handheld emissions tester

Handheld emissions testing device enables quick removal of polluting vehicles

Image credit: reuters

Engineers have developed a battery-powered, handheld device that can quickly detect how much carcinogenic air pollution vehicles are putting out, allowing individual cars to be removed from the road to improve local air quality.

Wide-scale bans have been issued for certain vehicle models in the past due to such concerns, Volkswagen’s emission-heating attempts being the most infamous example in recent years, while yesterday Jaguar Land Rover was forced to recall 44,000 of its vehicles for emitting excessive levels of CO2. 

Across many areas of Europe, stringent air pollution rules are forcing local governments to find ways to lower emissions without relying on the slow uptake of electric vehicles.

Developed by the engineering group VERT, the new tool is able to check within minutes whether cars at low idle speeds have particle filters that work well enough.

Costing around £2,500, it is affordable enough for police and garages to purchase for emissions inspections.

handheld emissions tester

Image credit: reuters

Andreas Mayer, director of VERT’s scientific committee, said it is estimated that airborne particulates kill 5 million people a year globally.

“There is a lot of toxic stuff emitted from cars, and the most toxic are particulates,” Mayer said.

The more than 100 million particle filters in use on European roads can, if they work properly, make vehicles’ exhaust less toxic than the ambient air cars burn.

“These diesel cars, if they are running through cities, are even cleaning the air because the filters are so efficient, so we must do everything in order to keep that quality during the life of the vehicle,” he said.

Unfortunately the ceramic filters are prone to cracking or getting plugged with soot, sometimes prompting mechanics to remove or alter them in an improper fix to boost engine power.

Made by a dozen European companies, the new testing devices will initially be rolled out in the Netherlands and Belgium and eventually spread to all of Europe, Mayer said.

The disparity between on-road emissions and test-bench results came to light after Marc Besch, a Swiss student at West Virginia University, decided to study Volkswagen emissions for an academic paper in 2013.

He noticed other carmakers used more sophisticated emissions filters. Together with colleagues he rented a VW Jetta station wagon without knowing that their findings would change the auto industry forever.

Besch needed to measure the VW’s pollution levels under laboratory conditions, so he turned to California’s Air Resources Board (CARB), which would later help blow the whistle on the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal.

The rented Volkswagen passed the laboratory test at CARB’s facility, but behaved very differently on the road.

“The Volkswagen did not show a characteristic reduction of nitrogen oxide pollution levels during highway driving,” Besch said.

In January the UK government launched its Clean Air Strategy 2019, a plan designed to cut air pollution in a bid to improve the nation’s health and improve the environment. 

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