German engineering giant announces new technology it claims will cut nitrogen oxide emissions for diesel cars to a fraction of 2020 limits
German engineering group Bosch has claimed a major breakthrough for diesel technology that it says will drastically reduce harmful vehicle emissions and secure the fuel's future for decades to come.
The firm, which is the world's largest supplier of car parts, announced at its annual meeting in Germany last week that it has developed a diesel technology capable of cutting nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions to 10 times below the legal limits set for 2020.
"There's a future for diesel," Bosch CEO Dr Volkmar Denner said. "Today, we want to put a stop, once and for all, to the debate about the demise of diesel technology."
The claims follow a disastrous two years for the technology, which has seen sales slump across Europe as a result of the 'dieselgate' emissions scandal and tightening regulations to tackle air pollution.
In the UK, diesel's market share has dropped from 43.5 per cent in March 2017 to 32.4 per cent in March 2018, contributing to an overall dip in new car sales across the country. Some automakers fear the sales slump is set to continue as new air quality rules come into effect and the number of electric vehicles on the market continues to increase. Others have warned the shift away from diesel vehicles could lead to higher carbon emissions from the road transport sector, as drivers switch to petrol models.
However, Bosch claims its "decisive breakthrough" could help reverse the trend. The company said the innovation came from refining existing technologies to "push the boundaries of what is technically feasible", such as improving fuel injection technology and developing a new smart air and temperature management systems.
Cars fitted with its technology can emit just 13 milligrams of NOx during an official test, well below the 120 milligrams limit the EU has implemented for 2020 onwards, Bosch said. It added that emissions will remain well below legal limits in all driving environments, regardless of weather, temperature or driving style.
Bosch claimed the breakthrough could be complemented by artificial intelligence research now underway to deliver further improvements. "We firmly believe that the diesel engine will continue to play an important role in the options for future mobility," Denner added. "Until electromobility breaks through to the mass market, we will still need these highly efficient combustion engines."
While the development could offer a boost for carmakers reliant on diesel technologies, repairing the damaged trust of consumers in the wake of 'dieselgate' could be an uphill challenge. Greg Archer, director at Transport & Environment, is just one of those who believes jumpstarting diesel's reputation will take time. "To be convinced the claims match reality we need independent road tests fitted to standard production cars that demonstrate low emissions persist after several years," he said.
Diesel cars emit less CO2 than petrol alternatives, and until recently their take-up had been encouraged by governments keen to make a dent in transport emissions. The industry has repeatedly warned that the recent slump in diesel sales could lead to an uptick in carbon emissions - and in 2016 transport emissions grew two per cent in the UK to become the most polluting sector.
Keen to emphasise diesel's CO2 advantage, Denner called for greater transparency over CO2 emissions from vehicles, arguing they should be subject to the same real world driving tests as particulate pollutants. "We need a transparent assessment of the overall CO2 emissions produced by road traffic, including not only the emissions of the vehicles themselves but also the emissions caused by the production of the fuel or electricity used to power them," he argued.
But studies have repeatedly shown that electric vehicles are responsible for much lower CO2 emissions than combustion vehicles, even when they are charged from an electricity grid heavily reliant on fossil fuels to generate power.
Diesel manufacturers may be keen to trumpet the CO2 benefits of their fuel choice - particularly now there appears to be a solution to the air quality problem - but there's a real possibility that diesel has been irrevocably tarnished by the 'dieselgate' scandal at the same time as being hit by an ever more hostile policy landscape. Whether manufacturers can convince consumers otherwise will ultimately determine whether diesel really does have a long term future.
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