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Decreasing emissions – time to revise traffic policy!

Decreasing emissions – time to revise traffic policy!
Thanks to the increased use of biofuels, Swedish greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from traffic are decreasing.

It is high time that politicians stop subsidizing electric cars or charging infrastructure but continue with high fees for fossil fuels and strict requirements on air pollution that cause health problems.

Emissions caused by cars and trucks are decreasing. When it comes to vehicles sold today, tailpipe emissions are no longer the dominating environmental problem – road wear emissions are.

Substances that used to be the main problem such as sulphur dioxide (SOx), lead, benzene, or toluene are almost completely gone. Now, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) are in focus.

While there are still areas that need improvement, the levels do not justify the phasing out of the internal combustion engine (ICE). Especially when it comes to particulates, as more than 90 percent of particulates come from road wear.

It is high time to revise policy when it comes to the perception of internal combustion engines, electric cars, and the EU’s decision to ban new ICE-powered cars from 2035.

NOx reduced by half in Stockholm

The Swedish capital Stockholm has seen a significant reduction in NOx emissions from city traffic in recent years, with a 50 percent reduction in 2020 compared to 2016.

The reduction is in part attributed to electric cars, but mostly to the phase-out of older diesel engines with newer modern petrol and diesel engines that emit significantly smaller amounts of harmful emissions.

The diagram below shows how emissions of NOx have evolved on one of Stockholm’s busiest streets (Sveavägen) over a thirty-year period, from 1990 to 2020.

In 2019, the air on Sveavägen reached the national environmental quality goal of clean air, which states that the annual average concentration must be below 20 µg/m3, (graphic Miljöbarometern, Stockholm city).

Sveavägen is a heavily trafficked street and not in an environmental zone, allowing it to serve as a good indicator for most cities in Sweden and probably other cities in Europe.

In fact, the air quality in Sveavägen is good and meets the national environmental quality target for clean air. While this is positive, we must continue the work.

Particle emissions are reducing

When it comes to emissions of particulate matter (PM), the most common particle sizes measured are PM2.5 and PM10.

Again, Stockholm manages to comply with these limit requirements. In the diagrams below, PM2.5 and PM10 are reported on Sveavägen.

On Sveavägen, PM10 is almost down to the national annual average goal for clean air, 15 µg/m3. However, as more internal combustion engines disappear, it is not certain these levels will continue to be reached.

When Statistics Sweden (SCB) calculated the total particle emissions from road traffic, results show that 95 percent of particle emissions come from tyre and asphalt wear. Only five percent come from ICEs and tailpipes.

According to Statistics Sweden (SCB), emissions from tyres and asphalt wear completely dominate particle emissions from trucks and cars. Only five percent of emissions come from exhaust pipes (graphic courtesy SCB).

Electric cars are heavy, resulting in more road wear-related emissions. Indeed, a recent study by Emission Analytics suggests that electric cars with studded winter tyres emit more particles than a comparatively sized ICE-powered car.

Using the data presented in the diagram and making the assessment that the heavy weight of electric cars leads to increased road wear by more than 6 percent, it means that electric cars cause more particle emissions than cars powered by ICEs.

This development is a clear example of why emissions and traffic should be regulated by general steering instruments and not by a specific technology.

Biofuels – a quick climate solution

Therefore, it is high time that politicians stop subsidizing electric cars and charging infrastructure but continue with high fees for fossil fuels and strict requirements on air pollution that cause health problems.

Retract the decision to stop the sale of cars with internal combustion engines.

Cars powered by biofuels or e-fuels are the quick climate solution and have the ability to cope with all local environmental aspects as well.

The climate transition does not have to wait until 2045, we can start by refuelling ICEs with renewable transportation fuels here and now.

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