of transfer through tissue has only recently been clarified. In addition, a recent study of nearly 250,000 women revealed exposure to those particulates correlates with hardening breast tissue linked to breast cancer, though causality is not yet proven. New UK research shows that vehicle particulates are in the bloodstream only 15 minutes from inhalation.

Global developments
In China, the occasional reduction in Gobi Desert dust blowing over China actually reduces wind by increasing solar irradiation leading to 13% increase in air pollution and resulting injuries according to a study issued in 2017. China has 1.8 million deaths yearly from air pollution according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). High utilisation traffic is a large part of that.

In Europe, new German and Finnish research shows that the latest small diesel cars have greater nitrogen oxide emissions than large vehicles. Nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel engines are now shown by the UK University of York to have a psychological impact almost as bad as being out of work, cause lung cancer and heart disease, reduce life expectancy and leverage the malign effects of other vehicle emissions.

All this can only boost sales of pure electric vehicles by land, water and air. However, more immediately they are being boosted by car manufacturers’ prediction that the killer blow of lower upfront cost vs conventional versions will be reached at various dates from 2020 onwards.

Toughening up all the time
We are now facing a situation where many cities have announced the intention to ban diesel electric vehicles with many also planning to severely restrict parking, given that over ten percent of city ground area can be given over to parking, largely due to the utilisation of private cars being only a few percent. Worldwide, sales of diesel vehicles are now in decline as people worry about such things as resale values go into free-fall.

Buses are also involved. At the 5th EU Electromobility Stakeholder Forum, organised in Brussels in March 2017, EU officials reaffirmed that projects to facilitate the electrification of European transport will continue. Many stakeholders, however, mentioned that much of the electric mobility innovation is taking place in the US and China. The result is that there were 173,000 electric buses in the world in 2015 of which 170,000 are operating on Chinese soil and made in China.

Shenzhen and other Chinese cities already consider electric buses as the new norm, but outside China this is rarely the case. In Europe, London seems to be moving away from diesel and towards electric transport. Last November, London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced a plan to stop buying double-decker buses that run purely on diesel from 2018. However, he is completing the programme of over 3,000 diesel hybrids and these may be in use for ten years or more, so pure electric buses and much cleaner air are delayed in London

Countries setting a good example
In contrast, the Netherlands and Norway see electric buses as the new standard. There were 61 pure electric buses in the Netherlands (among them 46 trolleybuses) by mid-2016 then a new fleet of 43 electric buses in the city of Eindhoven appeared by December 2016. There has now been the extension of several existing fleets with 76 new pure electric buses through 2017. 

Add a new fleet of 100 pure electric buses in the area south of Amsterdam, including Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, as of the start of a new concession in December 2017 and we see the Netherlands pulling well ahead of London. However, by the end of 2017, the 280 pure electric buses in the Netherlands will only constitute a six percent share of the total fleet of 4,900 public transport buses in the country.

The more kilometres an electric bus drives, the better the business case is compared to diesel buses (due to the price of electricity being much lower per kilometre than diesel). This makes electric buses very attractive for Bus Rapid Transit systems which typically have long fast bus lines. That is why the city of Cape Town, South Africa will soon introduce pure electric buses on its BRT service MyCiTi.

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