Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Diesel Fumes and Cancer. Buy EV instead!

The World Health Organisation has concluded in a recent panel ruling, as reported by the Guardian that fumes from diesel engines cause cancer, at about the same rate as standing in a cigarette smoke-filled room, or copping too much sunburn.

This is interesting to me, because diesel cars are something I hear put forward as environmentally sound motoring choices.  [edit] In 2009 according to Wired's Autopia car site, Green Car Journal named a diesel as its Green Car of the Year.  I say interesting because that was 2009, now we have electric vehicles (EV's) and I struggle to see how those diesels are green by comparison.  Another article says forget about "black plumes of smoke, noisy engines" because diesels are clean and green now.  Maybe when they are brand new - but I see plenty of 5-10 year old "modern diesels" on the road producing black smoke.  It doesn't matter how old an EV is it is never going to produce smoky fumes.

Also, when I talk to people about Electric Vehicles I still get this recycled FUD about the long tailpipe, which is basically this idea that EV's "emit pollution" from the power stations that they draw electricity from.

The WHO panel ruling shows how bogus this is - what the actual vehicle itself is emitting is important. If you are on the footpath going for a cappuccino, and you find yourself next to several lanes of traffic in the city then each vehicle that is emitting pollution from its tailpipe is damaging you.  For children playing in the schoolyard next to a busy major road then they are being exposed to carcinogens from diesel exhausts of vehicles on that road.

EV's have no tailpipe, and no exhaust fumes.  Even if they were charged the previous evening from the most fiendishly polluting power source, when they drive on the road no pollution is being emitted from those EV's into the busy urban and suburban environments that we live in, work in, and send our kids to school in.

Getting back to the diesel thing, when I drove a Prius, before getting the Nissan Leaf, I would also hear quite often an argument that diesel cars were a good environmental alternative because they did a better mileage than the Prius in some cases.

If you look at popular diesel hatchbacks like the Ford Focus, or Peugot 308 they are in the same league as the Prius for consumption figures:

CarEmissions gm/kmConsumption ltrs/100km
Prius 1.8 Hybrid T3 2009923.3
Peugot 3081194.0
Ford Focus TDci diesel1574.8

Now the first thing to notice is that emissions is not consumption.  The Peugot for example does pretty well on consumption, using 1.2 times as much fuel per distance as the Prius.  However its emissions are 1.3 times that of the Prius.  For the Ford Focus the fuel usage is 1.45 times that of the Prius, but its emissions are 1.7 times worse!

How can this be?  Isn't the petrol here the source of the emissions?  Surely if you burn 1 litre of fuel, you create some fixed amount of pollution?  A moments thought shows that this is wrong, because engines ain't engines: some are more emissions efficient, not just mileage efficient.  The Prius has an Atkinson cycle engine, which can take advantage of its electric hybrid transmission to operate in an optimum range, meaning that it produces less emissions for a given amount of fuel burnt.  The Prius engine is very mileage efficient, but that is almost just a side effect of the engineering put into making it very very emissions efficient.

So, getting back to the argument above - diesels are good environmentally because they do better mileage - you can see that this is just plain wrong.  Better mileage does not equal better emissions.

And now we know from the WHO study that those diesel emissions are carcinogenic, as well as being a greenhouse gas pollutant.

The thing with electric vehicles, is that not only do they produce no tailpipe pollution emissions at all - they can also use clean, greenhouse-gas free electricity from sources like solar and wind.  You could cover Australia in solar panels and the diesel and petrol cars on the road are still going to be producing just as much pollution as they always did.  In fact it doesn't matter how far science advances, in cleaning up our local Australian-grown energy production, if you stick to fossil-fuel powered cars none of those advances can help our pollution problems at all.

Electric Vehicles can take advantage of home-grown energy solutions, instead of costing us in expensive oil imports in many cases from countries that none of us want to be beholden to.  Diesel cars, no matter how mileage efficient still get their fuel from foreign oil.  Think about it: where do you want your motoring dollar going to; the Middle East or to buying Australian?

Now I hear some people say that they have to drive to Sydney or, as we say in Australia when talking about long distances "to the back of Bourke".  Because of these long trip requirements they just can't buy an Electric Vehicle.  Really?

There's lots of things that people expect of their vehicles - it must be able to take me fishing on the beach at Stradbroke Island, or I must be able to load the surfboards, wetsuits and a Esky full of beer into the back.  Or it has to be able to do zero-to-sixty in 4.2 seconds.  Now add to that list of expectations this idea that a car has to be able to drive interstate on a tank of gas.

Realistically I think for 95% of us, those requirements are just not logical criteria to use for choosing the car you drive every day.  For many cars are an emotional thing.  We want a ute or pickup; or we want an SUV or 4WD, or a sports car.  A big full tank of gas equals freedom and self-determination.  But think about it, the 100th time you're trying to back that thing into a parking spot in the supermarket, or navigate city traffic, or stretching to afford the best part of $100 to fill the tank up to full.  Was that really the best decision you made on a vehicle?

For some of us, those emotional things; they're deal-breakers - OK.  If for some reason you have to drive to Sydney, or your commute is hundreds of miles then go and buy a Prius.  The Prius is a great car, with loads of room in the back, and it goes places that any other road car can, and further besides.

But if, like me you can take advantage of an Electric Vehicle for emissions free motoring, never ever having to buy gas, just go ahead and do it.

Your lungs will thank you.