No diesel without filter

A campaign in Germany demands particulate filters in diesel cars

By Chirag Shah
Published: Saturday 15 November 2003

No diesel without filter

-- Even as the European Union passed, in February 2003, a law requiring lesser amount of sulphur in petrol and diesel by 2005 -- with a total phase-in of "sulphur free" fuels by 2009 -- a campaign to clamp down on particulate emissions diesel-run engines release has auto giants worried. (Directive 98/70/ec, amended for this purpose, mandates a limit of 50 ppm of sulphur in diesel by 2005. The second stage of fuel quality improvements in the eu directive envisions a further reduction to 10 ppm by 2009; India, ironically, has set itself a target of 50 ppm by 2010!)

The campaign was started last November by a coalition of German environmental organisations. The coalition is headed by Deutsche Umwelthilfe (German Environmental Aid) and includes environmental and public health groups. Allgemeine Deutsche Automobilclub (the German Automobile Club) provides technical expertise. The UmweltBundesAmt (uba, Germany's equivalent of the us epa) is also actively involved.

It calls on auto manufacturers to voluntarily fit diesel particulate filters (dpfs) on all passenger cars sold in Germany. All new cars should be fitted with dpfs or equivalent particulate matter reduction technologies effective July 1, 2003. To add ammunition to its clean-emission campaign, the Kein Diesel Ohne Filter, or "No Diesel Without Filter" coalition will very soon release a study indicating how thousands of Europeans are dying every year because of no dpfs on diesel engines.

The campaign used spectacular events such as projecting a giant "Diesel Causes Cancer" slide on auto-Volkswagen's (vw) headquarter building; asking car shoppers at dealerships why they were buying "dirty" diesel cars; pressurising mayors of towns to ensure car-makers supply dpf-equipped vehicles for municipal fleets; and a press event featuring a crying child wearing a filter mask when standing next to a smoking bmw diesel car, but happily laughing when holding a pristine air-sampling filter near a dpf-equipped car.

"While some automakers including DaimlerChrysler initially claimed it would be "impossible" to retrofit a large portion of recent diesel cars with dpfs, the coalition demonstrated a successful conversion of a late-model German car with a psa dpf filter and an off-the-shelf forklift control system," said Juergen Resch of Deutsche Umwelthilfe.

The campaigners also asked buyers of expensive sports utility vehicles why there was no dpf -- costing a few hundred dollars -- on cars that cost up to us $70,000. This "shame" campaign ultimately prompted auto giant vw to promise to put a dpf on its "Touareg" sports utility vehicle.

The campaign initially targeted automobiles to simplify the message for the public. Eventually, it plans to expand to heavy-duty vehicles. As opposed to North America -- where diesel clean-up schemes lack any financial incentives to either vehicle/engine makers or the oil industry -- "No Diesel Without Filter" actively promotes tax breaks: a Euro 300 tax break for new dpf-equipped vehicles (about half the projected cost) and a Euro 600 tax break for retrofit of diesel vehicles up to four years old. Says Jurgen Resch of Deutsche Umwelthilfe on the campaign, "Five months ago auto manufacturers were saying nothing; now they are all saying they are committing to it."

For now, the campaign is confined to Germany. "As the process of dpf legislation on a European level would involve years of delays," says a campaign official statement, "our first priority is to achieve statutory regulation for the whole of Germany". But in a bid to enlarge the campaign, uba and Deutsche Umwelthilfe have made presentations to several us-based environmental advocacy groups.

The national German long-term target is to reduce the additional lifetime cancer risk for humans in congested areas below 1:5000 by 2020. What this effectively requires is reduce particulate matter emissions by more than 99 per cent by 2020 (as compared to 1998). This is akin to achieving the kind of particulate concentration in ambient air that exists in rural areas (pm10<0.8>3). The real hurdle, however, is the growing sales of diesel cars. According to Axel Friedrich of uba, "The share of diesel passenger cars [being sold] in Germany is increasing at the rate of more than 35 per cent annually." Moreover, the German Association of the Automotive Industry stresses that even without particle filters, currently 56 per cent of all new German passenger cars comply with the forthcoming 2005 Euroiv emission standards. It claims particle emissions from diesel vehicles have been reduced by 93 per cent over the past ten years. But the coalition isn't convinced and it looks as if, this time, carmakers will not have their say.

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